28th January 1986 saw the launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida of the NASA space shuttle Challenger, complete with a crew of seven. Just 73 seconds into the flight, disaster struck when the shuttle broke apart and disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean. The crew compartment was eventually recovered from the ocean floor, and although some crew members are thought to have lived through the initial breakup of the spacecraft, nobody could have survived the impact of the crew compartment with the ocean surface.
An investigating commission concluded that the accident cause was a faulty O-ring in one of two solid-fuel rocket boosters, coupled with the very cold weather on the launch day which caused the O-ring to shrink and allow hot gases to escape, and consequently ignite. Unfortunately, NASA managers had known about this potential problem from previous launches but ignored the warning signs.
Understandably, no chances are being taken with the final and much postponed launch of shuttle Discovery following ongoing problems with the fuel tanks. Launch is currently due to take place on 24th February 2011.