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Two milestones in space, 20 years apart

Sharon Gaudin | April 12, 2011
NASA and space enthusiasts worldwide are celebrating two major anniversaries Tuesday.

On Jan. 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger broke apart in the sky over Florida just 73 seconds after it lifted off. The Challenger's seven crew members were killed.

The accident was caused by a faulty O-ring seal in the shuttle's right solid rocket booster. The failed seal eventually led to the structural failure of an external fuel tank, which then ripped the rest of Challenger apart.

And then on Feb. 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, killing all seven crew members. NASA reported that the accident was caused because of a piece of foam the size of a briefcase broke off from the shuttle's external fuel tank, striking the left wing of the craft and damaging the shuttle's thermal protection system. The damaged system was unable to protect the shuttle from the intense heat the shuttle needs to endure during re-entry.

Today, all but two of NASA's shuttle fleet have flown their final missions.

Endeavour is set for its final launch on April 29. The crew will take the shuttle aloft for a 14-day mission to the space station to deliver supplies and spare parts, including two S-band communication antennas, robotic parts and a meteor debris shield.

Atlantis is scheduled to make lift off on June 28 for the final shuttle voyage. After the Atlantis mission, the shuttle fleet will be officially retired.

The space shuttle Discovery made its final trip into space in February.

 

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