UNDATED (CBS) -- On this day in history, January 28, 1986, the American space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after takeoff, killing all seven crewmembers on board.
The explosion was, up until that time, the worst disaster in the U.S. space program. At 11:38, only 74 seconds after takeoff from Cape Canaveral, FL, a ball of fire appeared at the base of the fuel tank. The craft was suddenly engulfed in flames and smoke. Trails of white smoke flew downward as the solid fuel containers broke away. The craft was traveling at 1,977 mph. There was silence from Mission control until Mission Control Operator Stephen A. Nesbitt reported a "major malfunction."
Onboard the craft was the first "citizen observer" Christa McAuliffe, a teacher from Concord, NH. Many of her family and friends were present at the launch, and looked on in horror as debris from the explosion rained down into the ocean.
Other crewmembers were: Francis Scobee, mission commander; Michael Smith, the pilot; Judith Resnik, electrical engineer; Ronald McNair, physicist; Air Force Lt. Col. Ellison Onizuka and Gregory Jarvis, engineer.
In the week following the blast, the New York Times reported that the possible source of the explosion was an aberrant flame in the solid fuel rocket boosters. Data from the shuttle itself indicated a sudden pressure drop in that booster, hinting at a leak in that element.