3. The explosion of the space shuttle Challenger
Date: January 28, 1986
The launch of the space shuttle Challenger was one of the most high-profile missions in NASA’s history, due in part to the fact that one of the astronauts on board was a civilian school teacher named Christa McAuliffe. It was supposed to be the dawn of space expeditions for the average person. Seventy-three seconds into the flight, though, the shuttle broke apart and exploded in front of the public viewing at home.
The images of the plume of smoke broke the hearts of a nation and has placed a black cloud over space exploration ever since. It was a crushing blow to the American psyche, which desperately wanted to hail the crew, especially McAullife, as heroes. This wasn’t the only space shuttle disaster that the U.S. public has witnessed, but the personal attachment people felt towards McAuliffe made it even more painful.