The 1980's
Disaster and the Challenger

Disaster and the Challenger
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 6 to 8
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   6.84

     challenging words:    indicator, reentry, superstitious, burning, lasting, launched, throttle, malfunction, element, sequence, commander, tribute, bolt, originally, utter, flights
     content words:    Christa McAuliffe, United States, Comet Experiment Deployable Module, Kennedy Space Center, Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, President Ronald Reagan, Pilots Dick Scobee, Arlington National Cemetery, Challenger Memorial

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Disaster and the Challenger
By Jane Runyon

1     The day was January 28, 1986. It was lunch time for many school children. Teachers and students alike were full of excitement. The Challenger space shuttle was finally going to launch. This was no ordinary launch. Today there would be someone on the space shuttle who would represent every student and every teacher in every classroom in every school across the nation. Today, Christa McAuliffe, a teacher, would be launched into space.
2     The sky was bright blue. The sun was shining brightly. It was a crisp, cool day for Florida. A cold snap had dropped temperatures below freezing in this area known for its warmth. If you were in central Florida that day, you could look up into the sky and see the vapor cloud that trailed the shuttle. Suddenly, that vapor trail started twisting and turning in on itself. Even an inexperienced eye could see that something was wrong -- terribly wrong.
3     NASA began planning a shuttle program in the 1970s. In earlier space exploration, the capsule used by astronauts was destroyed by reentry and landing. The engineers involved in the program felt that there just had to be a way to recycle equipment used in one flight for future flights. The first shuttle, Columbia, was launched in 1981. One year later, Challenger joined the Columbia in the United States shuttle fleet. They would later be joined by Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavor.
4     This particular shuttle mission was designed to carry cargo for the Halley's Comet Experiment Deployable Module. It was a routine mission in most ways. The most exciting element of this mission was that the first school teacher would be joining the crew. Christa McAuliffe was chosen from 11,000 teacher applicants for this flight. McAuliffe trained with other astronauts and was proud to be going on the journey of her dreams.
5     If you are a superstitious person, you might say that there were signs of trouble with this launch from the very beginning. The Challenger was originally scheduled to launch at 2:43 P.M. on January 22, 1986. Trouble on the previous Challenger flight caused NASA to reset the date for January 23. When it began to look like problems wouldn't be cleared up on the 23rd, the date was moved to the 24th. Bad weather at one of the emergency landing areas forced the launch to be moved to the 25th. Predictions of bad weather at the Kennedy Space Center caused another delay until the 27th.

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The 1980's
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