It was supposed to be the first launch to make NASA history.Seven crew members including one civilian, a teacher from New Hampshire, were aboard Challenger when it launched from Kennedy Space Center on January, 28 1986. Audiences from across the nation watched live on TV.
MTSU astronomy professor Dr. Eric Klumpe was working on the Galileo project at NASA's jet propulsion laboratory in Pasadena at the time. "We were slated for the very next shuttle launch after the Challenger," Klumpe said.
They watched as the Challenger climbed into the sky, Klumpe recalled seeing a cloud of smoke.
"I can tell you exactly what I was thinking when I was watching. I said, its going to show up, its going to pop out of that cloud, we're going to see the shuttle pop out of that cloud," Klumpe explained.
However, that never happened. "The room went quite and we're just looking at each other and nobody had answers. Its emotional because they're sort of like our comrades in the space business," said Klumpe.
Klumpe, along with millions of others and thousands of school children watched in horror as the shuttle broke into pieces and fell nearly 50,000 feet into the Atlantic Ocean. "Guess I was very, very depressed in a matter of speaking," he said.
Since the Challenger tragedy, Klumpe said NASA has made big changes in the industry and will continue to provide the world's brightest and most talented with the opportunity to travel into space, a feat the Challenger crew would be proud of.
"We learn a lot when we push the limits of what we understand. I think NASA is in the business of pushing the limits of what we understand," Klumpe said.
Experts believe the cold weather and a design flaw caused the accident.