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Space Shuttle Challenger - Flown LRSI Tile Fragment

Space Shuttle Challenger - Flown LRSI Tile Fragment

This specimen is a mission-flown tile fragment from the Space Shuttle Challenger. Known as a low-temperature surface insulation tile (LRSI), the tile is comprised of low-density silica. The tiles protected parts of the orbiter exposed to temperatures in excess of 1,200°F and below 0°F.

Above: A stylized view of NASA image STS07-32-1702. Taken on June 22, 1983, during Challenger's second mission (STS-7).

The Space Shuttle Challenger (OV-099) was the second space shuttle to enter orbit, embarking on its maiden voyage on April 4, 1983. Over the course of its ten missions, the shuttle gathered scientific data, repaired satellites, and brought the first African-American to space, Guion Bluford.

Above: The first launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger (STS-6,  April 4, 1983). (Source Department of Defense image DF-SC-84-01865)

NASA's Space Shuttle program delivered 133 successful missions during its three decades in operation, beginning with Columbia's inaugural mission in 1981 and concluding with Atlantis' final mission in 2011. Missions involved many vital tasks, such as maintaining the International Space Station, repairing the Hubble Space Telescope, and deploying satellites. Scientific experiments featured heavily in the rotation, using the reusable Spacelab developed by the ESA.

Above: STS-51L crew members Michael J. Smith, front row left, Francis R. "Dick" Scobee, Ronald E. McNair; Ellison S. Onizuka, back row left, S. Christa McAuliffe, Gregory B. Jarvis, and Judith A. Resnik. (NASA Image S85-44253 November, 1985)

On January 28, 1986, Challenger began its final flight (STS-51L), disintegrating 73 seconds after takeoff. The explosion was caused by the failure of O-ring seals in the shuttle’s rocket booster, which allowed pressurized gas to burn through to the booster's fuel tank. This horrific event ended with the deaths of all onboard crew members, which led to a brief suspension of shuttle flights and an overhaul of both the program itself and NASA's organizational structure.

Each year, NASA holds a Day of Remembrance to honor those who lost their lives while furthering the space exploration. We welcome you to visit their site to learn more about men and women of Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia. For a deeper view on Challenger and STS-51L, we recommend John Uri's 2021 touching retrospective of the crew on the 35th anniversary of the disaster: " 35 Years Ago: Remembering Challenger and Her Crew".

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