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Why did the Challenger disaster happen?

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The Challenger disaster occurred because hot gases created by the burning of solid rocket fuel escaped through a field joint. This exhaust succeeded in igniting the hydrogen fuel in the external tank. This resulted in the explosion that killed all seven on board the space shuttle Challenger. The control room at NASA (courtesy of NASA) Although much of the publicity was concerned with the cold weather properties of the elastomer (rubber) O-ring sealants - the physicist Richard Feynmann showed how the resilience of the O-ring fell rapidly when placed into ice water - the failure was more complex in reality. The failure was due to four separate events that followed one after the other. All had to occur for the failure to happen: • Firstly, the zinc chromate putty that was used to provide a thermal barrier for the main O-ring seals had blowholes in it. These were created during leak testing and tended to channel the hot exhaust gases on to the primary O-ring and later on to the secondary ... more
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