Environment & Science

Remembering a bad week for NASA - Challenger, Columbia, Apollo 1 anniversaries

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The week ahead is the most depressing time of year for NASA. KPCC’s Nick Roman looks at the anniversaries of the catastrophes that killed 17 astronauts.

January 27, Thursday, marks 44 years since the deadly Apollo 1 launchpad fire.

January 28, Friday, marks 25 years since the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up after launch.

February 1, a week from tomorrow, marks eight years since the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart during re-entry.

The Apollo 1 accident review board called for spacecraft design changes that held up the race to the Moon for nearly two years. After the Challenger explosion, shuttle flights stopped for almost three-and-a-half years.

The Challenger board sharply criticized NASA for seeing a problem – in this case, O-rings that leaked hot gases – but writing it off as an acceptable risk.

Seventeen years later, the Columbia review board found that the space agency again had seen a problem – heat shield tiles that broke off during launch – and decided there was no problem. The shuttle was grounded for two-and-a-half years as NASA tried again to tighten its risk assessment skills.