Reading news accounts of Endeavor’s last voyage inevitably led to a recounting of its history, its reason for being built: the loss of the Challenger. Now, most of those retellings made the same mistake: that Challenger ‘exploded.’ This is not the case.
Challenger did not explode, it was blown apart. Because of the way the shuttles were mated to the launch vehicle, there was enough room between the external fuel tank and the bottom of the shuttle to allow a shock wave to form from the external tank’s explosion. The shock blew apart the shuttle, resulting in the loss of the crew.
Video and forensic evidence shows that the crew, at least those on the flight deck, were alive after the craft was blown apart. Oxygen tanks were turned on and the crew compartment can be seen falling, intact, into the water. The impact likely killed whomever may have survived the initial event.
President Reagan vowed to continue the Shuttle program and the decision was made to replace Challenger. Initially, thought was given to refurbishing the Enterprise, but, ultimately, spare frame parts were used to built a new Shuttle, the Endeavour.
Endeavour, named after the first ship commanded by James Cook, an 18th century British explorer.
Endeavour’s first space mission was to retrieve a stranded communications satellite in May of 1992. The last mission was flown in May of 2011. In all, Endeavour flew 25 flights, spent 299 days in space, traversed the Earth 4,671 times and travelled 122.883 million miles.
More information on Endeavour