The Sideshow

First amateur video of Challenger shuttle explosion revealed

Eric Pfeiffer
The Sideshow

More than 25 years after the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after liftoff, an amateur video of the accident has surfaced.

The newly released video, taken by Jeffrey Ault, and licensed from Ault by the Huffington Post, offers a closer and more intimate view of the tragedy than have other video reports previously released by the news media. Ault was part of a live audience gathered to watch the Challenger take off from the Kennedy Space Center, less than 10 miles from the launch site. He shot the video on his Super 8 home video camera, and it sat for 26 years in a box in his house.

"I was hoping to see an event that I would remember for the rest of my life," Ault told the Huffington Post in an email. "I did. Just not the way I would have liked to. Unfortunately, it became one of those long lasting memories for all the wrong reasons."

The initial explosion happens at around the 1:20 mark in the video. And it's clear the spectators don't grasp what is happening right away, with one person in the background whispering, "Oh, that's beautiful," as the shuttle's contrails split in two and begin descending back toward the ground below.

Shortly after the explosion, former NASA public affairs officer Steve Nesbitt can be overheard announcing from the Mission Control Center: "Flight control is here looking very carefully at the situation. Obviously a major malfunction."

And finally, at the 2:50 mark, Nesbitt can be heard announcing that the Challenger has exploded. The video ends shortly after that.

The Challenger accident brought all U.S. shuttle flights to a halt and ignited a debate at the time about whether the shuttle program should even continue.

And if you're old enough to remember the Challenger accident happening in real time, you may also remember the famous "Punky Brewster" episode, "Accidents Happen," which garnered a lot of attention back then for addressing the accident in a timely manner. In the episode, Punky gives a school presentation on why she wants to become an astronaut. Her classmates decide to watch the launch live on TV. A devastated Punky is later consoled by astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who stops by to pay her a visit and encourages her to stay interested in the space program.

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