Challenger, the second orbiter to become operational at Kennedy Space Center, was named after the British Naval research vessel HMS Challenger that sailed the Atlantic and Pacific oceans during the ... 1870's. The Apollo 17 lunar module also carried the name of Challenger. Like her historic predecessors, Space Shuttle Challenger and her crews made significant contributions to America's scientific growth.
Challenger started out as a high-fidelity structural test article (STA-099). The airframe was completed by Rockwell and delivered to Lockheed Plant 42 for structural testing on 02/04/78. The orbiter structure had evolved under such weight-saving pressure that virtually all components of the air frame were required to handle significant structural stress. With such an optimized design, it was difficult to accurately predict mechanical and thermal loading with the computer software available at the time. The only safe approach was to submit the structural test article to intensive testing and analysis. STA-099 underwent 11 months of intensive vibration testing in a 43 ton steel rig built especially for the Space Shuttle Test Program. The rig consisted of 256 hydraulic jacks, distributed over 836 load application points. Under computer control, it was possible to simulate the expected stress levels of launch, ascent, on-orbit, reentry and landing. Three 1 million pound-force hyd raulic cylinders were used to simulate the thrust from the Space Shuttle Main Engines. Heating and thermal simulations were also done. On January 28, 1986, the Challenger and its seven-member crew were lost 73 seconds after launch when a booster failure resulted in the breakup of the vehicle.
[Summary provided by NASA]