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Space Shuttle Overview: Challenger (OV-099)
First called STA-099, Challenger was built to serve as a test vehicle for the Space Shuttle program. But despite its Earth-bound beginnings, STA-099 was destined for space.

Orbiter Challenger in Earth orbitIn the late 1970s, NASA strived for a lighter weight orbiter, but a test vehicle was needed to ensure the lighter airframe could handle the stress of space flight. Computer software at the time wasn't yet advanced enough to accurately predict how STA-099's new, optimized design would respond to intense heat and stress. The best solution was to submit the vehicle to a year of intensive vibration and thermal testing.

Image to left: Challenger is seen against a breathtaking backdrop of blue water and white clouds in this photo, taken from a camera aboard the Shuttle Pallet Satellite during mission STS-7. Credit: NASA

In early 1979, NASA awarded Space Shuttle orbiter manufacturer Rockwell a contract to convert STA-099 to a space-rated orbiter, OV-099. The vehicle's conversion began late that year. Although the job was easier than it would have been to convert NASA's first orbiter, Enterprise, it was a major process that involved the disassembly and replacement of many parts and components.

The second orbiter to join NASA's Space Shuttle fleet, OV-099 arrived at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida in July 1982, bearing the name "Challenger."

Space Shuttle orbiter Challenger was named after the British Naval research vessel HMS Challenger that sailed the Atlantic and Pacific oceans during the 1870s. The Apollo 17 lunar module also carried the name of Challenger. Like its historic predecessors, Challenger and her crews made significant scientific contributions in the spirit of exploration.

Challenger launched on her maiden voyage, STS-6, on April 4, 1983. That mission saw the first spacewalk of the Space Shuttle program, as well as the deployment of the first satellite in the Tracking and Data Relay System constellation. The orbiter launched the first American woman, Sally Ride, into space on mission STS-7 and was the first to carry two U.S. female astronauts on mission STS 41-G.

Launch of Space Shuttle ChallengerImage to right: Space Shuttle Challenger leaps from the launch pad to begin mission STS-41-C. Credit: NASA

The first orbiter to launch and land at night on mission STS-8, Challenger also made the first Space Shuttle landing at Kennedy Space Center, concluding mission STS 41-B. Spacelabs 2 and 3 flew aboard the ship on missions STS 51-F and STS 51-B, as did the first German-dedicated Spacelab on STS 61-A. A host of scientific experiments and satellite deployments were performed during Challenger's missions.

Challenger's service to America's space program ended in tragedy on Jan. 28, 1986. Just 73 seconds into mission STS 51-L, a booster failure caused an explosion that resulted in the loss of seven astronauts, as well as the vehicle.

The loss of Challenger does not overshadow her legacy in NASA's storied history. The discoveries made on her many successful missions continue to better mankind in space flight and in life on Earth.

Construction Milestones - STA-099

July 26, 1972 Contract Award
Nov. 21, 1975 Start structural assembly of crew module
June 14, 1976 Start structural assembly of aft-fuselage
March 16, 1977 Wings arrive at Palmdale from Grumman
Sept. 30, 1977 Start of Final Assembly
Feb. 10, 1978 Completed final assembly
Feb. 14, 1978 Rollout from Palmdale

Construction Milestones - OV-099

Jan. 1, 1979 Contract Award
Jan. 28, 1979 Start structural assembly of crew module
June 14, 1976 Start structural assembly of aft-fuselage
March 16, 1977 Wings arrive at Palmdale from Grumman
Nov. 3, 1980 Start of Final Assembly
Oct. 21, 1981 Completed final assembly
June 30, 1982 Rollout from Palmdale
July 1, 1982 Overland transport from Palmdale to Edwards
July 5, 1982 Delivery to Kennedy Space Center
Dec. 19, 1982 Flight Readiness Firing
April 4, 1983 First Flight (STS-6)

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