Challenger disaster At 11:38 a.m. EST, on January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger lifts off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and Christa McAuliffe is on her way to becoming the first ordinary U.S. civilian to travel into space. McAuliffe, a 37-year-old high school social studies teacher from New Hampshire, won a competition that earned her a place among the seven-member crew of the Challenger. She underwent months of shuttle training but then, beginning January 23, was forced to wait six long days as the Challenger‘s launch countdown was repeatedly delayed because of weather and technical problems. Finally, on January 28, the shuttle lifted off. Seventy-three seconds later, hundreds on the ground, including Christa’s family, stared in disbelief as the shuttle broke up in a forking plume of smoke and fire. Millions more watched the wrenching tragedy unfold on live television. There were no survivors. In 1976, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) unveiled the world’s first reusable manned spacecraft, the Enterprise. Five years later, space flights of the shuttle began when Columbia traveled into space on a 54-hour mission. Launched by two solid-rocket boosters and an external tank, only the aircraft-like shuttle entered into orbit around Earth. When the mission was completed, the shuttle fired engines to reduce speed and, after descending through the atmosphere, landed like a glider. Early shuttles took satellite equipment into space and carried out various scientific experiments. The Challenger disaster was the first major shuttle accident. In the aftermath of the disaster, President Ronald Reagan appointed a special commission to determine what went wrong with Challenger and to develop future corrective measures. The presidential commission was headed by former secretary of state William Rogers, and included former astronaut Neil Armstrong and former test pilot Chuck Yeager. The investigation determined that the disaster was caused by the failure of an “O-ring” seal in one of the two solid-fuel rockets. The elastic O-ring did not respond as expected because of the cold temperature at launch time, which began a chain of events that resulted in the massive loss. As a result, NASA did not send astronauts into space for more than two years as it redesigned a number of features of the space shuttle. In September 1988, space shuttle flights resumed with the successful launching of the Discovery. Since then, the space shuttle has carried out numerous important missions, such as the repair and maintenance of the Hubble Space Telescope and the construction of the International Space Station. On February 1, 2003, a second space-shuttle disaster rocked the United States when Columbia disintegrated upon reentry of the Earth’s atmosphere. All aboard were killed. Despite fears that the problems that downed Columbiahad not been satisfactorily addressed, space-shuttle flights resumed on July 26, 2005, when Discovery was again put into orbit. 1777 British plan to isolate New England John Burgoyne, poet, playwright and British general, submits an ill-fated plan to the British government to isolate New England from the other colonies on this day in 1777. Burgoyne’s plan revolved around an invasion of 8,000 British troops from Canada, who would move southward through New York by way of Lake Champlain and the Mohawk River, taking the Americans by surprise. General Burgoyne believed he and his troops could then take control of the Hudson River and isolate New England from the other colonies, freeing British General William Howe to attack Philadelphia. General Burgoyne’s plan went into effect during the summer of 1777 and was initially a success—the British captured Fort Ticonderoga on June 2, 1777. However, the early success failed to lead to victory, as Burgoyne overextended his supply chain, which stretched in a long, narrow strip from the northern tip of Lake Champlain south to the northern curve of the Hudson River at Fort Edward, New York. As Burgoyne’s army marched south, Patriot militia circled north, cutting the British supply line. Burgoyne then suffered defeat in Bennington, Vermont, and bloody draws at Bemis Heights, New York. On October 17, 1777, a frustrated Burgoyne retreated 10 miles and surrendered his remaining 6,000 British forces to the Patriots at Saratoga. Upon hearing of the Patriot victory, France agreed to recognize the independence of the United States. It was, of course, France’s eventual support that enabled the Patriots’ ultimate victory. The defeat at Saratoga led to General Burgoyne’s downfall. He returned to England, where he faced severe criticism and soon retired from active service. 1915 Germans sink American merchant ship In the country’s first such action against American shipping interests on the high seas, the captain of a German cruiser orders the destruction of the William P. Frye, an American merchant ship. The William P. Frye, a four-masted steel barque built in Bath, Maine, in 1901 and named for the well-known Maine senator William Pierce Frye (1830-1911), was on its way to England with a cargo of wheat. On January 27, it was intercepted by a German cruiser in the South Atlantic Ocean off the Brazilian coast and ordered to jettison its cargo as contraband. When the American ship’s crew failed to fulfill these orders completely by the next day, the German captain ordered the destruction of the ship. As the first American merchant vessel lost to Germany’s aggression during the Great War, the William P. Frye incident sparked the indignation of many in the United States. The German government’s apology and admission of the attack as a mistake did little to assuage Americans’ anger, which increased exponentially when German forces torpedoed and sank the British-owned ocean liner Lusitania on May 7, 1915, killing more than 1,000 people, including 128 Americans. The U.S., under President Woodrow Wilson, demanded reparations and an end to German attacks on all unarmed passenger and merchant ships. Despite Germany’s initial assurances to that end, the attacks continued. In early February 1917, when Germany announced a return to unrestricted submarine warfare, the U.S. broke off diplomatic relations with the country. By the end of March, Germany had sunk several more passenger ships with Americans aboard and Wilson went before Congress to ask for a declaration of war on April 2, which was made four days later. The first American ships arrived in Europe within a week, marking a decisive end to U.S. neutrality.