The incident that destroyed the now infamous Challenger space shuttle on the morning of January 28, 1986, forever changed the future of NASA's space programs; however, the true extent of the event spanned much further than anyone could have guessed. In the months following, after much of the original Challenger had been recovered and analysis of the crew's remains was completed, Dennis E. Powell of the Miami Herald’s Sunday magazine, Tropic, revealed that NASA had kept much of the story to themselves. They did this not out of respect for families but as a cruel PR move to help preserve their public opinion.
The shocking truth that NASA attempted to hide was that the crew of six astronauts and one schoolteacher aboard the Challenger that day had, in fact, survived the explosion and instead met their ends after they plummeted 12 miles into the ocean. Likely embarrassed by their own lack of foresight when it came to preparing the crew for what may have been a survivable loss of life, NASA withheld information and forced people to lie on their behalf in an effort to keep the general public - which had watched the explosion live on their televisions - in the dark.
A mere 73 seconds after lift off, the space shuttle Challenger was suddenly engulfed in flames. On the ground, people watching were struck by a confused silence as the broadcast announcement of the status of the astronauts' departure dramatically cut off; uncertainty flashed across their faces as they tried to figure out what was happening before their eyes.
What they had unknowingly witnessed was the explosion of one of the ship's rocket boosters that had failed at lift off. As people watching from the ground saw a fiery cloud engulf the rocket, on board "a sheet of flame swept up past the window of pilot Mike Smith, [and] there could be no question Smith knew — even in that single moment — that disaster had engulfed them." It is at this point that Smith can be heard uttering a final "uh-oh," the last thing captured by the in-flight recorder.
In the chaos of watching the lives of seven brave, adventurous individuals being engulfed in flames, it is hard to even consider the possibility that they survived - but they did. In photographs like the ones above, you can even see the ship escaping the blaze, though it certainly didn't get away unscathed.
The shuttle's cabin, though intact, was severely damaged on the outside, having lost both of its wings, but still managed to be propelled nearly three miles up into the sky before nose-diving down into the ocean 12 miles below. However, upon recovering what remained of the shuttle, NASA scientists determined that the cabin had survived the blast, meaning that those aboard had survived too.
After the Challenger slowly began to arch its way downward toward the ocean in a steady descent, it took 2 minutes, 45 seconds, for them to make their way to the surface of the ocean below. Yet, because the cabin fell at such a controlled pace without spinning out of control, it suggests that the ship never depressurized and the astronauts were likely conscious the whole time. In fact, it was discovered that the astronauts had even engaged their reserve oxygen packs during the fall in an attempt to survive.