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  Challenger anniversary recalls MIT's contributions

January 24, 2006

This week the world will mark the 20th anniversary of the explosion of 
the space shuttle Challenger, a disaster felt deeply at MIT, which has a 
long history of close connections to the space program.

When the Challenger exploded, 73 seconds after liftoff on Jan. 28, 1986, 
all seven crew members were killed -- including MIT alumnus Ronald E. 
McNair (Ph.D. 1976).

Over the years, contributions to NASA's mission by MIT scientists and 
engineers have ranged from developing the guidance and navigation system 
that allowed Apollo astronauts to reach the lunar surface, to exploring 
the frontiers of X-ray astronomy with the Chandra Observatory.

"MIT has always been key to NASA's success. Our people, technology 
development and scientific investigations have been intertwined since 
the earliest days of the space program," said William Readdy, NASA 
associate administrator for space operations.

NASA was founded in 1958. As of July 2004, MIT had 32 alumni astronauts, 
among them Buzz Aldrin (Sc.D. 1963), Franklin Chang-Diaz (Sc.D. 1977) 
and Janice Voss (Ph.D. 1987), the first alumna to fly in space.

Two former astronauts are on the MIT faculty: Jeffrey Hoffman, veteran 
of five shuttle missions, and Laurence Young (S.B. 1957, Ph.D. 1962), 
alternate payload specialist for the 1993 Columbia mission.

Historical highlights of the MIT-NASA collaboration include:

    * 1961, the MIT Instrumentation Lab wins the first major contract of
      the Apollo program.
    * 1960-1968, Robert C. Seamans Jr., alumnus (S.M. 1942, Sc.D.) and
      professor emeritus, serves as NASA's deputy administrator.
    * 1973, Professors Harry G. Gatos and the late August F. Witt lead
      MIT materials scientists in the first experiments to grow crystals
      aboard NASA's first space station, Skylab.
    * 1988, Frederick H. Hauck (S.M. 1966) commands Discovery, the first
      shuttle mission after Challenger.
    * 1994, MIT experiments investigate the characteristics of
      undercooled liquid metals on the International Microgravity
      Laboratory space shuttle mission.
    * 1997, NASA astronaut Wendy Lawrence (S.M. 1988) participates in
      the first of her two shuttle-Mir docking sessions.
    * 1999, NASA astronaut Catherine G. "Cady" Coleman (S.B. 1983) leads
      deployment of the Chandra X-ray Observatory.
    * 2000, astronaut William M. Shepherd (OCE 1978) commands the first
      crew to live and work aboard the International Space Station.
    * 2004, alumnus Lt. Col. Mike Fincke (S.B. 1989) begins a six-month
      stay on the International Space Station.
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