Lightning and Rockets Don't Mix, Even for the Space Shuttle

August 30, 1983: It’s never a good sign when nature gets too involved in a rocket launch. This lightning storm put on a spectacular display during rainy skies the morning before Challenger blasted off in the first pre-dawn launch of the space shuttle program.


First night launch of a space shuttle. Image credit: NASA

Launchpad sat Kennedy Space Center are ringed by lightning towers to protect rockets on the pad waiting to launch. These towers were well-worth the cost during the early morning hours when a storm rolled in before the launch of Challenger on the STS-8 mission.

Lightning storm prior to the STS-8 launch. Image credit: NASA

Challenger launched at 06:32:00 am local time out of Kennedy Space Center, marking the first time any of the space shuttles launched in darkness. The mission carried a Indian communications and weather observation satellite into geostationary orbit. The mission also tested out the shuttle’s then-new Canadarm remote manipulator system to release a dummy payload. Although the shuttle safely landed a few days later on September 5th (marking the first night landing for the shuttles), the mission was somewhat shadowed by the discovery that the solid-fuel rocket booster almost had a catastrophic mishap during launch.


Lightning strikes near the space shuttle prior to launch. Image credit: NASA

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