Challenger: The Final Flight
Challenger The Final Flight Netflix 2020.jpg
Developed by
Directed by
ComposerJeff Beal
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons1
No. of episodes4 (list of episodes)
Executive producers
  • Maren Domzalski
  • Bridget Topp
  • Steven Leckart
  • Daniel Junge
CinematographyGraham Willoughby
  • Poppy Das
  • Adrienne Gits
Running time41-52 minutes
Production companies
  • Bad Robot
  • Zipper Bros Films
  • Sutter Road Picture Company
Original networkNetflix
Picture formatHDTV 1080p
Audio formatStereo
Original releaseSeptember 16, 2020 (2020-09-16)

Challenger: The Final Flight (also known as Challenger) is a 2020 American docuseries developed by Glen Zipper and Steven Leckart for Netflix.[1][2][3] The series revolves around the day the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart off the coast of Cape Canaveral a minute after takeoff and events that preceded launch and aftermath of a national tragedy.

The series includes a look at Christa McAuliffe's preparation for the flight, problems with the solid rocket boosters, a teleconference between NASA and Morton Thiokol the night prior to the ill-fated launch, accounts from the astronauts' families who witnessed the explosion firsthand, and the months long investigation into the catastrophe, while archive footage is used to delve into the Space Shuttle program up to the Challenger disaster.

The series was released on September 16, 2020, on Netflix.[4]


On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated 73 seconds into its ascent, killing all seven crew members, including New Hampshire high school teacher, Christa McAuliffe, who was to be the first civilian in space. The tragedy sent shockwaves across the United States and resulted in the Space Shuttle program being grounded for 32 months.


Challenger features interviews with families of the STS-51-L crew, former NASA officials and astronauts, employees of Morton Thiokol (manufacturer of the solid rocket boosters), members of the Rogers Commission investigation board, and journalists involved in exposing a cover-up:


No.TitleOriginal release date
1"Space for Everyone"September 16, 2020 (2020-09-16)
In January, 1972, President Richard Nixon authorizes development of the Space Shuttle, a reusable spacecraft that will transform the space frontier. A positive campaign encourages women and minorities to tryout to become astronauts. In January, 1978, NASA introduces the 35 persons chosen - among them three blacks, one oriental, and six women, making it the most diverse group of any government hiring. On April 12, 1981, thousands witness the historic event as Columbia lifts off from Cape Canaveral in the first American spaceflight for six years. In April, 1983, Challenger takes off on her maiden voyage, later carrying Sally Ride and Guion Bluford into orbit as the first American woman and first African American astronaut, respectively. NASA is smart about what they want the public to know, with managers trying to convey the shuttle is a safe vehicle that flies like a commercial aircraft, despite the tremendous risks involved. Regardless of the many close calls over the years, successes of previous space programs breeds a streak of arrogance within the organization.
2"HELP!"September 16, 2020 (2020-09-16)
In August, 1984, with the public losing interest in the shuttle missions, President Ronald Reagan announces he is directing NASA to begin a search and choose a teacher as the first citizen passenger in the history of the space program. In July, 1985, Christa McAuliffe is named the winner of the Teacher in Space competition. Engineers at Morton Thiokol start seeing erosion inside the solid rocket boosters and there is part of an O-ring burned off. It is a significant concern and when the problem persists, the engineers feel it is not being effectively dealt with. The launch of STS-51-C is the coldest launch at the time and the O-ring issue crops up again. A substantial amount of soot is discovered between the two O-rings in one joint that almost goes the whole way around the circumference of the booster. This is the first time engineers have seen this joint compromised and cannot find anything that explains what is different about this set of hardware, other than the temperature it was launched at. A task force is put together to have a concentrated effort on how to evaluate the problem. Anytime there is a failure in a redundant feature, NASA has a requirement the shuttle cannot be flown. They have to stop and fix it, but it is going to take a couple of years. With the judgement being it not risky enough, Lawrence Mulloy of the Marshall Space Flight Center and SRB project manager, issues a waiver they will fly as is. Under the pressure of a demanding schedule, and in order to preserve its budget, nobody is willing to ground the fleet.
3"A Major Malfunction"September 16, 2020 (2020-09-16)
A high probability of rain sees NASA scrub a January 26 launch for STS-51-L and the closeout team have difficulty getting the bolts to engage to lock the hatch to the crew cabin in place, coupled with strong winds, call for another postponed launch the following day. NASA has a program assessment review with managers from all contractors to discuss what going down to 22 °F the night before will mean. Thiokol are notified of the weather situation that says it may be a cold-weather launch and arrange an evaluation on the solid rocket motor that may be of concern so they can make a judgement and report it. The people most knowledgeable of the O-ring problem give the presentation during a teleconference with NASA, but Mulloy makes an argument they are taking no additional risk, stating the data is inconclusive. Thiokol makes its recommendation not to launch and NASA should should not do so below 53 degrees. Mulloy is angry for what he considers an irrational decision, making an intimidating comment which leads to Thiokol requesting an offline caucus to see if the data supports their decision. A poll is taken, but only among senior managers, which concludes they agree the correlation is not there and should give the all-clear to launch. The day of the launch and, given the cold overnight temperatures, icicles form on the service structure after engineers at Kennedy Space Center turn on the spigots on the launch tower. After the shuttle stack is inspected, experts in the mission evaluation room run calculations and conclude ice will not hit the orbiter. After a two-hour delay, Challenger finally takes off, to the delight of the crowd in the viewing area. The ascent appears to be going normally, but 73 seconds into the flight, Challenger is engulfed in a fireball. The spectators are uncertain as to what has happened, until an announcement on the loudspeaker confirms the vehicle has exploded.
4"Nothing Ends Here"September 16, 2020 (2020-09-16)
The events of January 28, 1986 leaves everyone in a state of shock and a country in mourning. Reagan, who had been due to give the annual State of the Union address that evening, instead speaks to the nation about the tragedy from the Oval Office, before the announcement of an investigation board, with former Secretary of State, William Rogers, appointed chairman. With NASA officials making false statements during the commission, budget analyst Richard Cook leaks confidential information to The New York Times regarding the issues with the solid rocket boosters. Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist Richard Feynman plays a key part in the investigation, doing a demonstration during the February 11 hearing, proving how O-rings lack resilience when at a temperature of 32 degrees. In June, 1986, the Rogers Commission returns its verdict of a "fatally-flawed" decision process, stating a faulty rubber seal on a solid rocket booster, along with an attitude of NASA that is equally to blame. Several officials at NASA and Thiokol are either removed from their posts or take early retirement, while engineer Allan McDonald, who refused to sign off on the launch of STS-51-L and acted as a whistleblower during the investigation, is put in charge of designing a new, safer booster. On September 29, 1988, following a 32-month hiatus to make the necessary changes, NASA goes to fly again, this time with Discovery. America's return to space is confirmed when mission control instructs the shuttle commander to "go at throttle up" and the redesigned solid rocket boosters successfully separate from the external tank a few moments later.


The original score was composed by Jeff Beal, with music from Neil Diamond, Steve Miller Band, Electric Light Orchestra, and A Flock of Seagulls also featured.[5]


The official trailer was released on September 2, 2020.[6]


On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the series holds an approval rating of 84% based on 19 reviews, with an average rating of 8.20/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "Challenger: The Final Flight doesn't uncover any new information, but intimate interviews elevate its well-crafted, heartbreaking retelling of an avoidable national tragedy."[7] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the series a score of 76 out of 100 based on 11 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[8]

Noel Murray of The A.V. Club gave the series a B and said, "Co-directors Steven Leckart and Daniel Junge have plenty archival news footage to draw on, much of it as raw and emotional now as it was when it aired 34 years ago, which they supplement with a few dramatic reenactments, and plenty of tear-filled interviews with some of the people who witnessed this history up close." [9] Chicago Sun-Times veteran Richard Roeper gave a rating of 3.5 out of four stars and described it as "perhaps the most comprehensive and humanized version of events yet".[10]

See also