First called STA-099, Challenger was built to serve as a test vehicle for the Space Shuttle Program. Challenger was named after the British Naval research vessel HMS Challenger that sailed the Atlantic and Pacific oceans during the 1870s. But despite its Earth-bound beginnings, STA-099 was destined for space. In the late 1970s, NASA strived for a lighter weight shuttle, but a test vehicle was needed to ensure the lighter airframe could handle the stress of space flight. Computer software at the time wasn't yet advanced enough to accurately predict how STA-099's new, optimized design would respond to intense heat and stress. The best solution was to submit the vehicle to a year of intensive vibration and thermal testing. Boeing received the contract on July 26, 1972 and rollout from Palmdale was Feb. 14, 1978.
On January 29, 1979, NASA awarded Boeing a contract to convert STA-099 to a space-rated orbiter, OV-099. The vehicle's conversion began late that year and roll-out from Palmdale was on June 30, 1982. Although the job was easier than it would have been to convert NASA's first shuttle,Enterprise, it was a major process that involved the disassembly and replacement of many parts and components.
The second shuttle to join NASA's fleet, OV-099 arrived at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida in July 1982.Challenger launched on her maiden voyage, STS-6, on April 4, 1983. Challenger's service to America's Space Program ended in tragedy on Jan. 28, 1986. Just 73 seconds into mission STS 51-L, a booster failure caused an explosion that resulted in the loss of seven astronauts, as well as the vehicle.