Here is the true story of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, which opens GLOW season 3. The new season of Netflix's hit show about women's professional wrestling has transplanted the action and drama from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, which was the home base of the real-life GLOW. Now staging live events 6 nights a week at the Fan-Tan Casino, the GLOW girls have new complications to their lives - but a tragic real-world event intrudes on their opening night.
GLOW season 3 begins on January 28, 1986, which was a fateful morning in 20th century American history because it marked the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Challenger was carrying out mission STS-51-L when it broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, killing all seven crew members including schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe. The space shuttle disintegrated off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida over the Atlantic Ocean. The disaster was caused by the failure of the shuttle's right solid rocket booster (SRB), which happened because the O-ring seals of the SRB weren't designed to handle the unusually cold conditions during launch. The seals' failure allowed pressurized burning gas to breach to the adjacent SRB and the shuttle's external fuel tank. The shuttle then broke apart from aerodynamic forces. The disaster caused a 32-month hiatus of the space shuttle program, and President Ronald Reagan ordered the formation of the Rogers Commission to investigate NASA and the causes of the disaster.
Related: GLOW Season 3 Cast & Character Guide
On the morning of 1/28/86, CNN broadcast the Challenger launch live and, across the country, schoolchildren watched the disaster unfold in their classrooms on NASA-TV. This was due to the presence of Christa McAuliffe, the first civilian school teacher to become an astronaut. In 1984, President Reagan had announced the Teacher in Space Project; NASA wanted to find an ordinary citizen and a gifted teacher who could, in turn, drum up interest in the space shuttle program. New Hampshire's Christa McAuliffe was chosen out of 11,000 applicants and she was planning to teach two lessons from outer space had the Challenger mission been successful. For his part, President Reagan canceled the State of the Union Address planned for the evening after the Challenger launch and instead addressed the nation from the Oval Office. In his speech, Reagan quoted the poem "High Flight" by John Gillespie Magee Jr.:
"We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of Earth' to 'touch the face of God'."
The Challenger disaster plays a key role in GLOW season 3's premiere episode "Up, Up, Up". In order to drum up interest in the premiere of GLOW at the Fan-Tan Casino, Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin) and Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie) appear on Las Vegas morning TV as their rival characters Liberty Belle and Zoya the Destroya. The All-American heroine trades barbs with her Soviet adversary as they watch the Challenger launch; Liberty Belle praises Challenger's "glorious display of American genius soarin' across the sky like a shootin' star," while Zoya mocks the very name 'Challenger' as "second place" and calls the "puny rocket... a child's toy".
As Ruth really gets into a groove telling jokes about Challenger, Reagan, and Christa McAuliffe, she is unaware of the tragedy suddenly unfolding on the television set in front of her. When Ruth realizes the shuttle has broken apart, she instantly stops and joins Debbie in stunned silence before they cut the segment off. GLOW's producers decide not to cancel their premiere, but Ruth continues to feel terrible about her insensitive comments about Challenger and McAuliffe. Still, Ruth is unable to convince GLOW's director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron) to reference the Challenger disaster during GLOW's opening night performance.
GLOW season 3 is available to stream on Netflix.