The footage was captured on then current Super 8mm film by Jeffrey Ault, who was 19-years-old at the time. The footage offers a look at the events of that tragic day, when the Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, after an O-ring failure caused a breach in the solid-rocket booster joint it sealed, allowing hot and pressurized gas from within the SRB motor to reach the external fuel tank.
The disintegration of the Challenger led to the deaths of its seven crew members, Greg Jarvis, Christa McAuliffe, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Michael J. Smith, and Dick Scobee. It also forced a 32-month hiatus in the shuttle program as the Rogers Commission investigated the accident.
According to Wikipedia, the Rogers Commission "found NASA's organizational culture and decision-making processes had been key contributing factors to the accident. NASA managers had known contractor Morton Thiokol's design of the SRBs contained a potentially catastrophic flaw in the O-rings since 1977, but failed to address it properly. They also disregarded warnings from engineers about the dangers of launching posed by the low temperatures of that morning and had failed to adequately report these technical concerns to their superiors."
At the beginning of the footage, listeners can hear the sounds excitement from the onlookers as Challenger lifts into the sky. At the disastrous 73 second stage of the launch, there is an explosion and the shuttle's SRB separate with smoke trails going off in two different directions. A woman can be heard screaming.
Not until 39 seconds later can you can hear the voice of Steve Nesbitt from the Mission Control Center, as he said stoically, "Flight control is here looking very carefully at the situation. Obviously a major malfunction." Later he announced that the shuttle Challenger had exploded, and the film ends.
The film had been stored in a box at Ault's home. He had been attending the launch with his parents and a friend. He said, in an email to The Huffington Post, "The excitement leading up to the launch was something I had never felt before. It was just great. I was hoping to see an event that I would remember for the rest of my life. I did. Just not the way I would have liked to."