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Space

The Challenger 488

Posted by michael
from the turn-down-a-glass dept.

On Jan. 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after liftoff, destroying the vehicle, its crew, and the U.S. space program.
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The Challenger

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  • a moment of silence is not created out of past respect for something long forgotten...but out of something so horrible or beautiful as to never be forgotten. don't tarnish the memory of the challenger by something so trite and politically correct as a moment of silence.

    my moment of silence for the challenger was on that cold january day. Today, my gift to her crew is a place in my heart, and the knowledge that they will never be forgotten.


    FluX
    After 16 years, MTV has finally completed its deevolution into the shiny things network
  • by friscolr (124774) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @08:56AM (#475001) Homepage
    it's not just the State of Slashdot. It's the state of part of the U.S. Culture. (sure, some of those postings above may have been from non-U.S. citizens, but for now i'll assume the majority were U.S. besides, i believe this applies to most of the Developed World)

    Part of this reaction is apathy - who cares? that explosion happened so long ago. we're a culture of fast-paced flash and there have been plenty of explosions (OK, NY twin towers), a couple of wars (Gulf, Somalia, Yugoslaia), plenty of school shootings, and 14 Superbowls since that explosion. Who cares to remember one explosion?

    part of it comes from a lack of a sense of history, and the way that history has built the world we currently live in. I've mentioned to a few people my pilgrimages to Trinity Site, NM (site of the first manmade atomic explosion) and how it's historically one of the most influential events to current history, only to receive confused looks. Same look i get when i tell people a day is special b/c it is the anniversary of D-Day, or Napoleon's defeat, or Genghis destroying Nineveh. We've little perspective.

    Why have we such little perspective? it's nothing new, and in fact we probably have more perspective than most people have had throughout history since we have access to information from all around. And that's probably why we've still such little perspective - though we hae access to knowledge about so many Important Events, we don't really have the tools to sort through them.

    in the past (a few thousand years ago), the Challenger explosion would have evolved into a Legend, a Myth, perhaps similar to Icarus's flight, and it's memory and message would have influenced our decision making for centuries to come. But now, what stories would stand out against the plethora of others? what Event that we know of is greater than all others? Pearl Harbor? The Kennedy Assassination? The Challenger Explosion?

    Why should the Challenger explosion stand out so much more than all the others? Or, if it cannot, how do we give each event the respect that it deserves when there are so many to remember?

    -f

  • All the nerds at my school (me included) were gathered at the school library to watch it take off, and then it blew up and everybody freaked out. Then later on i was sort of desensitised to the whole thing since they played the footage on the news on every station every hour for a week or so. Talk about shameless exploitation of mayhem...
  • by Delphis (11548) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @09:00AM (#475011) Homepage
    That's what bugs me the most about Challenger... the engineers KNEW about the fault that caused the explosion, they'd come close to having similar explosions during testing and knew the problem hadn't been fixed.

    No, it was the managers (at Morton Thiokol - mfrs of the rocket boosters) that OVERRULED the decision of their engineers who had a agreed that a launch in the cold January temperatures would be disasterous.

    Do you get the Discovery Channel? .. There was a very informative program on about the Challenger distaster. 'Challenger: Final Mission' or something like that. Anyone else see that program too?

    It's always the managers that screw these things up. Either by rushing the engineers/programmers/experts or assuming they know best when they clearly don't know shit.

    --
  • by Alien54 (180860) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @08:19AM (#475012) Journal
    I saw it live too

    I remember thinking, as it lifted off,"Odd, that seems a little slow". It seemed just a touch less snappy compared to other launches.

    But it got off the pad okay and I dismissed the thought.

    Then a little bit later they showed a close up through thge telescope of the side of the ship, and I saw what I thought were unusual plumes from the sides of the boosters. Again, it was odd, but again I dismissed it. Somehow, through all this, I was not my usual cheery self. Something was bugging me.

    Then it happened. boom. and I argued with the people around me about what I saw in the replays over the next day or two, until the analysts on the TV spotted the plumes.

  • by fhwang (90412) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @08:20AM (#475013) Homepage
    In his book Visual Explanations, Edward Tufte -- an expert in the field of visualizing data -- notes that the failure of O-rings was discussed before the Challenger launched, and NASA engineers were unable to convince the brass to cancel the Challenger launch. The failure of the engineers to make their case can largely be attributed to poor chart design [statview.com].

    The engineers decided to present their data by wrapping it in distracting rocket icons. The rockets were organized, left to right, by date, but the real variable they needed emphasize was the relation of temperature to O-ring failure, not of date to O-ring failure. (The forecast temperature that morning was 25-30 degrees F, far below any previous launch temperature.) Tufte includes a chart he would've used, which forgoes date (and those cute rockets) in favor of a clear relationship between temperature and O-ring failure -- a chart that very possibly could've convinced management to cancel the launch.

    This is what good information design is about. It's not about using fancy pictures to obscure data -- it's about using visual elements to highlight and emphasize the relationships between data. It's an important skill, and unfortunately it seems to be in very short supply.

  • by hey! (33014) on Monday January 29, 2001 @06:04AM (#475015) Homepage Journal
    I think an interesting point is how it has enhanced our understanding of group decision processes and how they can fail. If you work in business you see this kind of fault all the time -- the piece of information that is suppressed, the nightmare scenario that is dismissed because it is so unthinkable that it must be equally unlikely.

    Positive thinking is a crucial aspect of doing business. The problem is how to win victories against your competitors, and yet find a way to integrate thinking about the greater dimensions of the problem, and your responsibilities to the people who will live with the consequences of your actions.

  • I think Anonymous Coward suits you rather nicely.

    Damn right! I sacrificed perfectly good karma for my joke. The least I could ask is some backup from some other wise-ass slashdotters... but no, all I get is Anonymous Cowards. fuck karma, you can't trade it up at Thinkgeek... sacrifice some!
    "Me Ted"
  • I never thought of the Challenger explosion as that big a deal. Unmanned boosters have about a 90% success rate, if that. You expect better for a man-rated systems, but the Shuttle doesn't have anything like the safety factors of a commercial airliner. I expected that during the operational life of the Shuttle fleet, there'd be one or more disasters. So did lots of other people in aerospace.

    Still, the thing was launched outside of its rated temperature range. The launch director should have been shot for that one.

  • I understand your pride at rapidly determining "the cause" of the breakup, but really all you identified was the endgame sequence --

    Good point. We certainly didn't know the reason for the O-ring failure, or for that matter, didn't know that the SRB's *had* O-rings. We didn't know the specifics of the SRB construction at that point, all that came later with the discussions.

    Thanks.
  • by Bastian (66383) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @05:05PM (#475023)
    I think you missed the point. Unlike most senseless violence, the Challenger explosion wasn't just a billion dollars down the tube and 7 dead astronauts. There is something more grisly horrible about a plane wreck, but seeing the Challenger blow up spoke to people on an entirely different level. We saw a symbol of a vital part of ourselves crash into the ocean that day.
  • I Remember the the morning of the 29th of Jan 1986. Being in Australia I couldn't actually watch the launch, I was only in primary school, 9 years old, eating breakfast when I heard on the radio news that the Space Shuttle Challanger had exploded, I ran into the lounge and turned on the TV to see that horrific image. We even had a minute of silence at 11:00am at our school (signifigant for Australians on the 11th of november). Most of the kids thought it was tragic, but funny. "Those Bloody Americans can't even get their shuttle right" But I held firm, I KNEW that NASA would find out what went wrong and fix it, and the next launch would be safer...

    Well, I have to say that the challanger was really the last launch of the US Space program. Every launch thereafter was for satillites and the like. It was bad PR for the government, so they took the easy way out and gave up.

    Look at the russian space program, even though the country was decimated by the shift to democracy They still kept their space program running. Even though they were using the same systems that they used in the sixties.

    The point that I am trying to make is that the primary difference between the russian space program and the US space program is determination and resorcefulness. I am not saying the the US don't have these elements, but the russians do in abundance. NASA spent millions of dollars developing a pen that could function in zero gravity. Which is a fantastic idea, really and a triumph of human knowledge, however the russians use a pencil. Mir has been in orbit for how many years, and Skylab is where...

    In 1988 (two whole years after challanger) the Russians launched their first reusable Space Shuttle, the "Buran". Even in the midst of talk that the space shuttle was unsafe (and the Russian shuttle was designed of the original american plans) the still pushed ahead.

    The problem is that the americian public forgot what the space program was for. as exciting as the first moon walk was and as unbelievable the first space shuttle seemed these events where not designed for the public's entertaintment, they where designed to further human knowledge, experience and our reach.

    Lets be honest, the ISS should have been built 10 years ago, it's not as if it couldn't have been, it just wasn't.

    The challanger disaster highlighted the real challanges of space exploration, the US Space program fell of it's bike and scraped it's knee. But it didn't get back on, it ran home to mummy.

  • I may have the dubious honor of making the first shuttle 'joke': I was in 12th grade, we were watching the launch in english class. About 10 seconds after it blew up, I said "I wonder how long till the jokes start", which busted up the whole class and sent the teacher into a kiniption (sp?) fit who made me go to the principals office. The principal didn't do much, he even smiled a bit. I thought it was funnuy as hell at the time, but now have mixed thoughts looking back.
  • I was one of those school children, in 5th grade at the time. The things I remember from the live reporting was not talk of dispair, but rather talk of the scrambling around to find possible survivors. The discussion in my class of Religion, accidents, etc. was intense because of this. People learn from this, and become stronger individuals. No one can truly grow without someone / something challenging what you thought to be a truth.
    The claim that these images "disturb a generation" is someone just trying to be too much of a shield from LIFE! I'd rather let my kids watch that type of reporting, rather than see all of the fake violence on today's TV shows. There is reality, of accidents, mistakes, war - then there is staged, scripted smut and violence all over today's TV that I am amazed from.
  • by Baldrson (78598) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @09:05AM (#475037) Homepage Journal
    Extracted from the ancient and forbidden archives of sci.space [geocities.com]:

    In order to prepare for the next Shuttle disaster, we need to examine the various scenarios that may occur, their likelihood, consequences and what work should be done, in advance to prepare ourselves, our space program and our citizenry.

    SCENARIO: Stranded in LEO due to APU failure

    For example, consider what would happen if an orbiter were stranded in LEO due to total APU failure. The logic of the situation would unfold in this scenario:

    Hundreds of millions of people on Earth would watch every detail of the dramatic situation unfold over several days (assuming they have that much life support). During the first few days, there will be many attempts to repair the problem with ground crews working round the clock on a simulated orbiter in a similar failure mode. They will come up with any of a number of futile attempts to fix the problem which the astronauts will, at first, dutifully carry out. This work will proceed even though there is little or no possibility of an actual fix. The public, the astronauts and NASA personnel will feel hope and dispair in cycles at each attempt, until, eventually, the charade will wear thin. At that point, the astronauts, the ones who are facing certain death, will be under enormous psychological pressure to end the charade.

    Such a break-point will carry with it the likelihood of one or more astronauts venting frustration and hostility -- possibly built up over many years of disillusionment as part of the crippled US space effort.

    NASA will attempt to blank-out all communications with the astronauts at or before this point. Some or all astronauts will not want to cooperate with this black-out and will refuse to allow the their communications to be encrypted. Ham radio operators and others around the world will band together to pick up the transmissions of the doomed astronauts and make them available to the public.

    After breaking from the bureaucracy's authority, the astronauts may become extremely critical of specific individuals in NASA and its contractors. They will have nothing to lose and will finally have a chance to right what they perceive as the wrongs in the space program.

    A few weeks after the dying words of the astronauts are heard, the shuttle will reenter the atmosphere at 5 or 6 miles per second. It will break up. A few large fragments will scatter widely and unpredictaby, hitting the ground before total disintigration due to the ablative coating. The public, ignorant of probability theory, will be in terror at the thought of the shuttle crashing into their communities causing mass destruction. The fireball could easily be visible from large population centers and will most likely be viewed on television broadcasts around the world.

    SCENARIO: Secret Shuttle Launch Disaster

    The DoD reopens the Vandenburg Shuttle launch facility. A payload with a plutonium radioactive thermal generator needs to be placed in an LEO polar orbit. About 2 minutes after SRB separation, a main engine pump turbine blade fails causing the turbine to fly apart at supersonic speed. The containment works pretty well but a few blades get out. One of them nicks the pressurization system for the fuel oxydizer tanks in one of the OMS pods. The astronauts sense a loud THUD and the loss of one of the main engines. They opt to abort once around using the remaining two main engines. Everything goes according to the contingency plan. All fuel is consumed from the main tank. The tank separates. The OMS engines start up. Only one of them lights. Since this produces an off center thrust, the RCS consumes excessive amounts of fuel to keep stability. The OMS system, only capable of using half its fuel, fails to put the Shuttle into a once around trajectory. It reenters short, somewhere near the Persian Gulf. In the early phase of reentry, when the aerodynamic control surfaces are insufficient to orient the spacecraft, the already overtaxed RCS runs out of fuel. The Shuttle begins tumbling somewhere over the Caucasus Mountains. By the time the control surfaces could be used, the Shuttle is in a fatal spin. It breaks up. When it breaks up, the RTG canister, designed to withstand reentry, is struck by one of the structural members of the Shuttle. Not being designed to withstand this, it shatters. 22 kilograms of Pu238-dioxide are distributed in the atmosphere over Moscow, Kalinin and Lenningrad.

    The Soviet ballistic missile warning radars, primarily facing north, are briefly treated to the spectacle of hundreds of reentering objects coming down around Moscow and Lenningrad. The two largest, most economically important and strategically significant cities in the Soviet Union.

    Pu238 is 284 times more radioactive than the fissionable isotope Pu239 due to its relatively short half-life of 86 years. It decays by alpha emmission of 5.5Mev. While this is somewhat higher than the decay energy of Pu239, it is far higher than the decay energy of U235 and not similar to the decay energy of any other common nuclide. Thus to the relatively unsophisticated instruments initially used to evaluate the sudden release of radioactive material, it will appear as though 5.5 metric tons of weapons-grade Pu239 has suddenly reentered over Moscow.

    5.5 metric tons of Pu239 is enough to support on the order of 500 warheads. Areasonable surmize would be that a US secret launch out of Vandenburg was to illegally emplace a facility containing 500 or so nuclear warheads into an orbit where it would pass over the Soviet Union 4 times per day from the south whre their early warning radars could not detect it until it was far too late.

    Vandenburg is a highly secured facility. Due to the local geography, neither the launch pad nor the assembly building can be viewed from sites not on the base. The Soviets will have very limited intelligence about launch preparations and the launch itself. Our belated protestations that it was merely a routine Shuttle launch will be met with a great deal of skepticism.

    The Soviets, sensitized by the Chernobyl disaster to nuclear catastrophe, will be react unpredictably.

    SCENARIO: Brilliant Soviet Rescue of Astronauts Stranded in LEO

    As in the "Stranded in LEO Due to APU Failure" scenario, all 3 APU's fail, leaving the astronauts helplessly adrift.

    The Soviets, hearing Tom Neff's idea of a rescue effort, come up with a brilliant plan. They launch an unmanned Soyuz from Space City with the stated intent of making a rendevous with the drifting Shuttle and rescuing some of the astronauts (the Soyuz wouldn't have capacity for all of them). Space City, being at a much higher latitude than KSC, gives the Soyuz craft a much higher inclination orbit than the Shuttle. The Soyuz, being incapable of correcting its inclination by the required amount, intersects with the Shuttle's orbit at a few miles second or so.

    Thus the Soyuz saves our brave astronauts from the senseless torture of a slow death.

    Why would the Soviets would go along with such an imbicilic rescue attempt when it requires the sacrifice of a launched Soyuz (worth $15 to $20 million)? The Soviets draw attention and blame for the disaster away from NASA. This allows NASA to contain the political damage and maintain its appearance of conducting a space program, leaving the Soviets free to develop space without competition.

    SCENARIO: Possible consequence of terminal approach APU failure

    During reentry 2 of the APUs fail and the third has some problems (as has occured before). But unlike the previous instances, the Shuttle comes into the terminal area energy management manuver a little bit high and a little bit fast. It encounters a little clear air turbulence while in a tight turn to bleed off this excess energy. As the pilot is lining up on the runway, the third and last APU gives out due to the buffetting. Unfortunately, the APU failed before he completed the final turn. The control surfaces go dead. The Space Shuttle, now out of control, impacts at supersonic speed into the waiting crowd which never hears it coming. Thousands perish.

    Shuttle Disaster Premises

    Here are the premises of the Shuttle disaster scenarios (my apologies to those who find all this painfully obvious, but the noise level around here has made it necessary that I belabor these points):

    1 The SSME turbine pump blades have been found to be a weakness in the SSME design that has yet to be dealt with adequately.

    2 The failure of these blades would result in a failure mode that has not been adequately tested, thus the turbine blade containment ring may not succeed in fully containing the debris.

    3 The 3 APU's have been found to be a weakness in the Shuttle system design as 2 of the 3 have failed in a single mission with the 3rd found to be near failure after landing.

    4 According to James Fletcher, the NASA Administrator appointed by President Reagan to reform NASA's Shuttle program after the Challenger disaster, the Space Transportation System is on the verge of becoming "economical". (While I may not agree with this opinion, it is certainly reasonable to assume the statements of such a person to be "plausible" in these scenarios.)

    5 An "economical" launch system is what the military needs to launch its crushing backlog of spy satellites and Vandenburg is the only launch site which can make polar orbit without going over populated areas.

    6 The trajectory of a Shuttle launched to the south into a polar orbit (which is the typical orbit of spy satellites) from Vandeburg reenters over the major western Soviet cities in the event that an abort to once around option is attempted and falls short due to inadequate thrust (such as OMS engine failure secondary to SSME failure).

    7 RTG's are a far less vulnerable power source for spy satellites than solar cells and the military is increasingly concerned about solar panel vulnerability.

    8 Unavoidable clear air turbulence is common over the Shuttle landing site at Edwards AFB.

    9 The OMS fuel and pressurization lines are in reasonable proximity to the SSME turbine blades.

    10 The Pu239 oxide cannisters have not been adequately tested since when they were subjected to an explosive test, they did fail and NASA proceeded to proclaim them flight ready because the explosive test was "invalid".

    11 We have no way of rescuing Shuttle astronauts stranded in orbit.

    Some other facts, pointed out to me privately, that could be used for future Shuttle disaster scenarios:

    12 Orbital debris is a significant threat to the Shuttle as we have already experienced damage during one flight.

    13 The SSME bell is not being adequately inspected for hairline cracks which could fail catastrophically during launch.

    There are many classes of plausible disaster scenarios based on these premises. I've chosen to write on just a few exemplary cases which are particularly horrific. They are worth contemplating because they are so horrific.

  • by The Optimizer (14168) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @08:24AM (#475038)
    Growing up I had heard that just about everyone older than I remebered exactly here they were when president Kennedy was assasinated. Since I, and my friends, weren't born then, this was just evidence of a generational gulf between us.

    We finally understood what they were talking about when we lost Challenger. All of my gen-x friends still today can clearly recall where they were and what they were doing when they learned the news. (I was in the Student Union in Ann Arbor, MI getting something to eat and trying to impress some girl at the time. I ran back into my dorm to tell the other guys what had happened.)

    For us, this was our equvalent of the "Kennedy assasination" a defining moment for our generation where one of the core rules of the universe as we know it suffers a hard fault. The generaton that comes after us will not/can not really relate to something they've only heard about as 'history'. In time, I'm sure their generation will have an event that has a simiar effect on them. I can only hope that it will be notable for it's improbability, and not it's disasterous effects (like the first use of a nuclear weapon by terorists).

    On a completely different thread: I was at the Kennedy Space Center about 2 weeks ago, just before the launch of the Shuttle Atlantis was scrubbed. I stood on a launch platform there, eactly 224 feet below the spot where 3 men lost their lives in the Apollo 1 command module. It was somber moment, disturbed only by the crying babies and infants that seemed to be issued to every second family that walked through the gates.

    Even with such noisy distractions, I encourage every person here to visit the Space Center if they have the opprotunity. Seeing the place in photos does not do it justice.

  • by tech81 (128914) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @07:40AM (#475039) Homepage Journal
    A moment of silence. . .
  • I don't see how its completely illogical.

    Of course I understand the difference bewtween disinfecting my toilet and performing an aborrtion. An abortion requires ALOT more skill - and care - as using the wrong tools/chemicals/techniques could kill the person being operated on (it would be excedingly hard fo rme to destroy my toilet bowl by cleaning it)

    However, I see no MORAL difference bwteen the two.

    "Thou shalt not kill" is a law made up by our society as a needed protection - a kind of glue to ease our fears and make society work. It does not apply to those who are not members of the society - or are not capable of being members.

    It applies no more to a fetus than it does to a cow, or a deer, or any other animal that we regularly kill for our own ends.

    -Steve
  • Which really has nothing to do with the issue.

    Just because someone else may the child, doesn't give you any responsibility to follow through with the pregnancy.

    What makes abortion wrong exactly? Really what?
    I don't think its wrong. I do not believe that it is killing a human life. I don't see it as any different than using disinfectant soap to clean my toilet.

    Abortion iwrong IF AND ONLY IF you believe that the fetus is a living thing, that deserves protection. I am sorry, but I just don't see it. Its just a clump of cells.

    It has no more of a right to life than the bacteria and vinegar yeastes that are naturally in the honey I use to make mead - and I have no qualms about killing them before pitching the yeast that I want in there.

    Until a human being is capable of learning language and forming relationships and being a member of society, then I don't recognize any right to life (which is really, a fabircation needed for our society to function).

    -Steve
  • todah l'cha l' comment shelcha.

    Glad it was you who raised the issue of what the rest of us are to do while a certain other group is praying on school time.

    When I was in High School years back, Christmas trees were in the school office, decorations on classroom doors, etc..
    but then, this was the same school that had a Vice-Principal who counted my Yom Kippur absence as un-excused.

    I believe his comment to the absence review board was, "if he's going to claim a religious holiday, at least let it be a real religion."

    But I got him back. I dated his daughter.

    As for Challenger, I was in the only class in the elementary school that didn't watch the launch on television. I remember riding home on the bus that day being upset that we hadn't seen the launch, and having the other kids ask me, "did you see it, did you see it, I can't believe it!" and not knowing what happened (they wouldn't tell me) until I got home and saw the television.

    I sequestered myself in the basement among my Odyssey magazines and posters and watched the footage of the disaster repeatedly for the next 12 hours. I still know every frame from memory. I also have the local newspapers from that fateful day.

    A host is a host from coast to coast, but no one uses a host that's close
  • I'm not flaming, I'm being serious, you all need to have more respect. This story wasn't posted as a fact, or some story, it was posted in memory and sympathy, all you all can do is flame eac hother and the poster. This was obviously intended to allow us to remember what happened as these people lost their lives.

    May they rest in peace.
    --------------------------------------
    I'm a karma whore, mod me up damn you!
  • by powerlord (28156) on Monday January 29, 2001 @06:54AM (#475060) Journal
    Well, I think it is something you can recover from , depending on ones point of view.

    I was on Cape Canaveral for the Challenger explosion. They have tours that you can take, and if a launch is schedualled, they take you out onto a peninsula across from the launch site and you can wait and watch. Well, I was on spring break from school (6th Grade) and he had taken me down to see the launch because he knew how much it ment to me. We were out in the cold every day, and then on the last day before I had to head back to New York to school, it took off.

    I remember that they held us out there for at least 4 hours or so after the explosion and that the bus driver knew there was something wrong before the rest of us (he had seen lots of lift offs before).

    I remember listening to the radio communication between the Challenger and ground control over some P.A. speakers they had set up out there.

    I remember them anouncing that the orbiter had exploded and trying to figure out if they ment the actual space shuttle or something else.

    Now, some 15 years later I remember how utterly exhausted I was at the end of it, and how much I watched the news and followed the story. I followed the inqueries and felt very happy when one of my heros (Richard Feynman) not only was apointed to the committee investigating the disaster, but actually solved the problem and wouldn't let them white-wash it (as I learned much later when I read more about it when I got older).

    Its odd. After witnessing one of the major 'disasters' in U.S. Space history a lot of people seem to think I would be turned against space, or be afraid of it. The truth is, I would happily go into space if given the chance with barely a second thought, even knowing something could go wrong. I HAVE been afraid to go watch another shuttle launch live, but that has more to do with free time then the superstitious fear I had about it for a while when I was younger (as if my being there really had something to do with it :).

    It took us far too long to get a permanent space station in orbit (and the shuttle delligated to the role it was envisioned for, a 'shuttle' to/from that sapce station). I hope space flight progresses enough that the average person can get into space within my lifetime. At 28 I figure I stand a decent chance if the space program follows the same sort of a pattern as the one aeroplanes followed (although it may still be close).

    If not me, then my children should be able to go, if not "to the stars," then at least, "to the planets"
  • Are you an engineer? Are you an engineer in aerospace? Look, in the '80s, the era of unlimited budgets was gone. Even the lowest bidder does very good work. Cost and schedule are two very, very big drivers in aerospace. You just have to deal with that fact and go on with it...
    --
  • by peege (194663) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @09:58AM (#475073)
    The Challenger accident serves as a lesson to all engineers. The exact cause of the explosion was the failure an O-ring on one of the SRBs. It failed because of the low temperature of the launch site that day. Morton Thiokol, the maker of the o-ring, did not know and could not accurately predict how the o-ring would perform that day since no one had thought to test it at low temperatures. Because of the bloated probability figures and the fact that the whole nation was watching, engineers at Thiokol were persuaded to NOT postpone the launch, which they had the power to do, if they thought there was sufficient danger. The Morton engineers are one of many hundreds of engineers who are consulted every time there is a shuttle launch.

    The above lesson that even single, simple engineers can have a profound responsibility to the safety of the public, and engineers should not let their instincts or ideas be persuaded by businessmen.

    These lessons are taught to EVERY sophomore engineering student (mechanical, electrical, systems, chemical, biomed, etc....) at my school in an engineering ethics class that uses the Challenger and many other well known and documented engineering misjudgments as examples.


    ----------------------------------------
  • The URL you posted had a space in it. Here's a live link: Rogers Commission Report [nasa.gov]

    I'm of two minds on this.

    Technically, you're correct. The vehicle did not explode. The SRB plume burned through the strut connecting it to the External Tank, the SRB swung on the remaining strut, and the vehicle was then being pushed in different directions at once at supersonic speeds. The tank was ripped open, and the fuel inside ejected in yet a third direction, causing thrust against the orbiter that it was never designed to withstand. The vehicle broke up at that point.

    I don't think Peter Jennings has been lying to us, either. Explosion is a simple way to put what happened, and those with a desire for more knowledge can easily find it. There is no conspiracy to conceal this fact.
    ----
  • by TOTKChief (210168) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @09:07AM (#475079) Homepage

    The Thiokol guys knew their audience: NASA PHB's like shiny, pretty pictures. If you've looked at NASA documentation [just check out NASA Watch [nasawatch.com]], you'll see that they like this to be the way they get information. Hell, on the ISS Flight Plans, they have a NASA-distributed traffic light icon that is red, yellow, or green for the overall flight based on the overall flight criteria.

    Tufte's conclusions are correct in many ways, but NASA's bureaucratic whims are as much to blame. For one thing, the entire STS system wasn't designed to launch below 40F. Yet they did anyway. The O-Rings were just one of many things that could have failed...in fact, the primary O-ring on one SRB failed on the fifteenth shuttle flight--at a launch temp of 53F--and that sparked the study and discussion of what happened with Challenger.


    --
  • The lessons from the Challenger disaster are equally appropriate to the field of software engineering. However, the software field does not seem to have benefitted from those lessons in the same way as NASA has.

    The lessons I'm talking about are :-

    1. Technical failures don't endanger lives etc, it's the failure of people to adequately assess and prepare for risks that is dangerous.

    2. Ideally, it should take more than a single technical faillure to cause a system failure. Where this level of preparation is too expensive or time-consuming, stakeholders should explicitly take the cost versus safety decision. And review it.

    3. It's quite possible to produce systems whose complexity and reliability are impressive, but you can't do it just with brilliant individuals. You have to have a process; review and criticism is vital. Having brilliant individuals certaily helps. If all you have is dumb individuals, don't bother starting.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Add Apollo I to the list, Grissom, Chaffee, and White.
  • by jd (1658) <imipak&yahoo,com> on Sunday January 28, 2001 @09:14AM (#475090) Homepage Journal
    ...is not 100% understood. Not even close. Would it have been any less traumatic for those children if the live coverage clearly showed something was wrong, followed by a black screen and silence?

    Kids (and adults) WILL generally fill in the blanks in their knowledge with the scariest possibilities. Often far scarier than reality could possibly produce.

    (That's why conspiracy cults and doomsday cults are as popular as they are. They claim to be able to fill those blanks in.)

    "Understanding" is a fundamental human need that we ALL have. Young and old, male and female, of all races, cultures and creeds. Indeed, most cultures, stereotypes, religions, etc, sole function is to meet that need for understanding.

    I'd rather kids have PTSD - which can be "remedied" and even turned into an asset by adequate councelling and a loving, safe family - than have those same kids turn into paranoid sociopaths (a common consequence of the mind adding it's own unique terrors) who are too suspicious to ever be helped.

    That's not to say that kids should not have their information filtered. Age-inappropriate situations are those in which the brain has not yet developed a mechanism for handling the input. At which point, those situations will result in the brain developing all sorts of strange neural connections and chemical responses, in an effort to keep things managable.

    (Children don't "mend" easily, as previous generations were taught. Such faulty brain chemistry or wiring will likely result in conditions which are permanent and require treatment - if any exists - for the remainder of the child's life.)

    Which category is the Challanger disaster under? The first. Kids know "loss" and "bereavement" by the age of 2 or 3. The changes a kid will have gone through by then, through gaining ever-greater independence, involves losing so much of what they (as a baby) took for granted that the issue of loss is pretty much resolved.

    (In fact, most people who have trouble with loss are people who never went through those losses as a child and therefore never developed a mechanism to cope.)

    To deprive a child of an essential part of growing up (that of developing that understanding of loss) is often extremely harmful. In order to grow, you HAVE to be able to let go.

    Virtually all "recovery groups" out there really just show people how to let go, grieve, and then convert what's left into something those people can build from.

    The biggest reason ANYONE ever fails to recover in such a group is their refusal to take that first step and let go.

    And the biggest reason anyone ever has anything to recover from is that society as a whole favours clinging on to ever letting go.

    To summarise: If you're on the Titanic, you can recover from getting a bit cold. You can't recover from getting a bit dead.

  • The problem is that the americian public forgot what the space program was for. as exciting as the first moon walk was and as unbelievable the first space shuttle seemed these events where not designed for the public's entertaintment, they where designed to further human knowledge, experience and our reach.

    The space program was for one reason. To get up there before the Russians could. There was a rightful fear of what could happen if the Russians established a base in orbit or on the moon and made a nuclear weapons platform up there.

    Everything else was just icing.

    Besides, if you can launch a spaceship into orbit, then you can launch an ICBM. This is the problem with the technology leaking into China as a result of the laxness of the Clinton administration. Fortunately, so far it looks like right now they'd rather get up into space than threaten everybody with ICBMs.

    Lets be honest, the ISS should have been built 10 years ago, it's not as if it couldn't have been, it just wasn't.

    Really, we should never have abandoned Skylab after a pitiful three missions. From what I remember seeing of it, it was as spacious as Mir was cramped.

  • Friend, you couldnt be more wrogn about Clinton or the budget surplus.

    This is what is wrong, in my opinion, with the views of many liberal Democrats. You said, that Clinton gave us the first surplus in years.

    Slip of the tongue, probably yes. But a few points. Government doesnt give anything. Government can only take, and redistribute. Remember that.

    Next, Clinton was in office for two years, with a democratic house, and a reasonable moderate Senate. Yet he did not send a balanced budget to the house. Why? Because he didnt believe in one. Republicans won control of the house, and pushed for a balanced budget. Clinton co-opted the idea, and after one government shutdown (which he masterfully, and I mean masterfully turned around and embarrassed the Republicans with) a balanced budget was proposed and signed. Suprise, surprise, the next three fiscal years showed budgets that were balanced, and now, we have a surplus.

    Surplus occur when more revenue comes in then goes out. With balanced budgets, and a growing economy, the result will almost always be a surplus. If growth exceeds projections, thne you have more income and a larger surplus. This is what has happened. Do not kid yourself about the economy. Remember, it is not he government that makes wealth, but the people.

    As for Reaganonicms versus Clintonomics, I dont really want to pick a big fight here. I am no big Reagan fan, but I will say this: taxes were stiffling the economy when Reagan was in office. Taxes at the 1980's level were of such a magnitude that capitial that should have been used for investment and developing infrastructure privately was being funneled to the government, which was distributing it very wastefully. Reagan did very little to help this. Carter did nothing to help this. Reagan rightfully believed that lower taxes would stimulate the economy better than new government programs or spending.

    Finally, why not encapsulate the policies of Reagan vs. Clinton. Reagan believed in a balanced budget, tax cuts, and increased military spending. Congress, which was heavily democratic, rejected literally dozens of proposed balanced budgets from Reagan. Clinton, raised several taxes, increased social spending, cut military spending drastically, and only sent balanced budgets to the House when he was forced to.

    A note about the side rant, I agree - I did not suppor Bush at all. Niether did I support Gore. It was a truly disappointed showing from the dems and republicans. I hope that Bush will be at very least ineffective, and at most, effective in some areas. I am worried about his stances on drugs, abortion, religion, and spending.
    ,br> Enough - its very late.

  • I dont know how many people know or care about this, but a memorial was erected to the people killed in the accident down at NASA.

    This memorial consisted of a mirror, that tracks the sun while it is in the sky.

    The motor has broken on the sun mirror, and NASA has announced they plan to *not* fix it due to the cost of it, and how much that money is needed elsewhere.

    Just thought ya'll might like to know that.. and maybe some people would want to do something about it. I have no links, and I wouldnt know the first person to contribute to to get this working again, but I personally think it is a sad state of affairs when 7 people who die for the attempted betterment of mankind are basically blown off 15 years later.

    Maeryk
  • I'm sure there is a burn rate that defines explosive combustion, but I'm more concerned with what's implied when one says that the external tank exploded: it implies that the intact ET was destroyed by explosive burning of its contents. In fact, the events occurred in the other order: the ET was already destroyed, or being destroyed, but not by burning fuel. The burning occurred as the fuel, no longer contained by the ET, dispersed in the atmosphere.

    And no, I'm not saying that the popular press is lying to us, just that their understanding of science is at its usual abysmal level.

    --Jim
  • by macdaddy (38372) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @10:10AM (#475110) Homepage Journal
    Me too. I was in 1st grade at the time. I don't think the rest of the kids understood what happened. They were all like "oh wow!" "Big boom!" crap like that. I understood what happened though. Sad. It hit a personal note for me. Christa McAuliffe, one of 7 that died in the Challenger tragedy, was a high school teacher. I come from a long line of teachers (although I went the computer engineering route I could teach). My mother (a teacher in my small elementary school--40 some kids), was sitting on the other side of the room. I may have been young but I knew the impact of what had happened. Someday I would like to see another teacher go into space (did see get high enough to qualify as being in space?). I think the first manned mission to Mars would be an appropriate choice. CNN [cnn.com] has a good tribute [cnn.com] to Christa McAuliffe. They also have another good article [cnn.com] about NASA considering the methods of escape for shuttle crews. My $.02 of sentiment. Don't forget them.

    --

  • Yes, thats right, get over it. Was it a tragedy? yes. Should it never have happened? Yes. Were mistakes made? Yes. Ultimately though, this is going to happen. How many people died colonizing the americas? How many people died exploring the new world, africa, sailing around the world? Alot more people are going to die getting into space, but humanity wont stop trying because ultimately we know that our future is off of this rock and out there in the great black depths of the universe. Nobody ever said that getting into space was a safe activity. in fact, strapping yourself to enough explosives to rival a nuclear weapon would be ground for a quick trip to the loony bin in most cases. There are no humans within 3 miles of the shuttle when it launches, for safety reasons. America needs to move on, we need to do the things that no one has ever done before because we know theyre right. Get over Challenger

  • by THB (61664) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @09:14AM (#475112)
    while it was most definatly political and ecomonical, I think the real reason that it happened was that NASA had begun to feel invincible. There was a risk involved, and they knew it, but had they actually thought that it could happen to them, then they would not have done it. They would have know that disaster would set them back 10 years, but like all of us in our youth, we did not think it would happen. As with the first Apollo deaths, this was a time of great maturity for NASA, as they coped with the poor decision that they made.

    I think it will be a long time before NASA makes another decision like that, but like all great tragities of history, it is up to us to learn from these mistakes. Like holocaust surivivor elie wiesel has said, you only honour the dead if you help assure it will never happen again.
  • I take it that this topic is a result of MSNBC's program on the Challenger failure. IMO, it was a fairly well done piece, and it brought tears back to my eyes.

    On that tragic morning, our whole school was shocked by the principal's un-scheduled, rushed, and awkwardly worded announcement that "The Space Shuttle blew up." We were particularly affected because my H.S. Calculus teacher [go.com] was one of the semi-finalist for the Teachers-in-space program. If the failure had not happened, she probably would have gone up in a later shuttle flight.

    Edward Tufte (in his excellecnt book, Visual Explanations [amazon.com]) has an interesting section on the Challenger Disaster -- Basically, NASA didn't understand the urgency of the objections from Thiokol engineers because they (NASA) didn't clearly understand the o-ring failure probability. Thiokol engineers gave NASA the tabular data of o-ring failure rates (the data collected from post-flight analyses of past spent SRB's). Had they graphed the data, Tufte claims, NASA would have clearly understood that the SRB's were in an unusable temperature range.

    Some people believe that science and technology has advanced to StarTrek-like perfection: a car should tell you that there's a problem with its right front tire, a chemical plant's safety system is multiply redundant and will never fail, a computer will instantly solve your problems if you ask the right questions, and common devices are instantly and infinitely reconfigurable to work in any environment. These are worthy ideal goals to have; but, of course, reality falls far short of these StarTrek dreams. Time and money, limits of practicality, and social and political dynamics combine to form trade-offs that sometimes don't work out.

    It might be in somewhat poor taste, but I own a stock-certificate of the Thiokol Corporation [yahoo.com] as a reminder of the lesson that I learned from the disaster. My fellow engineers will occasionally hear me say "Go with Throttle up" when I feel that a (software) project has been rushed, inadequately designed, and poorly tested. Of these 'doomed projects', 3/5-th of those project 'launches' without significant problems, the next 1/5th has significant problems after launch, and the last 1/5th end up with critical failures which we then have to scramble to contain. Of course, failures are best understood in hindsight [tcnj.edu]. The important thing is that we learn from our mistakes.

  • by kzinti (9651) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @08:31AM (#475122) Homepage Journal
    "The Space Shuttle Challenger exploded". Well, not really. Yeah, I know that most of you have probably been hearing that for most of your lives, and it's the popular "Time Magazine" version of what happened. But as true geeks you're supposed to be interested in the "hard science" version of what happened. So go to this site:

    http://science.ksc.nasa.gov/shuttle/missions/51-l/ docs/rogers-commission/table-of-contents.html

    where you will find the text of the Rogers Commision report on what happened to the Challenger. Many of you have probably read Feynman's famous Appendix to the report, but you should also read Chapter III, "The Accident" and read it closely.

    Nowhere in there will you find words like "the vehicle exploded" or "the external tank exploded". The closest you'll come is an "almost explosive" burning of fuel after the external tank comes apart. That's right, kids, the Challenger wasn't destroyed by an explosion like Peter Jennings has been telling you all these years. It and the external tank were torn apart by dynamic forces due to massive structural failure of the tank.

    --Jim
  • Remember, a lot of those guys were *not* watching live video, but reporting what the telemetry was telling them.


    ...phil
  • Keep in mind that that doesn't mean 10% of the Slashdot readership is apathetic about the explosion. 10% of the people who composed their responses to the article in five minutes might be apathetic, but they'd have just said "first post" anyway, so who cares what (if?) they think?

    In other words, no, it is not a sign of the state of Slashdot. It's an artifact of the fact that it takes time to compose a well-thought-out discussion post, but no time to say "BO-ring!".
  • I dont know if I agree completely. I think of something being tragic when it is unexpected, or remarkable. I know someone who was working cleaning offices. She opened the door to an office, and for what ever reason the door hit a trashcan, which knocked over something else, which caused a file cabinet that was top heavy to fall over on her. One leg was completely crushed, and was amputated shortly after. I consider it tragic, because cleaning offices is a safe thing to do.

    When someone dies doing something inherently dangerous, then I cant call it tragic. It might be a shame, and certainly empathesize with the families, but death does not imply trajedy.

    Flying in space, on a rocket powered by 5 million pounds of liquid rocket fuel is indeed inherently dangerous. As an astronaut, you know that the risk of death is very real. They knew the risks, and died. Now, if space flight was inherently safe, like driving a car (cars are inherently safe- driving a car over the period of your lifetime is not likely to get you killed or hurt, where as other vehicles like motorcycles or spaceships) then it would be a tragedy. Likewise, polic work and fire fighting are inherently dangerous - these people know that, and accept the risk. I take solace in knowing that these people died doing what they choose to do.

  • I'm not cold, mostly cynical with a sideorder of disbelief of the American habit of making conversational pieces out of grief.
  • I beg to differ. The space program at one time was a thing of national pride. It was scary when the three died on the pad due to the fire.. but that didn't stop the space program at all. With Christa and the STS-51L .. and the terrifying explosion.. not much has moved forward in the space program. The international space station is slowing down.. there may not be enough funding to go to it in the future. The extraplanetary missions are two or three generations down the road instead of one. The shuttle still doesn't have a safe egress vehicle while it's taking off.. and it's only confined to circumnavigating the earth. Right now, the shuttle missions are mostly funded by outside organizations for scientific/commercial purposes. *shrugs* Sounds like a kill to me. Magnwa
  • by Burdell (228580) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @08:39AM (#475158)
    And on January 27, 1967, the first Apollo capsule caught fire during a test, killing Gus Grissom (who most likely would have been the first man to walk on the Moon), Ed White, and Roger Chaffee.
  • Space Shuttles were moving into deployment and repair of communications sattelites for the most part.
    IIRC, the military had quite a lot to say in the space shuttle program. And I think that a few of the communication satellites were spy satellites.


    I still don't get why satellite launches via shuttle were considered better (or even cheaper) than rocket launches. I don't have hard numbers, but I'm pretty sure that a satellite launch with a Russian `Proton' rocket was both cheaper and safer than a shuttle launch in the late 80's.


    The Galileo probe (to Jupiter) was delayed for almost eight years because first they couldn't get a launch slot on a shuttle, then the Challenger catastrophe happened and there were no slots for years. Meanwhile, the planets had moved and Galileo had to take that wacky Earth-Venus-Earth-Earth tour to pick up enough speed to eventually reach Jupiter. Of course, they had to modify the craft because it wasn't built for the inner solar system. Wouldn't have happened if they had just launched the probe with a rocket in '82.

  • Yeah, I'm also 22 and was in first grade. I'm a Floridian, and we were all watching the television in class (the launch was a few hundred miles away), and the total shock. None of us knew what was going on, and our teacher turned off the TV before we really understood the magnitude of the situation.

    While I'm certain that everyone discussed the situation, being so close to the investigation made it dominate the news. I remember hearing about it constantly as they were looking into the cause of the failure.

    Like most launches, it was constantly delayed because of weather, etc. Well, they decided to launch the sucker rather than keep waitting, and wow, what a disaster.

    A few years later I was doing a "research paper" (I think 6th grade, so it was closer to a book report with 2 books :-) ) on satellites and telecommunication. The book was from the pre-explosion days (82 or 83) when the country could do no wrong. It talked about how, by 1990, there would be a shuttle launch every two weeks... the space program was, in reality, almost completely dead, and even now, NASA is a shell of what it was...

    Alex
  • Where does what condemn speech? I was simply stating that one can believe in free speech, but not necessarily agree with what another has to say. I.e. the "sick fuck" - the guy obviously holds some dissenting feeling towards the person who posted the "first explosion" thing. I personally think the Troll had every right to do so, but I don't aggree with what he said at all.
  • by wd123 (209211) <wd@arpTEAa.com minus caffeine> on Sunday January 28, 2001 @09:31AM (#475188) Homepage
    After browsing the comments here, I think one of the things this post has done is strongly magnify the (lack of) attention span of the average /.er. Given that the average /. reader tends to be at the more enlightened (or at least aware) end of the spectra of average people, this is very disturbing. People are asking "so what?" and "who cares?" without thinking about what this means, or why they should care.

    I think the most significant part of the posted sentence was the part about destroying the space program. Challenger *did* set the US space program back incredibly. So what? Given the large number of posts on /. about space, space exploration, terraforming, the ISS, Mir, etc that question should answer itself. Where would we be today had Challenger not exploded in front of hundreds of thousands (or millions) of people live on TV? Perhaps the ISS would be done. Perhaps investors would be more interested in commercial space travel. The possibilities are limitless here. Think about all of that for a few moments.

    So who cares? If you don't, you probably should. The vast majority of /. readers will live to see a greater exploration of space, and I'd dare say a lot of us may even get the chance to go into space some time in the future. If this sounds like crazy talk, remember that it took only about 75 years from the invention of the airplane to commercially viable, relatively inexpensive air travel for the masses. After 100 years, air travel has become even more affordable (if not more comfortable). Now, for simplicity we will say space travel began in 1960. It seems reasonable to say that space travel for the masses may be viable as early as 2030 or so. Even if it was not viable until 2060, given the upward trend of life expectancy, you or I have a decent chance of being around to see that. Therefore, understanding the mentality of those who are running the programs putting people in space _NOW_ is very important, because they will undoubtedly influence the future. History is the only tool we have with which to model the future.

    The whole point of this post was to elicit discussion, unfortunately the discussion so far has been just depressing. Think about where we are 15 years after the Challenger incident vs. where we might be if it had never happened at least. I personally wasn't old enough to remember the Challenger incident, but it still saddens me. Not only were lives lost when they shouldn't have been, but progress was held back by foolishness yet again. So today, please try and pull yourself from the four hour pregame shows for just a few minutes to really think about the impact Challenger has had and will have on all of us, and spare a thought for those lost, the world will be that much better.

    Apologies for the longwindedness.
    -wd
    --
    chip norkus(rl); white_dragon('net'); wd@routing.org
    mercenary albino programmer for hire
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 28, 2001 @07:41AM (#475193)
    saw it on kuro5hin 15 years ago

    better luck next time michael

  • by Anonymous Coward
    this is not exactly news, is it?
  • by timmay! (310264) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @08:46AM (#475196)
    I'm glad to see that this story was posted today. I hope to see it again five years from now. There's a good reason for this being posted, even though it isn't "news" today.

    Here's why...

    Take a look at some of the other responses. People are posting tasteless jokes, making comments such as "Kaboom!" and other insensitive remarks. After reading some of them I began to feel sick to my stomach. I realize there are a good number of younger readers out there who don't recognize the significance of the event, but there's no excuse for that kind of behavior.

    I was very young when the Challenger exploded. I was only 8 years old. I was in Atlanta, and Jan. 28th was a very cold day - it was snowing in fact, a rare scene in Atlanta. So rare, that the schools were all closed, so we were at home watching tv that day. I was at my best friend's house, playing with Lego's and Transformers when we his mother told us the shuttle "blew up". I remember the shock, and disbelief. I thought she was wrong, or making a really bad joke. Then we saw the pictures on the tv replay.

    The press kept showing the various images. There were people at the Cape, completely horrified at what they had just seen. There were reporters who couldn't speak, some of them broke down on camera, hit with the horrific scene they had just witnessed. There were cameras focused on the water, scanning for bits of wreckage. Everyone thought that a rescue team might be able to find the survivors in the water. Nobody even realized the fact that there were no survivors until several hours later.

    Yes, I remember exactly where I was, and what I was doing. I always wanted to be an astronaut when I was a kid, and watching that was devastating. I think a part of every American died that day. All we could do was sit there and watch as one of our most important national sybols burst into flames.

    In the years that followed, NASA went through a sort of "rebirth". They rebuilt the entire program, making thousands of changes to the shuttle fleet. Plans were made for a new shuttle to replace the Challenger. NASA asked the children of the nation's schools to submit ideas for the new vehicle's name. Ideas like "Challenger II" and "Phoenix" were commonly mentioned. Today we all know it as "Endeavor".

    More than two and a half years after Challenger, NASA was ready to give it another shot. This would be the safest shuttle mission the world had ever seen. Anything less, and the program would be a total failure. Many of us remember the next launch just as well as the Challenger. Everyone watched as the clock was counting down. We all held our breath as the engines fired up. Time sort of stood still as we watched Discovery leave the pad. Everyone was watching for that little spark to appear on the booster rocket - hoping that it didn't happen again. A little over a minute into the launch we heard the operator's call - "Go with throttle up". That was the last call they made to Challenger. We held our breath again. Nothing happened. Discovery just kept on climbing. The SRB's were seperated. Discovery kept going. Ten minutes later Discovery was flying high above the Earth, and along with it were the spirits of every American. One launch took us from the worst feeling in the world, to a kind of euphoric joy. I used to watch the launch over and over again, thinking how cool it would be to someday be an astronaut.

    The Challenger accident was a huge lesson for America's space program. It's unfortunate that an incident of this nature is sometimes necessary for us to get the message. Fortunately we did get the message. Atlantis is being delayed this week so that engineers can make a few additional safety checks. The chance of a problem are extremely remote, but the program is focused on safety more than ever today.

    It still amazes me when I see some of the comments posted on this board. How anyone can look at the Challenger and make light of its importance escapes me. Someone mentioned that it might have been "beta testing an early version of Windows". Another says that NASA stands for "Need Another Seven Astronauts". Then there are the ones who simply ask "and..?" If you don't understand the significance, read some of the other posts from people who really care. This is a piece of our history, and it should not be made into a joke.

    If you're still confused about it, go to CNN. Read some articles about the Challenger, watch some videos. There's a show on the Discovery Channel that documents the entire event, and explains the failure in great detail. If you can find it, watch it. If you still can't say anything decent abuot it, then please, do us all a favor, and keep your comments to yourself.

    Now if you will all excuse me, I'm going to take my moment of silence.
  • I was 16, in 11th grade. I usually got out of school at around 1 that year. They made an announcement over the PA system and urged us to watch when we got home.

    I got home and watched the replays for hours. I remember being pissed off when they finally returned to regular programming. See, I was totally fascinated with the shuttle program when I was a kid. Columbia first went up when I was 10. I was the geeky kid who grabbed the National Geographics to read up on the shuttle program instead of looking for the naked ladies in the jungle. In fact, I swiped the Columia issue from my stepfather's collection just last year. I couldn't believe what I was watching that day, as most of us here.

    In December of last year, I spent Christmas vacation in Orlando, and spent 6 hours touring Kennedy Space Center with my family. What an amazing place. We sat in third row center of the shuttle IMAX movie, featuring the Challenger, and some crew members who lost their lives in the explosion. And then MSNBC ran the Challenger special for a couple weeks earlier this month. It was all too soon for me, right after the Florida vacation.

    I still get very upset when I see the explosion. I often have to close my eyes or turn away. And being a ham radio operator, knowing hams who have spoken directly to astronauts and cosmonauts using 14-foot steerable antennas on the roofs of their homes.. it all just strikes me very hard.

    Being a sysadmin now, I now regularly use a phrase that I learned directly from the loss of the challenger.. "catastrophic failure".
    --
  • I was once told from a very reliable source that they were alive after the explosion, but had no means of doing anything to save themselves.

    Does anyone have any independent verification of this?
    --
  • And those are the people who don't know what the big deal is. I wasn't one of those kids. That's why this still matters to me.
  • >> How anyone can look at the Challenger and make light of it

    I remember everyone was like "cool" when it happened. It was remote, not part of our lives, something that happens. Aircraft crash, ships sink, spacecraft blow up. Need Another Seven Astronauts, and forty other jokes that went around immediately afterwards.

    I don't see it as being any great deal. Who remembers the TWA jet crashing off Florida, with 20 or 30 times as many deaths? Who recalls the two off-duty policemen, dragged from their car and ripped apart by an angry mob, live on tv, in Northern Ireland. Who remembers the stunning footage of an American GI getting shot through the throat in Lebanon.

    Sure, it was a screw-up supreme when Challenger popped. But it's no big deal - shit happens every day, and making light of it is how we deal with it.

    ~Cederic
    (What do NASA engineers drink? 7 up)
  • What the fuck happened to this (U.S.) country's pride? We just don't care about doing something like that anymore. All we care is whining about taxes, buying bigger SUVs, and building expensive missle defense systems (when the nuke that takes out NYC will be a back-pack nuke sailed in the bottom of a cargo ship into the Hudson probably. No SDI will protect us from that...)

    Everyone with pride cashed in their social security cards and moved to Canda. In the process, they took a large amount of cigarettes and booze with them, but that didn't inhibit their ability to actually learn and sing the national anthem.

    Don't believe me? Go to any sporting event in Canada. People actually sing along, remove their caps and show respect. Even Subway restaurants are different. They don't serve American cheese in Canadaian subways, they serve chedder. In the states it's American.

    So there you go.
  • I immediately changed my plans for the future when that happened. Sure, I was only 6 at the time, but hey :)

    At least some good things came from that disaster. The safety measures on shuttle launches have taken leaps and bounds forward because of that. Also, they (NASA) realized that shuttle launches shouldn't be treated as "routine" as they were then, no matter how many safety features there are.

    It was just a tragedy that a disaster like that had to happen for all of those good things to happen.

    Dark Nexus
  • Why then, when one of the many risks is realised as the (unfortunate) death of 7 astronauts, should anything change in our attitude to the launches?
    What needed to change - and perhaps, as some commentators on the Cassini launch claim, still needs to change - is our assesment of risk. Pre-Challenger, NASA claimed the risk of such a total failure at 1 in 100,000 - i.e. you could fly the shuttle every day for an average of 300 years between accidents!

    It's one thing to knowingly take a risk. It's another to be lied to about the magnitude of that risk, or to be exposed involuntarily to risk (of shuttle parts falling on your house, or toxic payloads being strewn into the atmosphere) based on bad assumptions.

    Does that mean we shouldn't take risks? Hell no! But we need honest assessments.

    Tom Swiss | the infamous tms | http://www.infamous.net/

  • My mother was in grade school when kennedy was killed (she was 11), and had been naughty that day. She was exiled to the corridor to "sit and think about what you've done" (<-- doesn't this happen to every kid at least once?). While she was out there, she heard the ladies working in the cafeteria talking about the asassination (they'd presumably heard it on the radio). Mom became quite disturbed and ran back into the classroom and shooted "Kennedy's dead! He's been shot!". The teacher didn't believe her and she got in even more trouble for telling "such hurtful lies." (Note that of course the teacher didn't apologize when she was found to be in the wrong, I think it's in their contracts that they can never do that... :-/)

    Fast forward ~23 years. I'm in 2nd grade (I was about 8, we started regular schooling @ 6 in my district). All the kids had been getting worked up about the shuttle launch for weeks, making posters, reading things about it, etc. The teacher told us (I don't recall how she found out), and I got in a lot of trouble for not believing her (shouting "That's not true! You're a liar!" probably didn't help)).

    Well, at least good things have come from those tragedies. Now we take a little better care of our Presidents (i.e. no more riding around in convertibles). And from what other posters have said (corroborated by a friend who spent 6 months as an enginneering intern at NASA), they are a lot more fastidious now about launching safely.


    --
    Fuck Censorship.
  • Besides, if you can launch a spaceship into orbit, then you can launch an ICBM. This is the problem with the technology leaking into China as a result of the laxness of the Clinton administration. Fortunately, so far it looks like right now they'd rather get up into space than threaten everybody with ICBMs.

    Well, lookie here... it seems at least the Air Force thinks there could be problems if China joins the space race... http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=01/01/29/165206 &mode=thread [slashdot.org]

  • For more discussion and insight into our historical connundrum of compressing time and not really having any sense of "history," read the excellent book , The Clock of the Long Now [amazon.com] by the guys involved in the Long Now Foundation [longnow.org].

    They're making a millenium clock and library complex to give us all a sense of history. Very interesting and insightful project.

  • by TOTKChief (210168) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @12:35PM (#475237) Homepage
    I'm not sure where you're getting this information from. NASA rolled out Atlantis fully intending to launch her. However, after that was done test results came back on some spare cables which were found to have decayed while in storage. NASA then decided to roll back Atlantis and take whatever steps were necessary to test the SRB comm cables in her, even though those cables were believed to be fine.
    This is an example of the system working. NASA was all set to launch, but when they found out there was even a slight chance that the cables they were using might be frayed, simply because they found a completely different set of cables elsewhere that was, they made the decision to roll the shuttle back to the VAB, at a cost of millions of dollars and a delay of weeks. They did the tests, the cables did indeed check out A-OK, and now they can launch in clean conscience. There's nothing idiotic about any of this as I see it.

    First, I work in aerospace. We heard about the booster cable problem in late November or early December through the routine grapevine. Noise about the next launch died down significantly, and the push to get U.S. Lab done on time let up *just* a bit. [I work with one of the guys who gets sent down to Kennedy some of the time to work inside ISS modules.]

    After the last launch, it was found that one of the SRB's didn't separate from the primary firing mechanism, but the secondary. Because of issues with separation--heck, look what happened when the restraints failed on STS 51-L, because that was perhaps the most catastrophic of the failures right there--NASA quietly put all the fleet on standby.

    The cables that caused the rollback to happen were only found as part of an investigation prompted by the above. It's good to see the thing rolled back, but having unresolved SRB separation issues is a bad thing.

    In some ways, the system is working, but we were all frustrated that they ever rolled STS out there in the first place. Plus hell, we all hate late January launches [the last FDRD baselined launch date was 01/18]. 51-L, Apollo I...we prefer to just wait a while. Superstitious? You bet your ass.


    --
  • by rbrander (73222) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @12:35PM (#475238) Homepage
    I can't recommend highly enough, to all people who encounter at work the conflict between engineering excellence and cost-realities, this book:

    The Challenger Launch Decision

    Risky Technology, Culture and Deviance at NASA
    by Diane Franklin
    Professor Franklin is a sociologist, but believe me, she learned the technical issues thoroughly. And the really crucial question, why the managers made the decision and why the technical people let them - has a sociological answer in NASA and Thiokol's internal culture.

    For those who want the 25-cent ludicrously short summary of the answer, and on the web so they don't even have to pay 25 cents, can find it near the bottom of a speech I gave to the National Defense Industry Association conference last year, posted here [cuug.ab.ca].

    It's actually mostly about the Titanic -- I added in the material on the Challenger when I read Prof. Franklin's book and realized the deep similarities in the engineering and management cultures. It starts around slide 44.

    The above URL has one link for the speech text, then links to all the slides. If you print the text (or use two browser windows) and then follow the slides on-screen, you can duplicate the whole presentation.

  • I feel that the problem is that there is nothing left to explore. We've travelled and charted every inch of this planet and now we've been to the moon.

    Until Mars exploration becomes more of a reality, there is nothing for the US to focus their pride and nationalism towards. Something 'Independence Day'ish would probably also do it.

  • I was eight when the Challenger exploded, and I honestly barely remember it. What I do remember is not really caring about space shuttle launches before it; sure, the first time I saw one on TV it was neat, but that was it. I was born in 1977, well after Neil Armstrong et al walked on the moon. By the time I was in Kindergarten, the coolest thing about astronaughts was the freeze dried ice cream they allegedly ate.

    Public awe of space exploration had been quite low going into the Challenger launch; the US v USSR Space Race was becoming a footnote in the Cold War; NASA's importance as part of American culture was waining. Putting Christa McAuliffe in a space shuttle (w/a real crew, of course) seemed to be a publicity stunt.

    I do not intend to imply that having a Jane Doe (pardon the unintentional reference to unidentified bodies) in a space flight leads to disaster, but the lesson here is not one of lowest contracts. Rather, we should remember that this tragedy should have never happened -- the shuttle launch should have never even been scheduled.
  • The big flap over Challenger wasn't that it exploded despite all of the safety work meant to take into account that (as one person mentioned) you're putting a bunch of people on top of a huge bomb and exploding it in a controlled manner.

    What happened is that the launch went ahead in spite of warnings from knowledgable engineers that things could very probably go wrong if they went ahead with the launch at that time. Speculation abounded that there was pressure to launch on time so that Regan's speech (scheduled that evening) could go ahead, as planned.

    As I remember it, the astronauts, themselves were absolutely furious at the callous regard for the lives of the crew during that launch, and insisted on some of the safety measures that caused delays in future launches.

    It's one thing to risk your life. It's another thing to risk your life needlesly to prevent an idiot president from having to change his speech.
    `ø,,ø!

  • Of course it's difficult! Because of compressible flow, there is a nice shock cone all around the craft. It's not all that easy to make mass cross the cone, and there's not enough room to kick it out any other way. Trust me--if there was a way to get the astronauts out of the orbiter on the way up and do it safely, NASA would have implemented the change long before now.
    --
  • by FWMiller (9925) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @07:45AM (#475249) Homepage

    What a completely unnecessary, inflammatory statement. The Challenger accident did not destroy the U.S. Space Program. There have been approaching 100 shuttle missions since then. What it did was present the reality of space flight to a public that had become complacent and soft, believing in the delusion that going to space was like getting on an airplane.

    The U.S. space program continues to be the most advanced and vigorous of any nation in the world, a product of the superb economic system that drives it. I'd challenge anyone to show me a program that did not have accidents and one that provided as many benefits for its nation as ours does. As a matter of fact, I'd say our program is healthier than ever, considering that a billion dollars in hardware and 7 of the most gifted people on the planet went down just 15 short years ago in the glare of the most prolific and suffocating media machine the world has ever seen.

  • I think the OJ car chase might very well be the defining moment of my generation.

    Yea, I was also born in 1982 and I will always remeber that event. It canceled the game I was watching and aloud me to view a 25mph bronco for a few hours.

  • I'm really glad my 9th-grade teachers kept the TV on so we could hear the news coverage. Of course it was difficult to watch - but we all knew that this was something important, and besides, we felt for the teacher who was killed. I don't think anyone was "scarred" by the experience - on the contrary, we all learned from it.
  • Perhaps, but exactly who were the space people serving? Others? No, I see it as they were doing what they wanted, and they died because it was risky, and that was that. Sad, but not tragic.

  • I'm sure it's just poetic license, but Apollo 11 landed on the moon in mid-summer. What were you doing in school? :-)

    As the parent of an obsessed three-year-old who knows the names of more Apollo astronauts than virtually any adult, the sense of loss is brought home to me every time he says "Michael Collins" or "Jim Lovell" and the other adults in the room ask what the heck he's talking about.

  • by jimhill (7277) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @09:50AM (#475274) Homepage
    Obligatory Where Were You Moment: I was home sick from high school and watched the launch, such as it was, in real-time, and then watched the footage repeatedly all day, devouring the news coverage. In the fifteen years since the explosion, I've come to realize that the most significant result (for me) was a change in how I viewed the press.

    The astronauts weren't heroes. We'd like to pretend that they were ennobled souls who gave their lives in pursuit of a dream, but they weren't. They were a couple of pilots whose "plane" was designed to go exoatmospheric, some scientists whose laboratories happened to be on that exo-"plane", and a joyrider whose presence was thought to be a PR coup. I'm sure that they were all dedicated, respectable individuals -- but their deaths no more made them heroes than the safe return of all the other shuttle crews made _them_ heroes.

    The engineers had a bad day in that they couldn't make the managers understand the gravity of the situation. The management structure of NASA and its contractors was ill-suited for the activities they were conducting. Tight schedules, tight budgets, and tight-assed bureaucrats led into a dangerous situation where they accepted a risk higher than they should have and it jumped up and bit them hard. But that was not the end of the world. You grieve for the dead, you identify the breakdown in the system, you redesign where needed, either in a booster or an org chart, and you move forward with lessons learned.

    But the press...ah, the press. The press (save CNN) couldn't be bothered to broadcast the launch. There was no "public interest" to be served there. Come the explosion, however, and they could hardly decide whether they needed to serve the public by showing the explosion, or the burned Apollo I capsule in the obligatory Solemn Look Backward, or the various self-aggrandizing political "leaders" arguing either that They Shall Not Give Their Lives In Vain or We Have Suffered Too Greatly, depending on whether the space program did or did not result in large sums of federal dollars being transferred into the said self-aggrandizing politician's district/state. They were positively relishing in just how awful it was; a national tragedy like that could really draw people to their TVs. That was the first time that I _really_ understood that the role of the news media is to draw eyes for the advertisers and that their proud defense of the public interest is just so much self-serving bullshit. "Oh, God, it was horrible! The flames, and the smoke, and the death! Let's see that again, Bernie!" I've been disgusted by the media since.
  • If you actually check the statistics of all the space vehicles in the world, the best launchers seem to manage about a 1% catastrophic failure rate per journey into space.

    A car that was that unreliable would be lethal.

    Still, there may not be any fundamental reasons that rockets are so bad right now- it may well just be that mankind hasn't learnt how to do it reliably yet- nearly all the failures seem to be preventable.

    Flying used to be very dangerous too, but now it is about as dangerous as driving (per journey; much safer per mile though.) Probably space flight will go the same way.

  • by brgomeistr (165406) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @11:12AM (#475284)
    For anyone who hasn't read it Richard P. Fenyman's Appendix F [polyu.edu.hk] to the Rogers Report on the Challenger accident is well worth reading. The Rogers report itself kind of sucks up to NASA, but as usuual Feynman was very open and thorough with his report. Read what the father of quantum computing had to say about Challenger...
  • by r2ravens (22773) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @09:52AM (#475285)
    On that sad day, I was working at a community college as a control room operator for our interactive television classroom system. We had a 15' C-band dish out back and were watching, and recording on 3/4" video tape, the launch. We were taking this directly from the NASA east satellite feeds - much better technical details than the news media and uninterrupted by news peoples chatter.

    A humanities class had just started in the three classrooms in three different cities linked by our microwave system. We control room operators asked the instructor if he and his class would like to watch the launch. He said yes and we threw the satellite signal to all the classrooms. About 60 students between all the sites. The signal was also thrown to a TV in the lobby of the local campus.

    We watched the launch through 'go at throttle up' and then the explosion/disintegration/whatever. All the rooms became very quiet. Everyone was shocked. There was a little confusion at first as we all didn't quite understand how bad this was. Sure it exploded, but was the orbiter intact and cabaple of some kind of controlled landing? Were any of the crew alive?

    After a time it became clear that this was total destruction and it was unlikely that the crew survived. Twenty minutes after the event, the instructor said "I don't think I feel much like having class today, you're all free to go." Most students agreed and most left. Some stayed to watch the continuing coverage.

    We stopped one of the two 3/4" decks that had been recording this event and reviewed the tape frame by frame. In that day, VHS had frame by frame but the resolution and tracking was poor, 3/4" was not quite the best for broadcast standard, but was very clear and would hold a still frame. As we watched carefully, the boss told us to hold at one frame and then went to the screen to point out the plume from the SRB. He said "This doesn't look right, is this supposed to be there?" We looked at the postion of the plume and began to discuss what might have happened.

    We came up with two fundamental theories. The first was that the hot gasses from the plume had perforated the External Tank and ignited the LOX or Hydrogen. After looking at the tape several more times, there was a frame where the SRB looked a bit askew. This gave rise to the second theory -- that the lower SRB mount had burned through or broken and the SRB swiveled with the top of the SRB striking the top of the ET and causing the breakup. Damn that NASA video was good.

    What irony that months later, the report showed that our second scenario was exactly correct. As just a bunch of low paid wanna-be techies sitting around looking at the event frame by frame, we had gotten the gist of what had happened within an hour after the explosion. I suppose that this exercise was our way of bebriefing and putting off the saddness and trauma until we were ready to handle it.

    On the personal side, I have always been really involved in the space program, absorbing everything about it, from the fluff to the technical and I saw it as our future. I spent the next 3 or 4 months in clinical depression after this event. It caused problems with my marriage (we worked it out). I am still sad when I think about the loss of the lives of those brave people and the harm to the space program. I still had confidence that the program would continue though. I would have ridden a launch the very next day, even on the old SRB design.

    I got to visit the Cape a few years later and take the tour. As another poster has mentioned, it was a very sobering experience. It was very powerful to be where this event and all the other successes of many years of the manned and unmanned space program had taken place. I was also lucky in that the Shuttle mockup built from the early prototype lifting body was present there in the parking lot on display. One could go up a series of stairs underneath the Shuttle into the cargo bay and they had landings at each of the decks in the crew comparments. The compartments were complete and the had plexiglass walls so you could see the entire area. I spent quite a bit of time studying the details.

    The thing that struck me most was that all the panels, electronics, etc. were one-off. We are all so used to manufactured electronics where everything is stamped plastic and identical, and peoples lives don't depend on whether your boom box was well manufactured. I looked at those panels and realized that they were done by some individual. Each connection soldered individually, each panel custom built, each astronauts life dependent on whether the technican was feeling good or had a headache or had a fight with his wife that morning. I felt an intense connection with the seven brave and well trained people who had perished.

    I still believe that space is our future. I would still fly if asked (not likely due to age and physical condition).

    This is first time I have written about this event since it happened. Sorry if I have rambled, but I'm glad to get it off my chest. I hope that it has been valuable for someone else.

    Thanks /. for honoring the people and this program with an article on the anniversary.

    Russ
  • by Tim (686) <timr&alumni,washington,edu> on Sunday January 28, 2001 @11:21AM (#475289) Homepage
    On Friday, January 26, 2001, a 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit the Gujarat state in western India.

    More than 10,000 and as many as 30,000 people are presumed dead. 125,000 people are missing.

    Rescue agencies are unable to provide the type of support needed to search for survivors, due to a lack of funding.

  • by DHartung (13689) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @09:57AM (#475295) Homepage
    The quote is from Steve Nesbitt, a NASA spokesman responsible for updates to the television link. Nesbitt was neither a Flight Controller, nor a CapCom -- almost always another astronaut. Call him the NASA TV anchor.

    Nesbitt was based in Houston and did not have a monitor in front of him showing the plumes, just data monitors showing telemetry.

    At that point they only knew something was awry with the launch and vehicle communications. There are limited abort capabilities at 73 seconds -- realistically, probably none. But until the Range Safety Officer reported they had destroyed the SRBs ahead of schedule, even after that, it was still possible that the orbiter vehicle was in some kind of abort mode.

    Nesbitt's words were for the public, interpreting things that are said and seen, and as far as I know were not heard by the people at Mission Control.

    I agree, it was a tremendously professional moment among many others that day. Hundreds of people, all of them unable to sit and stare, all of them required to be working their post and determining what happened and what options may be left, if any.

    transcript/timeline [cbsnews.com]

    Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the Morton Thiokol manager who overruled his own engineers earlier that morning.
    ----
  • There seems to be some sort of bug in the way the moderation is calculated

    Also a "bug" in the way some browsers' keystrokes work. If I try to submit a form via the keyboard, instead of by mousing down and clicking the button, I usually manage to change the selection in the box before I do so. So maybe the one Funny person didn't even mean to set the moderation that way.

    (I also end up with all the selection boxes disappearing. Time to scrap IE4, I guess.)

  • by AntiTuX (202333) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @12:51PM (#475300) Homepage
    whom have lost their life in trying to make our country a great place for everyone. may their souls rest in peace, and may the hearts of their loved ones heal.

    And a big middle finger to those who think it's funny making fun of a tragedy on this scale.

    I believe this is something that shouldn't be joked about. It's honestly a very dark day in our history. The deaths of ANY person is something that should be mourned, and I pray for the families of the mission. May the hears of the loved ones of who died become strong, and they remember what good came from them. Setting a presidence for others to follow. These people are heroes, red, white, and blue. Joking about this not only hurts the loved ones of those whom died. I'm offended by you. I believe that if you can joke about this, then you don't understand what the mission stood for. I'm ashamed of you, and quite appalled by your ignorance.
    People don't joke about heroes.
    That's like saying that all the guys in world war II for the freedom of the world were all morons.
    And that george washington was just some fag who wore a stupid wig.

    I'm extremely offended, and can't believe that you'd joke about something as serious as that.

    -- John Dee
  • I don't dispute that they were warned. Going with Thiokol over United [who, yes, had a better design] was an engineering decision. True engineering decisions have time and cost as part of it. As far as knowing the outcome, sure they did! Various NASA documents have the "catastrophic failure rate" of STS at about 2% of all launches. We're at about 0.95% today. So, as a NASA subcontractor, I cringe like hell with every launch. This is my job on the line, dammit. =)
    --
  • by Anonymous Coward
    "What I thought amazing was the guy who said "Uh.. there appears to have been a malfunction", or something to that effect."

    I think the exact quote was "[long pause] Obviously a major malfunction.[long pause]" It was delivered in classic military/NASA radio code style, with no change in tone of emphasis, as if were only noting the throttle down or SRB separation. I've taken to using this expression when something catastrophic goes wrong at work, like a prototype goes up in smoke, but few bystanders appreciate the irony.

    The other immortal quote comming out of the tragedy was the famous "Red Flag Memo": "[t]he result wouldbe a catastrophe of the highest order--loss of human life." for which Roger Boisjoly, Thiokol engineer, would be blackballed from the space program, following the accident.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 28, 2001 @07:48AM (#475310)
    To see a QuickTime movie of the explosion click here [spacetoday.org]
  • The U.S. space program continues to be the most advanced and vigorous of any nation in the world, a product of the superb economic system that drives it.

    If the U.S. economyc "system" was really superb, people and corporations would be PROPERLY taxed a reasonable amount to insure that the space program would really be progressive, in the order of foresightly bring back untold riches for the benefit of everyone, instead of being the dreadful acc

    --

  • Challenger [lawbuzz.com]

    This page and the ones after it describe in great detail what happened before, during, and after the crash.
  • by Coventry (3779) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @07:50AM (#475326) Journal
    Since the shuttle was carring the first teacher into space, many schools across america had been preparing for the launch and mission for weeks. We had made posters, I had perfected the art of drawing the shuttle for the other kids, and were all eagerly awaiting the launch. I was lucky, I didn't see it live, but it was still bad.

    My (4th grade) class had lunch durring the time the launch was to happen, so we were buying food when it happened. The class next to us had decided to take a late lunch in order to watch it - they suddenly showed up and were rather upset - saying the shuttle had exploded. Lunch ended early. Classes crowded into rooms with TVs and watched news reports on what had happened. at least 20 times from various angles we saw the explosion. We were all elft speechless, some kids cried. The teachers were too stunned to realize they needed to turn the TV off and get us doing something else. No work got done all day - we went to the busses straight from watching the news coverage.

    The media, not knowing that schoolchildren were watching, didn't pull any punches, and repeatedly stated that the astronaughts and crew were most likely dead. It was a bad day, and it hurt the space program as well as disturbing a generation. I'm getting my vodka now. I don't want to think about this.
  • I'm not sure if it's late enough in the day to decide on the pointlessness or not. We're still very much in the early exploratory phases of space travel. Apollo, the shuttles, the ISS, are all just tentative feelers out into a much wider realm than anything humanity has explored before. And I think if you'll look back at exploration through history, you'll always find a portion (often even a majority) who feel that those feelers are pointless wastes of resources.

    And they keep feeling that way until the benefits smack them in the face. The gold and cotton of the Americas; silks and spices of the Orient; these things weren't obvious when the first explorers arrived, and weren't fully appreciated until the infrastructure was in place to transport them. But those things all happened in the fullness of time. Who is to say that the rest of the solar system will be any different (except that it looks like we won't have to displace any more indigenous populations before raping the other planets, but I digress...)?

    I can't help but look at responses such as this as pathetically short-sighted. Maybe nothing will come of our fragile experiments beyond the envelope of the atmosphere, but we can't know if we don't try. To the objection that machines can do it better, I would say that this may be true of routine, well-planned tasks such as satellite launches, but it will never be true for less well-defined missions. Could a robot at this stage have repaired the Hubble? Assembled the ISS? And had men been sent instead of machines to Mars, don't you think they might have noticed that they were descending a little fast rather than just oblogingly smashing into the surface as directed?

    Personally, I think the rest of the solar system will probably turn out to be a worthwhile resource for humanity--far out-weighing a cure for malaria or a couple of ugly bits of public sculpture (and there is a fallacious assumption implicit in that argument that somehow, monies spent on space exploration would otherwise necessarily go to something more immediately practical. Uh-huh. Obviously our elected officials would rather benefit humanity than indulge in a little more pork-barreling for their constituents). Even if not, I think that finding out is a chance that's worth taking.
  • It wasn't routine for me.

    I was in a class at Camelback High School in Phoenix, Arizona, titled "Science Seminar."

    For one class period per day, we did essentially whatever we wanted to do, but we had to report on it once per week.

    I submitted a paper to the SSIP (Student Space Involvement Program) on the design and construction of a magnetohydrodynamic generator for use in low Earth orbit. For that, I won a trip to Ames AFB, Palo Alto, CA.

    Fifteen years ago today, I was sitting in a classroom with six or seven other people, all of whom were also involved in the program.

    We watched the Shuttle go up, and saw it explode. And with it, all of our hopes for our *own* projects went up in smoke.

    When I was *little*, I wanted to be an astronaut. As I got older, I learned that being asthmatic, flat-footed, and having 20/800 vision are all red flags against me - so I did what I thought would be the "next best," and tried to have one of my own experiments sent up. Obviously, that's not going to happen now - the space that used to be set aside for student projects has been taken over by commercial ventures.

    The Shuttle program still isn't anywhere near what it used to be.

    I have hopes for the ISS, or Freedom, or whatever they're calling the space station this week, but it's not the same.
  • Engineers hate risk. They try to eliminate it whenever they can. This is understandable, given that when an engineer makes one little mistake, the media will treat it like it's a big deal or something.

    Examples of Bad Press for Engineers:

    1. Space Shuttle Challenger.
    2. Hindenberg.
    3. SPANet(tm)
    4. Hubble space telescope.
    5. Apollo 13.
    6. Titanic.
    7. Ford Pinto.
    8. Corvair.

    In the case of the Challenger and the Titanic , engineers didn't fuck-up. It was clueless shareholders/administrators who went ahead despite advance warning of disaster.

    In the case of the Ford Pinto and the Corvair , it was clueless accountants who either dismissed the need for a 49 part or calculated that settling eventual lawsuits would be cheaper than paying to have a safe fuel tank.


    --

  • by Shadowell (108926) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @07:52AM (#475354)
    It would seem that everybody posting so far has lost their minds. It should be obvious that this is a reminder to people. The day the shuttle exploded was a sad day for all of us. It was a day that was to show that politics and budgets were more important than advances or peoples lives. It was a day that showed us that an accident can eliminate the enthusiasm of an entire nation and put a program that, IMHO, is one of the most critical to the development of human knowlege. Remember the people that died. Remember what the program was TRYING to do. Remember what happened. Those that forget the past are doomed to repeat it.
  • by ruck (156392) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @07:54AM (#475362)
    Two points:

    1. I'm sure there are many good books on the Challenger disaster, but anyone interested in the workings of the actual investigation from an insider's perspective should pick up What do you care what other people think?, by Richard Feynman. The second half of the book is dedicated to his role in the investigation, and it says a lot of interesting things about government bureaucracy, etc.

    2. I think it's a sign of the state of Slashdot that when an article is posted which obviously has no other purpose than to elicit discussion, the first thirty posts include only two or three that say something other than "dumb story."
  • by Felinoid (16872) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @08:02AM (#475365) Homepage Journal
    You know Slashdots not good on the moment of sillence...
    But it would be nice if we did have a "moment of sillence" day for this...
    To rember all the historical horrors where we learnned ohh so much...
    Hitler, The Space Shuttle, the Inquision, The witch trials, Microsoft, AoL, Amazon... ok I added Microsoft AoL and Amazon out of spite not out of anything to learn :) but you get the idea...

    Hmm what historical disaster would you add to the list (and no pulling the Microsoft, AoL, Amazon stunt I did... unless you add some real disasters...)
  • by fleener (140714) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @07:55AM (#475381)
  • by fleener (140714) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @08:05AM (#475392)
    Also: ABC News says: NASA seeks shuttle escape system [go.com]. Subhead: 15 Years After Challenger, Designs Come Up Short
  • by TOTKChief (210168) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @08:06AM (#475395) Homepage

    STS 51-L has a legacy:

    • Safety is more important now. Launch decisions aren't made for political reasons anymore. [The desire was to have 51-L up while Reagan made his State of the Union Address.]
    • The mission team considers all weather effects now. Hell, STS was only qualified to meet a 40 F floor for launch conditions, yet it was launched at around 35 F. Why go outside your safety margins?
    • Engineers have more say than managers on go/no-go. After guys like Ebeling and Boisjoly at Thiokol weren't listened to--NASA/MSFC Jud Lovingood thought Thiokol's decision for a GO was unanimous, but it wasn't among the engineers--and the craft did blow up, the engineers got more say in launch decisions.
    • The American public learned that Space Still Ain't Easy or Routine.

    Still, with all of that, NASA rolled out Atlantis a few weeks ago, knowing that a concern about--you guessed it!--the SRB separation mechanism would likely delay the launch. The cost of rolling out and rolling back is expensive, yet in the name of good PR, NASA did it anyway. Idiots.


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  • by gilroy (155262) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @08:54AM (#475455) Homepage Journal
    This might not be "news", but (IMHO) it is "stuff that matters". The past matters. It might be nice working in an industry that hardly existed in 1986 but that doesn't excuse forgetting what came before.

    A lot of us techie types were profoundly affected by the Challenger disaster, and I for one am glad to see it commemorated. If you don't think that the crisis moment and the untidy revelations it prompted had some impact, you simply weren't paying attention.

  • by TOTKChief (210168) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @08:54AM (#475457) Homepage

    I had this discussion with some guys from work [tbe.com] last night. They remarked that it indeed was one of those watershed American events, like the Kennedy assassination, the Apollo 11 landing, Reagan getting shot, etc.

    What disparate views we had; our quality engineer [who's 59] was driving out to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center for a review of some payload when the radio bulletins first came out. [Being a NASA town, they came out damned quick.] His comment was, "Oh, shit, it's finally happened."

    Me [I'm 22], I was in first grade and distinctly remember the horror of my teacher, who had gotten decently far in the Teacher in Space program. That moment is one of the reasons I'm close to an aerospace engineering degree today [although I realize now I'm more of a writer than an engineer, but hey].

    The other guy [who's 41] was at work, and there were no TV's and few radios. Word spread by mouth--"Did you hear? Did you hear? Challenger just blew up?" Scott said the most surreal moment was seeing Ernst Stuhlinger, one of Wehrner von Braun's rocket team, walking around the building, asking people, "Tell me how this could happen? HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN?" Scott said that he never got an answer from anyone, and he never seemed to really see anyone as he asked them.

    Yes, it's one of those days that will live in infamy.


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  • by weave (48069) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @08:14AM (#475459) Journal
    Yeah, they were routine. That's what was so neat about the shuttles back then. It was something to be proud of. It was the only real neat thing left of the space program.

    When *I* was in elementary school in 1969 I remember we all got out of class and gathered in the auditorium to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. Now *that* was a rush. Looking up in the sky, seeing the moon, and knowing some human was up there walking around on it.

    What the fuck happened to this (U.S.) country's pride? We just don't care about doing something like that anymore. All we care is whining about taxes, buying bigger SUVs, and building expensive missle defense systems (when the nuke that takes out NYC will be a back-pack nuke sailed in the bottom of a cargo ship into the Hudson probably. No SDI will protect us from that...)

    Our priorities are just pathetic. An entire generation of people now are alive that have never seen a live moon walk. Nice progress.....

    Our space program died long before 1986 I'm afraid. The shuttles were neat, but the drive to expand our frontier was already dead. Space Shuttles were moving into deployment and repair of communications sattelites for the most part.

  • by DHartung (13689) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @08:55AM (#475462) Homepage
    I agree with those calling that an irresponsible statement. The Challenger accident was a horrible tragedy, but in challenge, intelligent people see opportunity.

    The standdown allowed for a redesign to not only the solid-rocket boosters, but a reassessment of NASA's entire approach. Congress was right to correct their earlier error of putting all our space launch needs on one vehicle, so the Air Force revived the Titan, Atlas, and Pegasus booster programs. The removal of the shuttle as a requirement for commercial launches reduced costs for the satellite industry, and allowed NASA to concentrate its resources on a successful manned science program in low Earth orbit. The tragic realization that the safety process had become tainted by what NASA calls "Go Fever" led to a reorganization of the people running the program and a safety-at-any-cost mentality.

    Since Challenger, the realization set in that the limitations of the Shuttle as a launch platform, which had been a source of debate since the early 1970s, required a blunt approach with self-honesty.

    If anyone believes that if it had not been for Challenger, we would today have wheel space stations and moon shuttles as in Kubrick's 2001, you're fooling yourselves in the same way that NASA was fooling itself right up to 51-L. That future was never going to happen. The only justification for massive spending as on Apollo was the Cold War. (It's little known that the infrastructure shown in the film was chiefly to support space-based nuclear weapons platforms. Science and exploration were incidental benefits.)The debacle of Viet Nam taught us that the Cold War could not continue, and led to the scaling back of space ambitions just as surely as it led to Nixon's opening to China.

    The failure of the shuttle program itself to live up to program promises of early days (100 launches a year, cost to orbit approaching an expensive plane ride) taught us many lessons about our own capabilities, though it took Challenger to drive those lessons home.

    The reason we don't have moon bases or Mars missions today is not that we lost our nerve in 1986. It's because those things cost a hell of a lot of money. Until recently, we were saddled by massive budget deficits and even more massive national debt. Today, we're paying those down; in a decade we'll be able to afford a budget 20% larger than today's with the same tax receipts, because we won't be paying all that interest. In a decade, maybe we can see our way to modest spending increases on space exploration.

    We honor the Challenger Seven today by continuing our space program but with mature knowledge of what we can and cannot do.
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