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NASA Space Science

7 Myths About The Challenger Disaster 629

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the remembering-it-correctly dept.
Lester67 writes "James Oberg at MSNBC has put together an excellent recap of the 7 myths surrounding the Challenger shuttle disaster. I remember that day clearly, but as the author points out, I didn't see it live, nor did a large chunk of the people said they did (Myth #1). Although there are no surprises on the list, regression may have caused you to forget a few of them (#3)."
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7 Myths About The Challenger Disaster

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  • Live at school (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 27, 2006 @04:44AM (#14577015)
    I remember clearly watching the events unfold in my second grade classroom (must have been the satelite feed mentioned). I think it was the most traumatic event up to that point in my life.
    • Re:Live at school (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I was in second grade as well. I remember us all being moved into one classroom where they set up a TV, connected it to the cable, turned out the lights and we all watched the shuttle start to lift off and then it went. The classroom went from cheers, to silence, then tears. Most of the teachers were simply stunned and a lot of the other kids (myself included) were really bothered by it. I still don't remember much else of what happened that day.
      -J-
      • Re:Live at school (Score:3, Interesting)

        by networkBoy (774728)
        I was in 6th grade at the time. Live on sat. My class was a double class taught by a husband and wife. When the shuttle "blew up" there was dead silence in the class and our teachers looked completly at a loss for what to do. We ended up spending the day talking about it and the rest of the week working on a class project to send to NASA and the astronauts spouses with a special one for the teachers husband.

        Traumatic, yes. But I think it was equally important that we understood that exploration involve
    • by Channard (693317) on Friday January 27, 2006 @05:21AM (#14577124) Journal
      'Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted. They're just an interpretation, they're not a record, and they're irrelevant if you have the facts.'
      • Said the man whose facts were being manipulated by his 'friends'...
      • Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted.

        True. Memories can also be completely fabricated.

        I saw a documentary (probably on BBC2) a few years ago, where people were shown (faked) old photographs of them in a hot air balloon. Most of the subjects said that they couldn't remember the occasion.

        However, seven days later, when the same subjects were shown the photographs again, almost every one of them said that they could remember it a bit bet

      • Yes but... (Score:3, Informative)

        by snuf23 (182335)
        a lot of school kids DID see the launch live. NASA provided live feeds to many schools. It was also broadcast on CNN. Many schools showed the launch on CNN. Why? Because of the teacher in space program. It was a huge public relations event for NASA and was used to encourage kids to get interested in science. My sciene teacher at the time had tried for the spot on the shuttle.
        So maybe it wasn't millions of Americans but it was a healthy percentage of American school kids that got to see the launch live.
    • Re:Live at school (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Leontes (653331)
      I was going to be one of those schoolchildren that watached it in my classroom, but they cancelled on us, and I watched in on the news when I got home.

      One of the more interesting aspects of this that interest me regarding the incident is the folkloric need to make sense of the tragedy as it specifically relates ot this event. Retelling this story in humor, in fear. Shock permeated throughout the school and, as this article implies, the culture following. Being ten at the time, I remember being told seve
    • Re:Live at school (Score:3, Interesting)

      by quokkapox (847798)
      I was waiting in line with the others before seventh grade gym class when a girl named Kate came up and said the Challenger had exploded. I didn't see it live on TV, but when I got home, I saw it repeated over and over, that frightfully colorful explosion and the white smoky corkscrews of the SRBs veering away.

      The girl was definitely Kate, and I remember looking down while in line, at the green painted wooden bleachers below, and the smell of sweat in the gym. Funny what you remember.

    • Re:Live at school (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anml4ixoye (264762) on Friday January 27, 2006 @07:54AM (#14577507) Homepage
      We lived just north of Tampa at the time and would regularly watch the shuttle launches from our yard. We would usually set up some sort of telescope or binoculars, but you couldn't zoom all that close or you'd have a hard time keeping up with it.

      That morning we watched in launch on TV, then ran outside. It seemed to take a little bit longer than normal, and just as it cleared the trees is when it exploded.

      Even though I was in elementary school, it was stil confusing, but I had a good idea what had just gone on.
    • I was going to Elementary school in San Jose, CA, and our whole class watched it live on TV. I will never forget watching it 1) explode, and 2) the shock on my teacher's face. This guy is totally false on #1 and #2. I watched it on TV. Technically it may not have exploded, but have you seen the feed? It didn't exactly go into space. We all saw it straight through, sure they cut away but after it exploded, genius.
    • Re:Live at school (Score:5, Insightful)

      by hey! (33014) on Friday January 27, 2006 @08:24AM (#14577600) Homepage Journal
      I remember walking into work (late as usual) with my bike over my shoulder.

      The secretary was sitting at her desk with a odd, hollow expression in her eyes.

      "Is anything wrong?" I asked.

      "It blew up," she responded.

      "What? What are you talking about?"

      "The space shuttle. It exploded." (I know this is not technically correct)

      There was no TV in the office, and graphical terminals/workstations for offices were still five years away from being common, the Internet probably fifteen years away. If it werent' for the fact she liked to listen to music while she filed, we probably wouldn't have heard about it until we went out for lunch. But I remember the moment clearly.

      It's odd that it was such an impressive event, especially for the non-geeks among us who probably couldn't name the first American in space, much less debate the wisdom of the Shuttle's redundant computer architecture as some of us did. Yet I think nearly every American felt the loss in a personal way -- not like losing a friend exactly, more like the feeling of vertigo you'd have if you were standing in the middle of a big bridge and suddenly saw one of the girders underneath you fall into the water.

      I think that for many Americans, the instant of learning the disaster was the exact moment the myth of American invicincibilty died. We may have left Vietnam with our tails between our legs, but damn it nobody else put a man on the Moon.

      I think the country has never been the same since that day. Before Challenger, optimism was an American character trait. Afterwards it became an ideology. I think that ironically collapse of the Soviet Union dealt the national psyche a second blow. Challenger destroyed our sense of competence, and the end of the Communist Menace destroyed our sense of shared purpose. I think we got a sense of what we lost on 9/11, which is the closest recent experience to the Challenger disaster. 9/11 was a moment of agony, but although few have dared to admit it, it was also curiously bracing. For a brief time, we knew what we had to do: we were going to kick somebody's ass.

      • Re:Live at school (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Professor_UNIX (867045) on Friday January 27, 2006 @09:26AM (#14577849)
        I think we got a sense of what we lost on 9/11, which is the closest recent experience to the Challenger disaster.

        Some people may be forgetting that Columbia broke up on re-entry 3 years ago just a few days from now. That was far more devastating to me personally because it symbolized the end of the shuttle program. Discovery was a nice "pick me back up and dust myself off" attempt, but with so many people nitpicking the mission and the delays because of more foam falling off the external fuel tank I don't know if we'll ever launch another shuttle. It's sad really since there's nothing really as exhilarating as watching a shuttle power its way into space. Ah well, I guess we'll just have to wait 10 years for the CEV missions.

    • Re:Live at school (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Marillion (33728) <ericbardes@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Friday January 27, 2006 @10:42AM (#14578291)
      For me, I was a high school senior. Here's my story of Myth #8:

      This isn't the exact photo, but this photo [metrowestdailynews.com] is pretty close. But in my newspaper next to the "Y" shaped smoke plume that is burned into my memories was another photo of Christie Mcauliffe's family in the VIP viewing stands crying and hugging. My uncle was a television news photographer from Boston and was sent to cover the home-town school teacher. He was at the VIP stands and knows that the famous photo was actually taken before the accident. Those were tears of joy. He remembers NASA representatives escorting the family out of the stands, away from the media before anyone else figured what happened. No one in the VIP stands knew what happened until several minutes later.

    • Re:Live at school (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Jacqkeen (950036)
      I didn't watch it on TV. I stood outside my elementary school in Plant City, Florida and watched it happen in the sky. I was in third grade and had watched probably 10 launches before that Challenger lauch, inlcuding night lauches which were really beautiful. I will never forget seeing that big cloud appear when it exploded and seeing the contrails from the booster rockets flying all over the place. Never.
  • Mythbusters (Score:2, Insightful)

    by NieKinNL (690492)
    This is a case for the mythbusters, obviously. I think Kari would do nicely for this one, or well, any myth for that matter..)
    • by jonwil (467024)
      Only problem is getting permission from the ATF to legally purchase, ship, store, assemble and fire enough rocket fuel to carry out the test :)
    • by fireboy1919 (257783) <rustyp&freeshell,org> on Friday January 27, 2006 @08:56AM (#14577729) Homepage Journal
      You didn't need a TV. It should be noted that almost all shuttle launches are visible for most of Florida, and the sonic boom during reentry shakes the entire State. If you lived in Florida, you could see the smoke for hours. And it was common practice at most business, schools, and homes to go out an watch the shuttle take off.

      I was six at the time. It was clearly visible from Central Florida, even though that's not where it happened. It was a BIG explosion.

      So "everyone saw it" may be wrong, but "millions of people saw it" is certainly correct, and probably "almost everyone in Florida" saw it" is not necessarily wrong.

      And it was obvious what happened. The small flame thing in the sky (which is all we actually see during shuttle launches) turned into much larger cloud of something.

      The refutation of myth #2 is a bit questionable. Pieces went everywhere. They were found all over the place. And the size of the thing in the sky was big enough to be visible all over the state. Sure, there was no "bang," but it did explode.
  • by dangitman (862676) on Friday January 27, 2006 @04:53AM (#14577049)
    Sounds like a lot of fuss over things that I haven't heard. I don't recall anyone claiming that the accident was inevitable, or that the astronauts would have died instantly.

    As to whether it was "live" when I watched it - I have never claimed this - but I was a young schoolkid at the time, so I wouldn't have really been aware if it was or not. I also don't know of people going around claiming they saw it live as some sort of badge of honour. As for "exploded" - that's fairly semantic. For example, you have "exploded" views in technical illustration - that doesn't mean that the object was actually detonated to make the drawing. "Explosion" often refers to any rapid break-up, whether a "traditional explosion" or not.

    • by georgewilliamherbert (211790) on Friday January 27, 2006 @05:22AM (#14577126)
      The myths are fairly common. Newcomers post them to space related websites and newsgroups and talk about them on talk shows and such all the time.

      Regarding exploded, I have to disagree. Cars don't explode in accidents, though they often get pretty badly mangled and have pieces break off. It's reasonable to say that a lot of things which aren't detonations are explosions... a pressurized cannister of gas say, if it has a structural failure... or a boiler. But Challenger wasn't pushed apart by any sort of internal force. It pitched up rapidly at twice the speed of sound, and like any airplane suddenly tragically flown out to several times its structural design margins, broke into pieces.

      It's particularly hard to make this point as what people saw as an explosion... the fireball... in fact had minimal overpressure and thermal density, and essentially didn't damage either the pieces of the Shuttle (which had already broken up) or the solid boosters. People always think that the fireball caused, or somehow was related to, the deaths. It was completely unrelated. If the external tank had been filled with perfectly inert water, and the shuttle came up off the stack as it did, the breakup of Challenger and eventual deaths of the astronauts would have been exactly the same.

      You may think it's nitpicking, but it often matters for people to understand exactly which part of something caused deaths or destruction. Katrina didn't devastate New Orleans because it was a Cat 5 storm; Katrina pulled in a water surge which damaged levees which flooded the city. If there had been no Katrina, and random liquefaction caused a levee failure on a clear day without a storm in sight, New Orleans would have been just as badly damaged. That's not true for a lot of surrounding areas though, where Katrina floodwaters from the storm surge did directly cause the damage, and the New Orleans levee breaks later were irellevant.

      I'm designing manned spacecraft now, and the details of what can go wrong during launch, in space, and during reentry matter. There are a lot of things which can go wrong and may look spectacularly bad, but shouldn't kill the crew. I am more concerned about the ones which could kill the crew, some of which don't look all that dangerous to the naked eye. Soyuz 10's crew died because one small valve failed and let all the air out as the capsule was coming down. Columbia's crew died because small pieces of foam falling off tanks got to be routine, and eventually after 100 missions a big one fell off and hit probably the single worst place on the whole Orbiter.

      • composite aging? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Quadraginta (902985) on Friday January 27, 2006 @06:43AM (#14577337)
        Columbia's crew died because small pieces of foam falling off tanks got to be routine, and eventually after 100 missions a big one fell off...

        You know, I've always wondered what part composite aging might have played. Materials scientists tend to know little about how composite materials like the RCC panels age, especially in the harsh environment they had to endure -- radiation, violent temperature swings, et cetera -- and especially over the 20 years or so between Columbia's fabrication and the accident. Plus, unlike metals, composites are a bit notorious for showing no outward signs at all that they are about to fail, for looking perfectly sound even when they are so rotten that they'll suddenly and catastrophically fail under stresses they easily stood before.

        Here [afa.org] for example is a story about some of the problems the USAF is running into now with the F-15 wing, which is composite and approaching 20 years old in many aircraft, e.g. the linked article notes an F-15 coming apart midflight in 2003 because of a sudden failure of the wing, and yet routine inspections every 200 hours had shown no signs of incipient failure.

        If Columbia's accident was the result of this kind of failure, it's a lot harder to blame the designers, engineers, and even management for failing to prevent it -- because it involved the emergence without any warning of a completely unforeseeable materials failure mode. Essentially, the impact of the foam was a trivial hazard, easily withstood by the airframe for almost all of the 20 years Columbia flew. And then, by incredibly bad luck, the aging of the RCC material made the stuff just suddenly become ridiculously fragile, to the point where an oversize bird turd could crack it. And it did so with no outward signs of weakness at all.

        That would make Columbia's accident pretty much a pure act of God, beyond the ability of mortal men to foresee and prevent. Indeed, I think one of the lessons of Columbia should probably be that these things still happen, that materials and systems can fail in totally unforeseen ways, even with the best engineering talent and the best management will in the world.
        • Re:composite aging? (Score:5, Informative)

          by lbrandy (923907) on Friday January 27, 2006 @10:46AM (#14578338)
          Here for example is a story about some of the problems the USAF is running into now with the F-15 wing, which is composite and approaching 20 years old in many aircraft, e.g. the linked article notes an F-15 coming apart midflight in 2003 because of a sudden failure of the wing, and yet routine inspections every 200 hours had shown no signs of incipient failure.

          Two points of information: The failure was not part of the wing, but part of the vertical stablizer (the fins). And, secondly, the failure was part of the load-bearing honeycomb, which is not "composite" but mainly aluminum. The 'skin' of the aircraft is composite, and not load-bearing. F15s are all getting structural upgrades (as is noted in the article) to correct this problem, and the air-force has removed the "profile" used that day (which, as i understand, was pretty extreme).

          I worked at Eglin shortly after this happened, and worked with many people involved with that aircraft.
    • Re:Explosion (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Vintermann (400722) on Friday January 27, 2006 @06:17AM (#14577276) Homepage
      What I really noticed about this article was the claim that some TV-companies added an explosion sound to the footage. Doctoring footage and images: I've seen so many examples of newspaper images that were so similar, I've often wondered if news agencies don't pull up photoshop to make the image a little more illustrative.
      There always seems to be a russian woman walking past a huge poster of Putin, an iraqi woman walking past a huge poster of Saddam, a venezuelan woman walking past a huge picture of Chavez. And a picture of a white dove with a palestinian demonstration in the background. They are both in focus... how did the photographer get them to stand still? And I don't think you can trust that demonstrators really held up the posters they did. Far too often, it seems that the most prominent poster is held by someone who is not in the image. Remember the affair when a parody image of "Evil Ernie" appeared in an image of bin Laden? It was claimed that the demonstrator had done an image search on the net and accidentaly downloaded the parody image, but if he made that sign, wouldn't he have noticed that bizarre puppet in the backgound?! I think it more likely that someone at reuters or AP decided that the image wasn't illustrative enough, and did the negligent image search
      So now I see a major news outlet claiming that such "illustrative" manipulation occurs, perhaps I'm not paranoid, after all.
      • Re:Explosion (Score:4, Interesting)

        by JunkmanUK (909293) on Friday January 27, 2006 @08:12AM (#14577564)
        I remember when I was very young and at a school fair. While walking past the 'tombola' stand a photographer grabbed me and thrust a bottle of apple juice into my hands and took my photo. He took my name and put the bottle back on the stand and walked off. In the local paper that week was a picture of me 'winning on the tombola'. As a young boy it was my first lesson that the media will architect anything to create the news story they want (although trivial in this case). Hence I'm the cynic I am today, and can't stand the modern press either (but that's another story...)
    • No kidding. I never heard of these myths before, either, and I clearly remember the incident. Are they still myths if only the article's author has ever heard them? And possibly made up to have something to jabber about on MNSBC in between ad columns badly arranged with buggy CSS?
    • I remember clearly that I did not see it live, as I was in college and didn't have cable TV (in a dorm? get real!) I was in class, and (this being college, not kindergarten), we didn't watch TV in them. I heard about it after the fact, and watched the coverage later in the day on the TV that served as the monitor for my Commodore 64.

      The notion that the crew died immediately was "common wisdom" following the disaster. It's what everybody said to comfort each other: "At least they didn't suffer" "It was

  • by cerebis (560975) on Friday January 27, 2006 @04:57AM (#14577057)
    I watched the Challenger launch with passive disinterest in the library of my junior highschool.

    The librarian had rolled out one of the ubiquitous "TV + giant VCR" stands and parked it in the middle of the reading area. For a librarian that typically insisted on a completely quiet room, this was unusual. I suppose the novelty of the teacher going into space prompted her decision.

    Anyway, that unusual situation was enough for me to watch the launch, motivated by the taboo feeling of watching TV in the otherwise serenely quiet library and being a bit of a space nut. Despite that and to corroborate the claim in the article, I was probably one of only a few people actually paying attention to it, as most other students were taking the situation as a license to talk to eachother.

    I clearly remember watching it desintergate, fanning out into a cloud -- and my mind not being able to fully comprehend what was happening. I might have even vocalized, but I can only remember the visuals. It seemed to take forever for other people to catch on to what had happened.

  • Myth about the myth (Score:5, Interesting)

    by robla (4860) * on Friday January 27, 2006 @04:58AM (#14577062) Homepage Journal
    Few people actually saw what happened live on television. The flight occurred during the early years of cable news, and although CNN was indeed carrying the launch when the shuttle was destroyed, all major broadcast stations had cut away -- only to quickly return with taped relays.

    I admit I wasn't watching (I was off at school), but my mom was watching the Today show (Pacific Timezone) when it happened, and that's not consistent with how she told it. She said that it was a reasonably routine "let's cut away to Florida, where the first teacher in space is about to launch". She saw the "explosion" (or whatever actually happened), totally sans commentary. Then things went black, and eventually, some stunned newscasters came on.

    Now, it may be that other timezones weren't running news shows, and so they didn't break coverage, but at least on the PST feed of Today, they showed it live.
  • Few people? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by steveshaw (690806)
    The "few people" statement seems like an awfully off-the-cuff remark with no facts to back it up. As he says, "CNN was indeed carrying the launch when the shuttle was destroyed...." CNN wasn't some local Wayne's World cable access channel. It started in 1980 and by 1985 was a major player in the news world. Most schools had it and were probably watching it due to the "first teacher in space" angle.
  • Feynman's report (Score:5, Informative)

    by 19061969 (939279) on Friday January 27, 2006 @05:12AM (#14577101)
    Obligatory link to Richard Feynman's [feynmanonline.com] report on the disaster [fotuva.org].

    The Challenger disaster was quite shocking, even more so when I realised that the crew were probably alive (if not conscious) all the way until their capsule hit the ground. It's incredible that something could survive that disintegration but very sad that there was no way to get the capsule safely back to earth.

    Richard Feynman's report is a fantastically clear and lucid account of his opinions. The man was one of the greatest communicators of science, and after reading this, you will see why. The most astonishing bit is that he discusses some less than simple things in such a way as to make them easily understood. It's a model of clarity, and I recommend it.

  • by gowen (141411) <gwowen@gmail.com> on Friday January 27, 2006 @05:14AM (#14577104) Homepage Journal
    The most fascinating report on the Challenger disaster remains Richard Feynman's dissent on the official line of the Rogers Report (on whose committee he served). Read it here [ralentz.com].
    "If a reasonable launch schedule is to be maintained, engineering often cannot be done fast enough to keep up with the expectations of originally conservative certification criteria designed to guarantee a very safe vehicle. In these situations, subtly, and often with apparently logical arguments, the criteria are altered so that flights may still be certified in time. They therefore fly in a relatively unsafe condition, with a chance of failure of the order of a percent (it is difficult to be more accurate).

    Official management, on the other hand, claims to believe the probability of failure is a thousand times less. One reason for this may be an attempt to assure the government of NASA perfection and success in order to ensure the supply of funds. The other may be that they sincerely believed it to be true, demonstrating an almost incredible lack of communication between themselves and their working engineers."
    Whether you consider that "political interference" is a different matter.
  • No explosion? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Vellmont (569020) on Friday January 27, 2006 @05:16AM (#14577111)
    What kind of strange definition of explosion does this guy have?

    the shuttle's fuel tank tore apart, spilling liquid oxygen and hydrogen which formed a huge fireball at an altitude of 46,000 ft.

    That kind of sounds like an explosion to me. Maybe to a demolitions expert it doesn't meet some specialized technical definition of "explosion", but I don't see how that's really relavent. Talking about how the actual orbiter didn't explode is really starting to split hairs here.
    • Re:No explosion? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by georgewilliamherbert (211790) on Friday January 27, 2006 @05:34AM (#14577154)
      That kind of sounds like an explosion to me. Maybe to a demolitions expert it doesn't meet some specialized technical definition of "explosion", but I don't see how that's really relavent. Talking about how the actual orbiter didn't explode is really starting to split hairs here.
      1) Before the propellants had completely spilled, and long before (in terms of how fast the accident happened) they ignited and the visible fireball started, Challenger had already pitched up and immediately broken up. The fireball happened around the pieces of the orbiter after it broke up, and had nothing to do with the breakup happening.

      2) The fireball had minimal pressure and a low enough temperature that it did not significantly damage either the already broken up pieces of the orbiter (no burn damage or crush damage from the fireball) or the solid rocket boosters.

      If someone waved an industrial sized propane torch at you for one second, the kind they use to dry paint rapidly, you'd get mildly burned but it wouldn't kill you. If you were sitting inside your car when it was waved at you from outside, you wouldn't notice, unless it bubbled the paint a bit.

      Not everything that looks big and bright and explosion-like kills and destroys everything inside it. I personally survived a small gas vapor fire where my body was essentially entirely inside the fireball, with only a few burnt hairs and what was functionally no worse than a bad sunburn on the parts of my skin not covered by clothing, and the clothes didn't catch on fire. I really don't recommend you try it yourself, but it won't kill you.

      • And again you're talking about an explosion from a technical perspective. Within that context you're correct. But for everyone else in the world a big fireball is an explosion. Since this article wasn't written for a trade journal I think the rather untechnical description is perfectly applicable here. Explosion isn't a word who's definition is confined to people who work within a specialized techinical field.
      • I personally survived a small gas vapor fire where my body was essentially entirely inside the fireball

        I, too, have survived fireballs. The critical factor, it would seem, is the ratio of hit points to the level of the caster.

         
    • Re:No explosion? (Score:5, Informative)

      by FireFury03 (653718) <slashdot@nexuBALDWINsuk.org minus author> on Friday January 27, 2006 @05:36AM (#14577169) Homepage
      What kind of strange definition of explosion does this guy have?

      A (low) explosion is basically an over-pressure of the inside of a sealed container to the point that it breaks catestrophically. (High explosives are obviously different). That's not what happened here - the fuel tank ruptured (not caused by an explosion) and the resulting fuel spill just burnt in the air. That's really no different to if your car fuel tank ruptures and the petrol catches fire, it doesn't explode it just burns. Similarly if you set fire to gun powder in an unconfined space it just burns (quickly), it doesn't explode.

      The craft then broke apart due to overpressure on the *outside* of the craft (caused by it turning broad-side in a supersonic airstream). If anything that probably constitutes an implosion, certainly not an explosion.
    • In common terms it may "sound" like an explosion, but this term has a strict definition in science, which is what the author of TFA was refering to.

      In an explosion there is a detonation (or pressure) wave that travels from the site faster than the speed of sound - this indeed is what causes most of the damage in an explosion. I think an overpressure wave of around 1 psi will kill you or flatten a house - but I don't remember the specifics. These come from "high explosives" as a previous poster pointed out.

      T
    • Yes, Myth #2 seems to be largely an argument of semantics. The Challenger orbiter didn't explode, it was just sitting on top of a huge tank of liquid hydrogen and oxygen when it ignited. And then it was "torn apart as it was flung free of the other rocket components and turned broadside into the Mach 2 airstream."

      Personally, I fail to see any substantive difference between "exploded" and "ripped to pieces at 1500 mph."

      Myth #1 seems similarly disingenuous. Sure, "few" people saw the actual explos-- hi

  • by Morgaine (4316) on Friday January 27, 2006 @05:17AM (#14577112)
    >> NASA managers made a bad call for the launch decision, and engineers who had qualms about the O-rings were bullied or bamboozled into acquiescence.

    That's the bit that annoyed me most.

    The very idea that non-technical management can override or disregard technical advice provided by professionals in their specialist technical area is a complete travesty.

    And imposing a flawed managerial direction by applying social pressures (bullying/bamboozling) to brush dissenters under the carpet just made it worse. All highly unprofessional.

    I know that it's the way that business works these days, with the management thinking that it is somehow "above" the technical people who deal with the technology on which the enterprise is founded, but it's an insane model in a world that is becoming ever more technical every day.

    As non-technical management becomes ever more clueless about technical issues with each passing day of technical progress, businesses who don't accept overriding technical direction at management level are treading the path towards having their own "Challanger disasters". It's a misguided approach.
    • I don't want to come off as being against your post, because I totally agree, but I wonder if the O-rings thing wasn't just another in a long list of things the engineers were complaining about (of varying importance)... Engineers are certainly the kind to make known all their qualms about anything, and presented with a roomful of engineers I am sure a lot of managers would be quick to gloss over most of their complaints. Add to that the fact that this would only fail under certain circumstances and you c
    • I don't know if you can say that NASA management was non-technical. They weren't experts on the solid rocket boosters, but typical NASA management is staffed by engineers who have worked their way up. They were technical people at one time. There are only so many ways for engineers at NASA to move up the payscale. You typically move up into management positions and manage other engineers. I'm not excusing their bad decisions, and maybe I'm misconstruing your statement. I'm just saying that a lot of ma
    • by Shivetya (243324) on Friday January 27, 2006 @06:47AM (#14577344) Homepage Journal
      While the non-technical managers overriding the decisions of the technical staff here would never lead to loss of life it still occurs and is still very frustrating.

      Many of us can spend more time refuting a non-tech than actually performing the work. It can take more time refuting even most uninformed opinion than the entire projects takes from planning to completion. I have had projects stopped just before release because of some "wild hair" objection by someone higher up only to later unexplicably finding it released.

      Its jealously for the most part. Not direct but that is what it still is. They need to feel superior somehow so they mask ignorance with authority. By pulling "rank" they have effectively shown the technical staff whose boss as if it makes right.

      Fortunately there are times where their idiocy gets noticed by someone higher up who realizes the issue raised is nothing more than strutting and they get boxed up for a while. But eventually they pop their heads up again when the coast is clear and it is back to step one.

      Sometimes I think the motto of most companies is, "We make money inspite of ourselves"
  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Friday January 27, 2006 @05:18AM (#14577115) Journal
    It should be noted that this past Thursday was NASA's Day of Remembrance [nasa.gov]. This is in honor of the astronauts who died in all three of America's space accidents -- Apollo I, Challenger, and Columbia -- which all occurred around the last week of January (January 27 - February 1). There's a commemorative page [nasa.gov] on NASA's site.

    That said, I look forward to the day when a spacecraft accident is no more notable than an automobile or airplane accident. The best way to honor our lost astronauts is to make space travel more routine, allowing it to get safer and more accessible through experience.
    • I look forward to the day when a spacecraft accident is no more notable than an automobile or airplane accident.

      Not I. Tragic accidents like this mean we're living on the cutting edge of our technology, pushing the envelope of what we can do, standing on tip-toe and reaching as high as we can. As long as those who risk their lives do so with eyes wide open, let it rip. I want to live in interesting times, and in a culture that has balls of brass.

      If we insist on exploration being safe, we've just pussifie
  • Throughout history, humans have taken great risks for the sake of exploration, being recorded in history, and furthering knowledge for the sake of our species. From walking beyond the boundaries of the village and exploring uncharted lands, to climbing the highest peaks, to travelling across the oceans to the "new world", to diving underwater to undiscovered secrets, and to travelling into space; the risk of never returning has always been apart of these feats.

    However, in this era, we cannot fathom thing

  • by d99-sbr (568719) on Friday January 27, 2006 @05:25AM (#14577137) Journal
    It's happened again! Look at the Wikipedia article [wikipedia.org] on the subject.

    For example, in the second paragraph we find the ENTIRE first myth copied verbatim into the news article with no credit or references given whatsoever!

    The rest seems to be original wording though, but I encourage you to dig more into this.
  • I have difficulty reading the text on Mozilla Seamonkey 1.0b
    Text partly disappears under features like the author's photograph and the commercial banners.

    Is it a mistake in the page's HTML or a bug in Seamonkey that I should report?
    What do others see?
  • Not sure I agree (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Friday January 27, 2006 @05:29AM (#14577142)
    I've read this twice today since it was on Fark about 8 hours ago and I have a problem with Mister Oberg's story.

    From Encyclopedia Astronautica - http://www.astronautix.com/flights/sts51l.htm [astronautix.com]
    "At this point in its trajectory, while traveling at a Mach number of 1.92 at an altitude of 46,000 feet, the Challenger was totally enveloped in the explosive burn. The Challenger's reaction control system ruptured and a hypergolic burn of its propellants occurred as it exited the oxygen-hydrogen flames. The reddish brown colors of the hypergolic fuel burn are visible on the edge of the main fireball. The Orbiter, under severe aerodynamic loads, broke into several large sections which emerged from the fireball. Separate sections that can be identified on film include the main engine/tail section with the engines still burning, one wing of the Orbiter, and the forward fuselage trailing a mass of umbilical lines pulled loose from the payload bay.
    The Explosion 73 seconds after liftoff claimed crew and vehicle. Cause of explosion was determined to be an O-ring failure in right SRB. Cold weather was a contributing factor. Launch Weight: 268,829 lbs. "

    From the Commission's Report

    http://science.ksc.nasa.gov/shuttle/missions/51-l/ docs/rogers-commission/Chapter-3.txt [nasa.gov]

    "At 73.124 seconds,. a circumferential white vapor pattern was observed blooming from the side of the External Tank bottom dome. This was the beginning of the structural failure of hydrogen tank that culminated in the entire aft dome dropping away. This released massive amounts of liquid hydrogen from the tank and created a sudden forward thrust of about 2.8 million pounds, pushing the hydrogen tank upward into the intertank structure. At about the same time, the rotating right Solid Rocket Booster impacted the intertank structure and the lower part of the liquid oxygen tank. These structures failed at 73.137 seconds as evidenced by the white vapors appearing in the intertank region.

    Within milliseconds there was massive, almost explosive, burning of the hydrogen streaming from the failed tank bottom and liquid oxygen breach in the area of the intertank.

    At this point in its trajectory, while traveling at a Mach number of 1.92 at an altitude of 46,000 feet, the Challenger was totally enveloped in the explosive burn. The Challenger's reaction control system ruptured and a hypergolic burn of its propellants occurred as it exited the oxygen-hydrogen flames. The reddish brown colors of the hypergolic fuel burn are visible on the edge of the main fireball. The Orbiter, under severe aerodynamic loads, broke into several large sections which emerged from the fireball. Separate sections that can be identified on film include the main engine/tail section with the engines still burning, one wing of the Orbiter, and the forward fuselage trailing a mass of umbilical lines pulled loose from the payload bay."

    From Mister Oberg's story

    "The shuttle did not explode in the common definition of that word. There was no shock wave, no detonation, no "bang" -- viewers on the ground just heard the roar of the engines stop as the shuttle's fuel tank tore apart, spilling liquid oxygen and hydrogen which formed a huge fireball at an altitude of 46,000 ft. (Some television documentaries later added the sound of an explosion to these images.) But both solid-fuel strap-on boosters climbed up out of the cloud, still firing and unharmed by any explosion. Challenger itself was torn apart as it was flung free of the other rocket components and turned broadside into the Mach 2 airstream. Individual propellant tanks were seen exploding -- but by then, the spacecraft was already in pieces."

    The Shuttle at that time was made up of the Orbiter, a Fuel Tank and two Solid Rocket Boosters, there was an explosion, so I think Mister Oberg is wrong for saying it did not "explode in the common definition of that word". It blew up.
  • by atrocious cowpat (850512) on Friday January 27, 2006 @06:02AM (#14577233)

    Edward Tufte wrote an excellent analysis [edwardtufte.com] on how crucial information about possible problems was buried in incompetently presented data.
  • I was in the habit of watching the NASA channel, which my local cable company was carrying by that time. Usually, it was dead air or meetings, but when there was a mission in progress, it usually showed views of the earth from the shuttle.

    -jcr
  • This article omits some very important facts related to how events
    occurred. Specifically within the contractor that produced them.
    Anyone who has taken an engineering ethics course should have seen this material already:

    google's cache of onlineethics.org
    http://72.14.203.104/search?q=cache:QhdMxzQaNpoJ:o nlineethics.org/moral/boisjoly/RB-intro.html+&hl=e n&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=1 [72.14.203.104]

    Slightly more damning is that the engineers from the contractor attempted to have the launch delayed and were overturned
  • Well done, James (Score:2, Interesting)

    by brindafella (702231)

    James Oberg is a regular participant in several space related newsgroups and news sites that I read. (I note sci.space.station)

    Accordingly, I have watched his coverage of several newsworthy space events and know, from my watching of coverage and analysis, that James Obserg is credible and often "ahead of the game" in calling what really happened.

    I congratulate James Oberg on this account, and analysis, and ask readers to take his work as 'credible'.

    Unfortunately, I have seen numerous analysis pieces t

  • I dont know why but any time there is a major disaster a bunch crackpots come out of the woodwork and start talking about how if we had the magical asbestos everything would have been alright.

    Same thing happened on 9/11. They started talking about how supposedly the towers used to have asbestos insulation, but the evil environmentalists took it away, and if only the towers still had the asbestos insulation the steel columns would not have melted and the buildings would not have colapsed.

    Of course in reality
  • The existence of the entire shuttle program was the result of political interference: an overpriced, showy way of getting people into space that served little practical purpose. A rational, cost-effective space program would not have relied on such technology in the first place and would have used manned spaceflight very sparingly and mostly for medical tests that required humans.
  • by mbone (558574) on Friday January 27, 2006 @06:55AM (#14577363)
    I take exception to this one

    There were pressures on the flight schedule, but none of any recognizable political origin.

    BS. I worked at NASA at the time, and I knew that there were politcal pressures on the flight schedule before the launch. One thing that he conveniently doesn't mention is that the State of the Union address was that night. It is a fact that Reagan wanted to salute the first teacher in space. That was common knowledge. Only an idiot would think that the NASA higher-ups would not feel pressure to launch in those circumstances. (I never heard of any plans to link the flight crew to the speach, which I cannot recall being done for any SOTU with anyone; this sounds like a straw man to me).

    What I will give him is that I personally doubt that this pressure took the form of the White House calling up Houston. (There is certainly no evidence of that.) But they didn't have to.
  • I remember... (Score:2, Informative)

    by cbirkett (904502)
    "...obviously a major malfunction."
  • I watched this disaster live on TV. I am from New Hampshire, so the sight of a Concord schoolteacher going into space was a major event. Our entire school was gathered in the auditorium, and we watched Challenger explode. I think it is safe to say that they wouldn't have shown us a recording of a teacher exploding.
  • by snub (140826) on Friday January 27, 2006 @07:24AM (#14577422)
    I worked as a contractor to NASA from STS-6 (well before Challenger) through the disaster and for several years afterward. I was an engineering manager on the payload side rather than the oribiter itself but I was heavily involved in all phases of prepration and launch. That qualifies me to say: this guy doesn't know what he's talking about.

    There was enormous pressure to launch on time. Did the President call the Launch Director and tell him to launch? No, of course not. But NASA's budget depended on getting those launches off and beleive me that is a big motivator.

    Did stupid managers ignore the advice of engineers? Not really. Remember that you're dealing with the "fog of war". Nobody knows anything 100% for sure and nobody communicates 100% perfectly. Incomplete data, poorly constructed PowerPoint slides, fear of rocking the boat, preconceived ideas, all contribute to this. Would someone intentionally put the astronauts lives at risk? Of course not, but in the absence of clear information most people just go with what the group wants to do.

    Did the astronauts accept the risk? I knew many astronauts (OK actually it was 5 or 6) and they were some of the smartest people I have ever met. They TOTALLY accepted the risk of what they were doing. Just as much as a Marine going into battle accepts the risks. In this case though they were even more educated and aware of the odds. The astronauts I knew usually had multiple degrees, dozens of certifications, and 1000s of hours of training. They knew exactly what they were doing.

    • by GileadGreene (539584) on Friday January 27, 2006 @11:14AM (#14578571) Homepage
      That qualifies me to say: this guy doesn't know what he's talking about.

      Uh, James Oberg [wikipedia.org] worked in Mission Control at JSC from well before Challenger until well after. I'd say that qualifies him to "know what he's talking about", at least as much as you're qualified by your experiences.

    • I worked as a contractor to NASA from STS-6 (well before Challenger) through the disaster and for several years afterward. I was an engineering manager on the payload side rather than the oribiter itself but I was heavily involved in all phases of prepration and launch. That qualifies me to say: this guy doesn't know what he's talking about.

      Well, knowing JimO, and his resume, qualifies me to say: You are an ass with less clue than the average pencil eraser. Mr Oberg was a flight controller from the Skyla

  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Friday January 27, 2006 @08:01AM (#14577536) Journal
    • That the crew might have escaped safely had the shuttle been fitted with an escape mechanism. How extensive? I don't know. The F-111 bomber has a capacity for the entire cockpit to be ejected. Russian rockets have the capacity to fire the last stage allowing the "top" of the rocket to escape from the main rocket. This has worked and allowed for succesfull escapes during faulty launches. The shuttle has had numerous proposals for escape mechanisms NONE of wich have been implemented. It was and is a sealed coffin all the way.
    • The crew was probably unconcious. Well that is easy, we don't want to hear that 7 people fell to their death in a coffin and maybe even survived on the ground only to burn to death sealed inside. Except that it seems pretty silly to not equip astronauts with basic fighter pilot equipment. Like an oxygen mask.

    The challenger disaster was just the result of constant budget cuts resulting in a space craft that did not have proper safety equipment being used in roles it had never been designed for and forced to operate in circumstances that were not safe.

    It is not an accident, it was mis-management and Nasa learned nothing from it.

    On the other hand, the NASA the US gets is the NASA it is prepared to pay for. Same with ESA really, luckily for the europeans we do not do passenger launches so when the europeans screw up it is "harmless".

  • saw it live (Score:3, Interesting)

    by scharkalvin (72228) on Friday January 27, 2006 @08:37AM (#14577657) Homepage
    I was working in Sunrise, FL. at the time. My office was on the second story and we had
    a window facing north. It didn't take a rocket scientist to know something bad had
    happened. And network tv was live covering it. We had a portable tv in the office area
    providing the sound to our live view out the window.
    I remember coming into work the day of the launch mad at myself for forgetting to bring
    my binoculars from home.

  • by gmb61 (815164) on Friday January 27, 2006 @08:39AM (#14577664)
    I was vacationing in Florida at the time and saw it live and in person. It was the first and only shuttle launch I've ever seen. It's true that although it looked like an explosion, it didn't really sound like one. It's kind of hard to describe what it sounded like, kind of like the sound of rushing air, not the boom of an explosion. What I remember most about that day was the bitter cold. I was born and raised in Southern California, and so I wasn't used to cold like that. I didn't have any gloves and I remember getting frostbite on my fingers while trying to hold my camera. I also remember the voice of the mission control announcer sounded very stressed as he first told us that they had "lost contact with the orbiter", then "rescue units are moving into position". They locked down Kennedy Space Center for one hour and nobody was allowed to enter or exit. I also remember watching all the little bits and pieces falling to Earth afterwards. Stuff was falling out of the sky for what seemed like half an hour. It looked a little like the very last shot in the movie Independence Day. I don't think I will ever forget that day.
  • 28 January 1986 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by spaceyhackerlady (462530) on Friday January 27, 2006 @12:20PM (#14579282)

    20 years ago? Yikes!

    I remember that morning. As a space nut I was watching the launch preparations (and delays) on TV as I got ready for work. They hadn't launched by the time I left.

    Later that morning one of our part-time students came in and asked if everybody had heard that Challenger had blown up. I felt myself go grey, went home sick, and spent the afternoon glued to the TV.

    So, no, I didn't see it live. Probably just as well.

    Apollo 1 was a little before my time - I was only 5 in 1966. I distinctly remember a couple of years later, though, thinking how badly it would suck to be away from home for Christmas while watching coverage of Apollo 8.

    ...laura

  • by Surt (22457) on Friday January 27, 2006 @12:34PM (#14579466) Homepage Journal
    Somehow it always reassures me when one of these 'big myths' stories comes out, and I'm not wrong on any of them. Are these really widespread?

          1. Few people actually saw the Challenger tragedy unfold live on television.

    Well I did. I was one of the school children in that program.

          2. The shuttle did not explode in the common definition of that word.

    Well duhh, read the details. I'm sure to most of us 'challenger' meant the whole package, and there was a rather large fireball involved, which in the common definition of the word would qualify as an explosion

          3. The flight, and the astronauts' lives, did not end at that point, 73 seconds after launch.

    The facts are just unclear.

          4. The design of the booster, while possessing flaws subject to improvement, was neither especially dangerous if operated properly, nor the result of political interference.

    Though the flaws subject to improvement would likely have been fixed if not for political interference (or beurocracy as you prefer).

          5. Replacement of the original asbestos-bearing putty in the booster seals was unrelated to the failure.

    Who thought this?

          6. There were pressures on the flight schedule, but none of any recognizable political origin.

    Except of course for the whole 'teacher in space' deal.

          7. Claims that the disaster was the unavoidable price to be paid for pioneering a new frontier were self-serving rationalizations on the part of those responsible for incompetent engineering management -- the disaster should have been avoidable.

    Which of course runs counter to his previous claim that political interference had no impact.

    All in all, what a crap article.

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