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NASA Science

Dying Man Shares Unseen Challenger Video 266

Posted by Soulskill
from the new-perspective-on-an-old-tragedy dept.
longacre writes "An amateur video of the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger explosion has been made public for the first time. The Florida man who filmed it from his front yard on his new Betamax camcorder turned the tape over to an educational organization a week before he died this past December. The Space Exploration Archive has since published the video into the public domain in time for the 24th anniversary of the catastrophe. Despite being shot from about 70 miles from Cape Canaveral, the shuttle and the explosion can be seen quite clearly. It is unclear why he never shared the footage with NASA or the media. NASA officials say they were not aware of the video, but are interested in examining it now that it has been made available."
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Dying Man Shares Unseen Challenger Video

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  • Speculation... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by quangdog (1002624) <quangdog&gmail,com> on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @12:31PM (#30996874)
    Why would someone keep this private and/or secret for so long?
    • Re:Speculation... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Tetsujin (103070) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @12:42PM (#30997094) Homepage Journal

      Why would someone keep this private and/or secret for so long?

      The launch and subsequent explosion were broadcast live on TV. I think if I'd shot it, I might have assumed that it was entirely redundant.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by ArsonSmith (13997)

        yea why would you want to post something again when it has been already covered previously by others?

        Mod me redundant please otherwise the joke doesn't work.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Now mod him underrated, so we can get the first +5 Redundant.

          • by roman_mir (125474)

            First +5 Redundant? You must be new here, the entire premise of /. is based on that score.

            Also I have seen those types of scores here many times over. +5 Troll? Please, how about -1 Insightful.

    • Re:Speculation... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @12:45PM (#30997138)

      Why would someone keep this private and/or secret for so long?

      Probably saw it on TV the next day and figured it nothing special. This was before the internet, and judging by the age of the guy, he probably never accessed much media beyond his neighbors and the local paper.

      I don't remember NASA ever asking for other videos, and from the footage, it seemed that they had much higher quality stuff to analyze.

      Then we get into the idea that this was a betamax camera, it is also possible that it sat in his things for years, and when his younger grandson or nephew realized what was on the tape, persuaded his granddad (great granddad?) to post it up to the internet/NASA.

      Lots of valid reasons why this never saw the light of day until now, and I'm most comfortable with the idea that he never thought about it or thought he had anything special. He probably thought there were thousands of such videos from other amateurs in Florida.

      • Re:Speculation... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Tekfactory (937086) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @02:02PM (#30998572) Homepage

        I worked with an Indian guy that had to give the eulogy when his father passed away.

        He talked about his father's life, and his father's position on Ghandi's staff when he was a younger man.

        After the funeral the guy's kids asked him why he never told them Grandpa worked with Ghandi, when they still could have asked their Grandpa questions about it.

        It just never came up.

    • Re:Speculation... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by LWATCDR (28044) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @12:48PM (#30997222) Homepage Journal

      Because it was his memory. It may have his comments on it while he watched. I was watching when it happened and my father found parts on the beach which we did turn in. Over all we just didn't talk about it much. It is kind of hard when you realize that you just saw seven people die in front of your eyes. It is some how different than when you see it on the news. Also that cloud just hung over us the entire day. It felt like it would never go away.
      Actually even trying to post about that day is hard. So I can see putting it on a shelf and not taking it down until I knew I was going to die.

      • Re:Speculation... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by christurkel (520220) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @01:01PM (#30997452) Homepage Journal
        My father covered the launch for AP and he never said a word about it after he wrote the article about it.
      • Re:Speculation... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by mcgrew (92797) * on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @01:08PM (#30997580) Homepage Journal

        Challenger was the first shuttle launch I didn't watch, having moved back to Illinois. I'd gone outside for all of the previous shuttle launches, and we even drove to the cape to see a few. That thing is LOUD!

        I was out looking for work when it happened, but it was traumatic for anyone, even just seeing it rebroadcast on TV (over and over) when I got home,so your point is well taken.

        • Where were you (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Camel Pilot (78781)

          I was working at Rocketdyne on the Shuttle Main Engines at the time.

          When the Challenger exploded we were told over the intercom that a "System Malfunction" happened on flight 51 and the phones went down. It was not until people went out for lunch that they found out really what happened. In the mean time guards came in and confiscated all the engine build log books to prevent someone from going in and "fixing" some data with the sudden realization of a serious error.

          Spent the next year helping to prepare a

      • Re:Speculation... (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @01:31PM (#30998022)

        It is kind of hard when you realize that you just saw seven people die in front of your eyes.

        You didn't see them die. They survived the explosion, and were killed by impact with the water. The proof is that they initiated emergency procedures after the explosion.

        Come to think of it, I don't suppose that makes you feel any better.

      • by Gilmoure (18428)

        Yup, I saw it live from the west coast. Still remember exactly where I was standing. A very sad day.

        • Re:Speculation... (Score:4, Interesting)

          by element-o.p. (939033) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @01:45PM (#30998282) Homepage

          Still remember exactly where I was standing.

          I do, too. I was sitting in my high school history class, and the teacher rolled in a TV so we could watch the broadcast. Come to think of it, this was probably one of the most important lessons I learned in school: our technology is impressive, but not infallible.

          • by Chapter80 (926879) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @04:42PM (#31000868)

            I do, too. I was sitting in my high school history class, and the teacher rolled in a TV so we could watch the broadcast. Come to think of it, this was probably one of the most important lessons I learned in school: our technology is impressive, but not infallible.

            Why, didn't the TV work?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by eldavojohn (898314) *

        It is kind of hard when you realize that you just saw seven people die in front of your eyes.

        I would also like to point out that some people have more reverence for the dead than others. And that this individual could have decided out of respect of the families of those deceased to withhold the tape from the replay replay replay replay that major news networks would undoubtedly subject it to. Following the initial interest and showing of the footage, a release would simply be played again on the news, reminding those with lost loved ones and the nation of its failure.

        Some people don't believ

        • by LWATCDR (28044)

          It was low enough resolution and from far enough away that I doubt that it would have helped.
          I remember that some soulless creep of a news person actually shot the families while the explosion happened. That should have never made it to broadcast.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Kell Bengal (711123)
            More likely, he was shooting pictures of the families for footage of them waving and cheering a successful launch, but the unexpected explosion captured something entirely different. It's just where his camera was pointing at the time - I guarantee it was someone further up the chain who pushed to have that footage shown. No cameraman worth his salt would have missed filming the explosion itself - it was the Hindenburg of a generation.
        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          I would also like to point out that some people have more reverence for the dead than others.

          Corollary: some people give up all their principles when they're about to die. If he released it before his death, he didn't really have that reverence, because any principles you give up in the face of death, you never really had.

          I'm not trying to badmouth the guy at this phase; we don't really know anything about it. But if you're assuming he didn't release it on principle, then I feel there's a flaw in your logic.

      • I remember as well. My father was an aeronautical engineer that worked on the main engines and related controls in the cabin (Honeywell was the contractor). I was in elementary school, and every launch he would get me a mission patch and autographs when he got to meet the crew. I was the king during show-and-tell.

        Mike Smith's (captain) was the last autograph I got. After that the whole atmosphere changed. I still get teary thinking about it.

      • Re:Speculation... (Score:5, Informative)

        by fotbr (855184) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @04:22PM (#31000578) Journal

        It is kind of hard when you realize that you just saw seven people die in front of your eyes.

        Just being pedantic, but there's pretty good evidence that some, if not all, survived until impact with the ocean. Vehicle breakup was somewhere around 12Gs, which was survivable. On board oxygen was used, and switches that required pulling out against a spring had been changed to positions indicating an attempt to restore electrical power. Impact with the ocean was estimated to be somewhere around 200Gs. More here: http://history.nasa.gov/kerwin.html [nasa.gov] and here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_Challenger_disaster#Cause_and_time_of_death [wikipedia.org]

        So unless you witnessed the remains of the cabin hitting the water, you didn't see (all) seven people die.

    • Because a lot of people don't go through their crap until they know they're about to die soon.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by wrfelts (950027)
      The Challenger disaster was a personal tragedy for many of us. The shuttles represented the resurgence of hope that we were experiencing after 2 decades of societal insanity (60s and 70s). If you're too young to remember or not from the US, the whole nation mourned for quite a while. Having a video that you took of the incident would be akin to keeping a memento of a loved one that you just lost, a personal reminder of what was lost.
    • Re:Speculation... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by The Archon V2.0 (782634) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @01:51PM (#30998366)

      Why would someone keep this private and/or secret for so long?

      Conspiracy theorists obsess over things more the longer they were 'kept hidden'. Being handed over by a dying man? Well, that's even better. He's got nothing to lose anymore, so OBVIOUSLY releasing it before now would have brought the rage of the Illuminati down on him!

      So my theory is that it's a conspiracy against conspiracy theorists.

      • by prgrmr (568806)
        So my theory is that it's a conspiracy against conspiracy theorists.

        As outlined in "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion"
  • Houston... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Pig Hogger (10379) <pig.hoggerNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @12:32PM (#30996912) Journal
    Houston, they've got trouble of some kind...
  • I find it very hard to believe that a 25-year-old degraded video shot from 70 miles away on a consumer Betamax camcorder would be of any use to NASA in their actual analysis of the accident. There were probably a lot of people taping it or taking pictures that never bothered to turn them over to NASA, just because it never occurred to them that their crappy video would be of any real help in understanding what happened.
    • by harmonise (1484057) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @12:38PM (#30997024)

      It's not that it would be useful for analysis, but it's useful as documentation of an historical event.

    • by oneiros27 (46144) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @01:16PM (#30997744) Homepage

      Even distant observations might still be useful if it was shot at a different angle than other observations of the event, and as it's in the sky, and you're 70 miles away, it's a different angle.

      The problem with video is that it's not as useful for judging the speed of things coming towards you, or away from you, unless it's of a fixed size, it's not tumbling, and you have sufficient resolution. If this had a different plane of the sky as the other 'official' footage, it could be used to test any 3d models that might've been made of the disaster, and if it disproves them, provide input for a new model to be made.

      Disclaimer -- I work at a NASA center as a contractor, but I have absolutely nothing to do with the shuttle program.

      • To paraphrase xkcd [xkcd.com]:

        Movies: "Look, you can clearly see the O-ring giving way there!"

        Reality: "We can continue blowing this up and interpolating pixels, but anything we saw would be just our imagination."

    • Seventy miles is not that great a distance for viewing space launches. I remember watching from Satellite Beach (about 40 miles from Cape Kennedy) as Apollo 11 lifted off for the Moon. We could easily see the Saturn booster, and the roar of the engines was LOUD, even that far away. My mother took Super 8 footage of the launch, and, even with the very modest zoom factor, the rocket and payload capsule are quite clearly visible for the first 40 seconds or so.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @12:36PM (#30996978)

    Because they can't get 7 up.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      How many astronauts can fit in a car? 12: 2 in the front seat 3 in the back seat and 7 in the glovebox.

  • memories... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gandhi_2 (1108023) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @12:37PM (#30997022) Homepage

    they herded us into the library of my elementary school to watch the launch. I must have been in 3rd grade or so.

    The teachers hurriedly ushered us back into class when the "space ship" was "done". Most of us came away thinking a shuttle launch was supposed to look like that.

    • Re:memories... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @01:05PM (#30997524) Journal

      I wasn't even born yet - but I had heard of Challenger and the failure, though I had never seen anything like it. It still strikes me as shocking even though I know whats going to happen. I feel the same sadness now as many must have felt over 20 years ago.

      Part of me feels like I've just missed one of the greatest eras of mankind. Space Exploration, Cold war ending, Berlin wall coming down and all that. There was a time when Astronauts were hailed as heros, now our generation views them as simple scientists in the ISS. They're lucky if their launches or arrivals get 15 minutes of airtime. Seems like nothing happens unless there is a disaster. I know this is not true, as there are people still doing missions in space (Hubbles maintenance is the first one that comes to mind). It just saddens me that it is no longer "Big News" sending people into space, only when its a disaster. RIP Challenger Crew. May it not only serve as an example of the dangers involved, but also as a reminder of the men and women who brave those dangers for the pursuit of knowledge.

      • by neurovish (315867)

        I wasn't even born yet - but I had heard of Challenger and the failure, though I had never seen anything like it. It still strikes me as shocking even though I know whats going to happen. I feel the same sadness now as many must have felt over 20 years ago.

        Part of me feels like I've just missed one of the greatest eras of mankind. Space Exploration, Cold war ending, Berlin wall coming down and all that. There was a time when Astronauts were hailed as heros, now our generation views them as simple scientists in the ISS. They're lucky if their launches or arrivals get 15 minutes of airtime. Seems like nothing happens unless there is a disaster. I know this is not true, as there are people still doing missions in space (Hubbles maintenance is the first one that comes to mind). It just saddens me that it is no longer "Big News" sending people into space, only when its a disaster. RIP Challenger Crew. May it not only serve as an example of the dangers involved, but also as a reminder of the men and women who brave those dangers for the pursuit of knowledge.

        That's actually one of the contributing factors to the Challenger explosion. By then, the shuttle launches had become routine, and not seen as quite as big a deal as a few years previous. This led to less scrutiny of the launch conditions and managers in control who saw "successful day's work" == "shuttle going into the air" instead of "shuttle not exploding".

      • by nebaz (453974)

        I hate to say this, but even then, generally astronauts were not viewed as heroes in the mid 80's. The Challenger flight was special though, as there was going to be a school teacher in space for the first time, broadcasting to classrooms live. It was an exciting time. That made the tragedy that much worse. I can understand wanting to have been alive at the time, but I feel the same way about my own circumstances. I was born after all of the Apollo landings. Then I think (at least for Apollo 11) the a

      • Re:memories... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by DerekLyons (302214) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [retawriaf]> on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @02:00PM (#30998530) Homepage

        Part of me feels like I've just missed one of the greatest eras of mankind.

        I thought that too when I was twenty and had just lived through the 70's.
         

        There was a time when Astronauts were hailed as heros, now our generation views them as simple scientists in the ISS. They're lucky if their launches or arrivals get 15 minutes of airtime.

        It just saddens me that it is no longer "Big News" sending people into space

        Are you sad when an oceanographic research vessel sets off on an expedition without even rating a mention on the local news? When a geological field team pitches it's tents and there isn't breathless 24/coverage on CNN? When a biologist checks into a local hotel before heading out into the woods, and the desk clerk just yawns and goes back to his book?
         
        It's kind of like exploring the interior of the US. Lewis and Clark got all the glory for crossing it the first time - but it wasn't until decades later that surveyors, cartographers, geologists, and biologists fanned out across the country. (The latter two categories are *still* out there exploring.) But they didn't make the history books and don't make the news, they're lucky if they get passing mention on a Discovery Channel special. Nobody will ever raise a statue to them, celebrate the 200th anniversary of their work, or stage a re enactment of their work. Only exploration geeks like myself know the names of some the most famous among them. But they're the ones that got the real work done.
         
        A great deal of the problems with out space program stem from the fact that for so long it's been heavily publicized and politicized, misleading people into believing that if it isn't worthy of news coverage then it isn't worthy of being done. It's past time we washed out hands of these romantic and sterile 'great leaps' and got on with hard, dirty, day in and day out work of engineering and exploration. It's going to be expensive, and slow*, and dangerous - and not at all romantic or glamorous, but we won't make progress until we do.

        *Far more expensive and far slower than the 'great leap' showpieces. Which is the main reason we don't do it.

    • by dryueh (531302)
      Same circumstances for me -- except I came away from the launch feeling completely terrified. In addition to the excitement that still welled up around shuttle launches back then, it was especially potent because there was a teacher on board. It's definitely one of those I-remember-exactly-where-I-was-when-it-happened moments.
      • by gandhi_2 (1108023)

        Terrified... Because the teachers always told you if you did your homework, worked hard, payed attention, and followed the rules then someday YOU could fly to space too!

    • by sconeu (64226)

      I was at work, when someone told me. My response was, "You're shitting me, right?"

      We violated several security regulations that day by bringing a portable radio into our closed area and turning it on.

      • by dpilot (134227)

        Me too, and for some illogical reason in the back of my mind, I've blamed him for the Challenger explosion ever since. I know it makes no sense - it's just an odd association.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Skuld-Chan (302449)

      I was in high school when this happened - I didn't see the launch live, but I did see the replay on Channel 1 the next day (forced tv news for poor schools).

      Thing is - that launch carried the first American school teacher up, and her class was watching the event live on TV (which was of course also being covered) - I can still see that classroom of kids with shock and horror over their faces, and I think some were crying. I'll never forget that.

      Even today - watching that video its still leaves me feeling em

  • A sad understatement in retrospect, RIP Challengers.

  • by houghi (78078) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @12:41PM (#30997070)

    How could they? They violated his copyright and took away any incentive for the man to make another movie.

    • by natehoy (1608657)

      Well, I would think death would have taken away that incentive, myself, but then again with current copyright laws maybe not.

    • How could they? They violated his copyright and took away any incentive for the man to make another movie.

      I would think the man being dead and all would have damped his enthusiasm anyway.

    • Not to ruin the joke, but you can sign away your copyrights to your works anytime you want. Just ask any artist under a RIAA label. He just would have to sign his copyright over to The Space Exploration Archive. They, in turn, would release it to the public domain.

      • He just would have to sign his copyright over to The Space Exploration Archive. They, in turn, would release it to the public domain.

        That still a vastly better deal. He would earn just as much money (IE nada), but he could show a copy of his own movie to anyone he wanted without having to pay 'the label'.

  • Now we know... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nohumor (1735852) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @12:46PM (#30997172)
    ... that betamax did not just have great audio and video, *it can survive years in the attic* without losing much of the quality.
    • by Grygus (1143095)
      Just another example showing that sometimes merely being the best is insufficient.
  • It was weird that there were so many tasteless Challenger jokes. Anyone know if this was common all over the country or was it only my neck of the woods?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's a basic fact of life that some people cope with disturbing things by making jokes about them.

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by ArsonSmith (13997)

      Like:

      NASA - Need Another Seven Astronauts?

      or

      What's this button do?

      I don't remember any others.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by nedlohs (1335013)

        What color were McAuliffe's eyes?

        Blue. One blew this way, the other blew that way.

        Where do astronauts spend their vacation?

        All over Florida.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by thomst (1640045)
          What was the last thing Crista McAuliffe said to her husband?

          Honey, you feed the dogs - and I'll feed the fish.

      • Ohhh, I remember one that one now... (Need Another Seven Astronauts)... Ya, I think they were fairly common all over.
      • by idontgno (624372)
        Last transmission: "No... a Bud Light!"
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by ktappe (747125)
        Yeah, there were plenty of Challenger jokes. The one I recall:

        (PLEASE STOP READING NOW IF YOU DO NOT APPROVE OF OFFENSIVE JOKES)

        • Why was Christa McAuliffe's husband so angry?
        • Strange men were getting a piece of her all over the beach.

        (/OFFENSIVE)

        The interesting thing is I've not heard any Haiti jokes. I don't know if that's because I'm not in school now as I was during Challenger, or if there actually aren't as many jokes around.

        • by BobMcD (601576)

          The interesting thing is I've not heard any Haiti jokes. I don't know if that's because I'm not in school now as I was during Challenger, or if there actually aren't as many jokes around.

          "Too soon" would be my first guess.

          "Not very funny" would be my second. I'm trying to picture what one might be about, but I'm not really coming up with much.

    • by Sloppy (14984)

      Tasteless jokes, on any topic, are normal almost everywhere. If you ever find a region where tasteless jokes aren't normal, that place isn't normal.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      We had 'em, too. I was in 7th grade at the time, and they were irresistible.

      Know why NASA drinks Sprite? They couldn't get 7 up.

    • by BitZtream (692029)

      Just who did those jokes harm?

      Its one thing to make a joke in front of the families of those lost in the accident, but to make jokes around people with no direct connection really doesn't do any harm.

      To answer your question though, they were common in the schools all through central Florida.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by earthloop (449575)

      One of the ones in the UK:
      "Go on then, let her have a go."

    • by AP31R0N (723649)

      How did they know Christa McAuliffe had dandruff? They found her head and shoulders.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      I heard quite a few of them. Many were funny as hell. But in situations where people are freaked out, sick humor is the cure for the freakout.

    • by u38cg (607297)
      A friend of mine who was in high school in the UK, roughly 13/14, reckons he heard the first one within thirty minutes of the crash. The Michael Jackson jokes were quicker still.
    • by LanMan04 (790429)

      I'm pretty sure the operative words are "Elementary School".

      I'm sure the jokes there are just as tasteless as ever, just about different subjects.

    • by raddan (519638) * on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @06:35PM (#31002190)
      Well, I can't speak for the rest of the country, but until just now, I never heard a single Challenger joke. To me, that kind of joke has an equivalent tastelessness as jokes about soldiers who die for their country. It makes light of a very great sacrifice.
  • Video here... (Score:5, Informative)

    by crt (44106) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @01:02PM (#30997476)

    On the original article:
    http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20100129/NEWS02/1290397/ [courier-journal.com]

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by SharpNose (132636)

      Oh, man...the obliviousness and the repeating "that doe'n't look right..." over and over again is just heartbreaking.

  • can't say the same thing for your DVD/BluRay+-R discs in 25 years
    • by nomadic (141991)
      can't say the same thing for your DVD/BluRay+-R discs in 25 years

      I would put more faith in optical media outlasting magnetic media like betamax.
      • by sconeu (64226)

        Yeah, but where are you going to find a player, especially with all the DRM?

        • by BitZtream (692029)

          Same place you find a betamax player probably.

          Just because they aren't the most popular type of device for that purpose doesn't mean they instantly disappear.

          People will collect all sorts of crap, and I'm betting you can find a Betamax player in a pawn shop in every large city.

    • by PPH (736903)
      Perhaps it took them 25 years to find a Betamax deck to play it on.
  • local eye doctor (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kenosaga (879765) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @02:37PM (#30999072)
    Dr. Jack Moss' son is my eye doctor. From what I understand, Dr. Moss thought that his recording of the catastrophe was only of any value to himself and possibly his family, as testimony that they had witness the event first hand. He believed, especially with all the media coverage, that he had nothing of scientific value to offer NASA. Like a lot of things, with time we often forget we have them ;)

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