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Previously-Unseen Photos of Challenger Disaster Appear Online 207

Posted by timothy
from the things-in-odd-places dept.
Nerval's Lobster writes "Twenty-six photos of the space shuttle Challenger disaster have appeared online. According to io9, "Michael Hindes of West Springfield, MA, was sorting through boxes of his grandparents' old photographs when he happened upon 26 harrowing photos of the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster of 1986. To his knowledge, these photos have never been publicly released." Hindes told the Website that the photographer was "a friend of his grandfather, who worked for NASA as an electrician on the Agency's hulking, spacecraft-schlepping crawler transporters." Someone at Reddit (which also has a lengthy thread devoted to the images) also threw together a GIF of the liftoff and subsequent explosion."
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Previously-Unseen Photos of Challenger Disaster Appear Online

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  • PHB's strike again (Score:5, Informative)

    by alen (225700) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @02:04PM (#45978495)

    from what i remember the worker bees warned against a launch due to ice and whatever but the bosses said to launch

    • by Capt.Albatross (1301561) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @02:28PM (#45978697)

      from what i remember the worker bees warned against a launch due to ice and whatever but the bosses said to launch

      Then, on Columbia's last mission, the managers ignored the engineers' concerns over the ice impact that had occurred on launch.

      • by Charliemopps (1157495) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @02:47PM (#45978843)

        Actually, with Columbia's mission I watched the launch and they immediately questioned the impact. Then a few days into the mission NASA was talking about how they wanted to inspect the damage after they landed. I was thinking the whole time "That looked pretty bad!"

        Then it blew up and NASA pretended it was all news to them. I didn't really get it.

        • by 0123456 (636235)

          If I remember correctly, the computer model predicted nothing much bad was going to happen, so they did nothing when they might have had a small chance of saving the crew. Then, later, someone pointed out that the computer model was based on much smaller impacts, and they had no data from such a powerful impact on the wing. By then it was too late to do anything.

          • by Talderas (1212466) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @03:41PM (#45979413)

            The Columbia crew were dead men walking the moment the foam damaged the tiles. Columba was a wreck the moment the foam caused the damage. She would never reach earth's surface whole once she entered space.

            The only possible way to get Columbia's crew safely to earth would be to ramp up refitting Atlantis for launch use a crew of four astronauts, and figure out a way of successfully transferring crew from Columbia to Atlantis since they had no equipment to perform an orbiter to orbiter docking. That operation alone would introduce significant risk to both orbiters during the operation due to station keeping further complicated by the fact that air quality in Columbia would have to be significantly reduced so the CO2 scrubbers would last long enough. So hopefully all that station keeping and maneuvering could be solely handled by Atlantis while the cross space transfer of crew is performed.

            Performing the rescue itself would have involved doing things in time frames that were never intended and could introduce risk for Atlantis and her crew. It's tragic but I don't think there was any other outcome. The only way it could have ended without death would have been if the foam impact had been observed during launch while it was still possible to abort. It wasn't noticed until after Columbia was in orbit.

            • by Discopete (316823) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @04:02PM (#45979609) Homepage

              This is why every mission after Columbia had an 'Abort to ISS' option that would allow the shuttle to dock with ISS and wait for the relief shuttle (which was sitting at a 48 hour to launch stage IIRC) to return them home.

              • by Enigma2175 (179646) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @05:57PM (#45980641) Homepage Journal

                This is why every mission after Columbia had an 'Abort to ISS' option that would allow the shuttle to dock with ISS and wait for the relief shuttle (which was sitting at a 48 hour to launch stage IIRC) to return them home.

                Every mission except STS-125, the last Hubble servicing mission. Since the orbit of the ISS has a large inclination relative to the Hubble they planned an in-space rescue mission [wikipedia.org] if TPS damage made it necessary.

            • by khallow (566160)

              She would never reach earth's surface whole once she entered space.

              They could have done an angled reentry to distribute more heat load to the side of the vehicle that wasn't damaged. Columbia might have still failed, but that's a better strategy than merely hoping the damage wasn't bad enough.

              • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

                by Anonymous Coward

                The CAIB ran simulations of that afterward; there was no angle that would have worked. All of the ideas for an improvised patch would have failed as well. The only remotely realistic thing that could have saved the crew would have been a rescue mission with Atlantis. But Atlantis wasn't ready because nobody bothered to budget or plan for a rescue mission.

            • by thegarbz (1787294) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @06:03PM (#45980695)

              That operation alone would introduce significant risk to both orbiters during the operation

              They could just jump out the airlock with the fire extinguisher, fly across space to the other station, and then kill off George Clooney for no reason at all.

            • by loshwomp (468955) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @07:51PM (#45981471)

              The Columbia crew were dead men walking the moment the foam damaged the tiles. Columba was a wreck the moment the foam caused the damage. She would never reach earth's surface whole once she entered space.

              This claim was solidly refuted in the official accident investigation report [nasa.gov], which explores parallel scenarios--one for rescue, and another for improvised repair while on orbit.

              The report is a fascinating read, by the way, and highly recommended. It manages to be satisfyingly technical without going over the head of a typical engineer or even lay person.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 16, 2014 @03:29PM (#45979307)

          Read Wayne Hale's take on it [wordpress.com]; he was there:

          The excerpt that sticks with me:

          Jon Harpold was the Director of Mission Operations, my supreme boss as a Flight Director. He had spent his early career in shuttle entry analysis. He knew more about shuttle entry than anybody; the guidance, the navigation, the flight control, the thermal environments and how to control them. After one of the MMTs when possible damage to the orbiter was discussed, he gave me his opinion: "You know, there is nothing we can do about damage to the TPS. If it has been damaged it’s probably better not to know. I think the crew would rather not know. Don’t you think it would be better for them to have a happy successful flight and die unexpectedly during entry than to stay on orbit, knowing that there was nothing to be done, until the air ran out?" I was hard pressed to disagree. That mindset was widespread. Astronauts agreed. So don’t blame an individual; looks for the organizational factors that lead to that kind of a mindset. Don’t let them in your organization.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Not ice - the warning was that the O rings sealing the joints between sections of the solid rocket boosters would be too stiff in the cold to seal properly and hot combustion gases could leak. That's what happened .

      • Not ice - the warning was that the O rings sealing the joints between sections of the solid rocket boosters would be too stiff in the cold to seal properly and hot combustion gases could leak. That's what happened .

        Although you're basically right, I think the ability of the SRB's leak to penetrate the shuttle's external hydrogen tank was due to high pressure and the tank's weak skin - so it might be better to say "high pressure exhaust" or something like that instead of "hot combustion gases". Honestly shu

        • by Whorhay (1319089) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @05:05PM (#45980165)

          The point, I think, is that the engineers warned the administrators of a very specific danger based on hard numbers. And despite that they launched anyways. Which resulted in the specified part failing exactly as warned resulting in loss of life.

          Those O-rings, like every other part of the shuttle, were designed and produced to very exact specifications. For a rubber gaskett ambient temperature is one of those critical factors. I learned all that as a teenager when I got to hear a presentation from one of the guys that lead they investigation into the whole disaster.

          • by Medievalist (16032) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @05:22PM (#45980303)

            We actually wanted to build it without O-rings, we wanted to cast the propellant into a mold and wrap the slug afterwards with carbon fiber, which would have been a fraction of the weight and far stronger than the segmented steel casings NASA insisted on.

    • I think it was a bit more nuanced than bosses vs. engineers. We've had 2 disasters shortly after "run NASA like a business" campaigns. That kind of culture leads to compromises that can work out well for disposable goods, consumer software, etc., but when you're talking about the razor's edge of technology, pushing a launch because delays are bad for PR is going to get people killed.

      • by JeffAtl (1737988)

        We've had 2 disasters shortly after "run NASA like a business" campaigns.

        Weren't there some disasters before that as well?

        Space travel is inherently dangerous and many feel that NASA has actually become too risk adverse.

      • by gishzida (591028) <gishzida&gmail,com> on Thursday January 16, 2014 @04:36PM (#45979921) Journal

        I think it was a bit more nuanced than bosses vs. engineers. We've had 2 disasters shortly after "run NASA like a business" campaigns. That kind of culture leads to compromises that can work out well for disposable goods, consumer software, etc., but when you're talking about the razor's edge of technology, pushing a launch because delays are bad for PR is going to get people killed.

        *Very Nuanced*

        I worked for Rocketdyne, the SSME main contractor, through the 80's in the quality organization... the "way things worked" then was NASA gave delivery / target launch dates. If the corporate contractor delivered early or the launch went ahead of schedule, the contractor got a bonus.

        When NASA down-sized all of its Engineering talent after the Apollo program, it became dependent upon the corporate contractor's for 'assistance' in making the engineering decisions . The ultimate decisions were made by the Bosses of the Engineers because the bosses saw dollar signs rather than safety and science... and NASA went along.

        Morton-Thiokol was the main contractor for the SRBs modules which stacked together and held together with "O" rings and interface pins. The ring materials becomes brittle in "low temperatures" [below freezing as it was that morning]. Their engineers did not want to launch in the cold since it was far colder that the SRB had been designed for. Management at Morton-Thiokol knowing a bonus depended on the launch told NASA "go" and so they launched. I still cannot look at those pictures without getting upset. I could not event look at the full set of these.

        Just so its clear-- the problem is with NASA isn't that its run by the government. The problem is that it is run by a bunch of ex-aerospace revolving-door [public-private] rubber-stamp management administrators and not run by true engineers... if NASA had then had a real engineering staff for the Shuttle program rather than playing for money and politics, things would have been different...

        The people that made those decisions should have been "hung out to dry" for both of those shuttle "accidents". They should have been criminally charged for the deaths... with the corporations financially liable to the victims and to the government for the losses. But as the recent financial crisis has demonstrated yet again-- the corporations squeal, the politicians make "oratory", and then the government [you and me] pay for those corporate mistakes. Then after a while everyone forgets how they were robbed... of lives, money, and honor by greedy types that only see term profits as good....

        The Shuttle program was about science -- or at least it was supposed to be... but what it became was "Aerospace Corporate Welfare"... [just as the various subsidies paid to various industries by the Government are corporate welfare...]

        You should not play politics with science... or at least be aware you do it at your peril -- go ahead play politics with the laws of gravity [or "O" rings] and see how far it gets you. You can do science or you can do greed but not both. In this case seven people were killed because someone wanted a bonus.

    • by David Greenberg (3502451) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @03:38PM (#45979393)
      Not ice - the warning was that the O rings sealing the joints between sections of the solid rocket boosters would be too stiff in the cold to seal properly and hot combustion gases could leak. That's what happened .
    • by amorsen (7485)

      Would we have heard of the warnings if the launch had been successful? How many of the other launches had engineers warning? I bet they had to override warnings for pretty much every flight.

      One of the many problems with the space shuttle program was that people got accustomed to it being routine. Before a commercial plane gets certified and allowed to fly routine flights, it goes through all sorts of testing on how it behaves outside its normal operating envelope. Probably more hours than the entire shuttle

  • Link to GIF (Score:5, Informative)

    by clinko (232501) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @02:04PM (#45978501) Homepage Journal

    The gif [imgur.com] is pretty amazing, credit [reddit.com].

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Jhon (241832)

      Gotta say -- looking at the pics brought back the emotional response I felt at the time. Much more subdued (so may years later), but nonetheless, I felt the shock and dismay and I was back in my parents home watching this unfold on a 19" tube TV.

  • by Carl Stanley (3489489) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @02:10PM (#45978555)
    when I was a child. The odd thing, is that my memory is mostly about my father's reaction, and the look on his face. A look of shock and disbelief. The failure of infallible American tech.
    • by netsavior (627338) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @02:21PM (#45978647)
      I think in many ways, this was the end of "The Future" The space-age ended the day the Challenger exploded.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 16, 2014 @03:35PM (#45979351)

        Really? I always pinned it at the time when Gene Cernan made a little speech on the Moon and then we, as a species, packed up our shit and left, never to return. (There's no money in it, you see.)

        • by mwehle (2491950)

          Really? I always pinned it at the time when Gene Cernan made a little speech on the Moon and then we, as a species, packed up our shit and left, never to return. (There's no money in it, you see.)

          Yes, that was my impression, also. The shuttle's justification was so tied into military missions, and there was so little connection to anything deep space, that it seemed to me the "space age" largely ended with the Moon missions. The Viking landers were pretty darn cool, though.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 16, 2014 @04:25PM (#45979803)

        Yes and no. A bunch of us in and around the space biz already knew the Shuttle would never live up to its promises, but the general public was (as usual) blissfully unaware until then.

        Some of us re-convened the CACNSP [wikipedia.org] and concluded that the Shuttle program be kept alive but without expectation of any significant advancement (as a "No Output Division" for aging bureaucrats), that the hypersonic NASP was a dead end, and we started pushing toward what eventually became DC-X. Our belief in the space-age lasted a few years longer.

        Alas, eventually the bureaucrats at NASA eventually took over DC-X and broke it, then diverted attention with X-33, a technology development program (DC-X was intended to re-use existing technology wherever possible) with silliness like Y-shaped LiAl tanks and linear aerospike engines, and the worst possible mixed mode launch and landing (VTHL) with no survivable abort mode in the first minutes of launch.

        SpaceX and a few others finally seem to be swinging the thing around. Someone should institute a D. D. Harriman [wikipedia.org] prize just so it can be awarded to Elon Musk.

      • by jafac (1449)

        I want to say you're right;

        But there were thousands of bad decisions (mostly made by politicians), in the decade prior to this accident, which led to the poor design, that led to this accident. These decisions were based on the attitude of hundreds of politicians and the people who voted them into office. This attitude is what killed "the future".

        And this was following the decade of America's triumph at "conquering" the moon, which included a huge propaganda effort (on the part of Werner Von Braun, and Wa

    • by deathcloset (626704) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @02:33PM (#45978713) Journal

      when I was a child. The odd thing, is that my memory is mostly about my father's reaction, and the look on his face. A look of shock and disbelief. The failure of infallible American tech.

      It was the failure of 'infallible' American money.

      Money and technology are such strange bedfellows. On the one hand the connection between them is obvious and inextricable, but on the other lies the question of progress. Money is required to develop and ultimately build a technology, and yet by virtue of the money invested that technology is expected to create money - usually more than was invested in the first place. So, in an way, from money's perspective all that technology is designed to do is to create money - anything else that technology does is a mere byproduct of the process of developing it to make more money.

      In other words, according to money, any technology which does nothing but make more money is a perfect technology.

      This might explain why things like FOSS and any "Open" technology movement is perceived as so vile and abominable a thing by money. How can a technology not take nor make money? I think it causes money to be a little nervous that technology can exist without it. After all, since money is anything accepted as payment for goods or services, doesn't that mean that money can actually be nothing?

      And by the way I asked money if it cared that I anthropomorphize it and it said it couldn't care less.

    • by R3d M3rcury (871886) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @02:44PM (#45978815) Journal

      The freakiest thing was when someone said the crew compartment survived the explosion. It's one thing to die from an explosion--quite another to watch it coming at you in a fall from 48,000 feet.

      • It wasn't the first time and won't be the last time that aviators have known they were going to die in a crash. A horrific way to go, I guess, but one that has actually been pretty well studied. Many pilots end up going unconscious from G-forces or suffer from heart attacks prior to impact.

  • The fallen.... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @02:18PM (#45978617) Homepage

    Francis R. Scobee, Commander
    Michael J. Smith, Pilot
    Ronald McNair, Mission Specialist
    Ellison Onizuka, Mission Specialist
    Judith Resnik, Mission Specialist
    Greg Jarvis, Payload Specialist
    Christa McAuliffe, Payload Specialist

    God speed to all of them....

    • Amen. As well: Rick D. Husband, Commander William C. McCool, Pilot Michael P. Anderson, Payload Commander Kalpana Chawla, Mission Specialist David M. Brown, Mission Specialist Laurel Clark, Mission Specialist Ilan Ramon, Payload Specialist God speed.
  • Rocketdyne days (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Camel Pilot (78781) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @02:47PM (#45978841) Homepage Journal

    I was a young engineer working for Rockedyne on the SSME at the time and we were the last to know. The announcement over the intercom was that there was a "system failure" on flight 51 and incoming calls were blocked (pre internet day youngsters). I guess they didn't want anyone to panic and go back and edit the turbopump or engine build books that would impede any investigation. We didn't know about the catastrophic failure until people went out for lunch that day.

    • You will recall that the first thing they did on the Columbia crash was lock the doors to prevent information from leaving the rooms. It's in the manual..... Everything is is in the manual.

      • You will recall that the first thing they did on the Columbia crash was lock the doors to prevent information from leaving the rooms. It's in the manual..... Everything is is in the manual.

        --
        Oh no. Not again.

        A rather morbidly apt sig.

  • Where's the video? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jawnn (445279) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @02:50PM (#45978883)
    I saw live video, shot from roughly the same vantage point, including shots of the pieces hitting water. Seconds later, that live feed was cut. Since then, only certain portions of that video have ever (to my knowledge) seen the light of day.
  • Post Challenger Days (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    My grandfather, John W. Townsend, jr., was called in to become Goddard Space Flight Center's 6th Director in response to the Challenger accident. I miss him and all of his stories about NASA and its beginnings. His NASA Medal of Honor is my most prized keepsake of him.

    http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/news/releases/2011/11-072.html

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @03:33PM (#45979335) Journal
    The amazing thing is all the remaining missions that were successful. Challenger disaster was particularly harrowing because, people have gotten accustomed to launch after launch going of (seemingly) flawlessly. To get a magnitude of the engineering, quality control and the process control behind NASA programs, one just has to take a look at the Saturn V rocket engines displayed in Houston. Those things get as hot as the surface of our Sun, the heat shield works by vaporizing ceramics, ...

    That it all worked so well was really amazing. It is tragic we lost two shuttles and their crew, but while we mourn the loss, and learn from the mistakes, let us not lose sight of the fact, the more amazing success of the remaining flights. We should define ourselves by the successes.

    • by gman003 (1693318)

      Indeed.

      How many people died trying just to cross the Pacific? Or to reach the South Pole? Percentage-wise, I'd bet it was a lot worse than any of the NASA programs. Even the Soviet programs probably did better. Exploration, by its very nature, involves risk. We do what we can to keep the risks in check, but the only way to eliminate risk is to explore and colonize space until going from Canaveral to Tranquility is as common as flying from New York to LA.

      Could they do better? Probably, and they should never

  • I was groggy collecting milk from the milkman at about 6 AM IST, having picked the newspaper Indian Express, Bangalore edition, from the front steps.
    • by wcrowe (94389)

      I was in college, at the business office, working with the secretary who took care of VA benefits (I had a problem with my GI bill benefits). She was on the phone with the office in St. Louis. Suddenly her eyes flew open and she looked at me and said, "She says sombody in her office just said that the Challenger blew up". I said, "Then I need to go."

      My job at that time was as a radio announcer. When I got to my Jeep I turned on the radio and all the stations were talking about the Challenger. I rushed

  • I was watching the launch on TV when it happened. I still can't watch the videos or look at the pictures.

    • by ameline (771895)
      I remember watching it live on TV with some friends -- I semi-jokingly asked one "So when do you think the Russians are going to blow up the shuttle?" about 5 seconds before it happened. Everyone in the room was a bit freaked out by that coincidence.
  • I remember that morning. I was watching the launch on TV as I was getting ready to go to work, and had to head out during a launch hold. Later that morning one of our part-time folks came in and asked if we had heard about Challenger? I felt myself go grey and took the rest of the day off.

    Every generation has events where everybody remembers exactly where they were. I wasn't born when Sputnik 1 was launched, and I was a bit young to remember Kennedy. But I do remember Apollo 8, Apollo 11, Apollo 13, Chall

  • by k6mfw (1182893) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @05:04PM (#45980157)

    Someone came into the room quickly and said "Challenger just blew up!" I first said that's not true, it's just media complaining about another launch delay. But a minute later, I realized it was real. It seemed everyone stopped what they were doing and productivity went to zero for rest of day. A calibration lab and also that repairs VCRs taped the launch footage and were playing it back and forth in slow-mo, kind of their own analysis trying to pinpoint the cause. Kind of interesting because just a few short years before only major investigative teams had these kinds of tools. I'm sure many households were doing the same. Though it took a few days when they released footage showing the flame coming out side of SRB, that seem to completely change the discussion of the cause. Me along with many others had no clue what that flame meant but it was very unusual. We had to wait until Feynmann spoke.

    Contrasting to Columbia disaster in 2003, the country didn't seem to stop and mourn like after Challenger because the country was gearing up to invade Iraq.

  • So... NASA started playing Kerbal Space Program back in good old '86
  • With all due respect, I would suggest "harrowing" is overstating things. Tragic certainly, but not harrowing.

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