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NASA Space Science

7 Myths About The Challenger Disaster 629

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.
  • 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.

  • Re:live at school? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MobileTatsu-NJG ( 946591 ) on Friday January 27, 2006 @04:55AM (#14577053)
    "did anyone here see it live on TV at school?"

    Not precisely. I was home sick that day. I was watching Battlestar Galactica on TV when they broke with urgent news. I was 6 at the time. That was the first time I had ever seen 'breaking news' and I remember being stunned by it. I remember seeing pictures of a parachute or something falling down from the sky. Even two days later I thought the astronauts might still be alive underwater or something. A couple years later, I had to build one of those shoe-box scenes of the ocean floor for an elementary school class. I found the remains of an old toy shuttle I had, so I put it in there thinking it'd be an interesting detail. I didn't understand until much later why my teacher thought I was sick-minded.
  • 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 ) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <wahsjs>> on Friday January 27, 2006 @05:02AM (#14577073)
    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.
  • 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 []. 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 [] 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.
  • Re:Live at school (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 27, 2006 @05:21AM (#14577123)
    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.
  • 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.

  • by KeiichiMorisato ( 945464 ) on Friday January 27, 2006 @05:24AM (#14577136)
    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 things not being perfect. For some reason, someone is always to blame. We cannot accept the fact that space travel has lost a large amount of funding and even though ~40 years has passed since humans first landed on the moon, the technology hasn't advanced that much. As a people, we have to understand that space travel is still young and not perfected and losses will come.

    Instead of trying to find blame and cutting funding for the space program. Let us continue to press on, innovate and find new methods, and most importantly, honour the people who are willing to take these risks to pave the road so that one day, we can all enjoy space travel just like how cruises across the ocean usually quite safe, and like how flight is quite safe as well.

  • by d99-sbr ( 568719 ) on Friday January 27, 2006 @05:25AM (#14577137) Journal
    It's happened again! Look at the Wikipedia article [] 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.
  • 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 - []
    "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 docs/rogers-commission/Chapter-3.txt []

    "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.
  • Re:Live at school (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Leontes ( 653331 ) on Friday January 27, 2006 @05:32AM (#14577149)
    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 several jokes regarding the launch: These two stay with me:

    How do we know the schoolteacher on the challenger had Dandruff? They found her head and shoulders.

    What does NASA stand for? Need Another Seven Astronaunts.

    This article describing beliefs about this event two decades ago, doesn't suprise me. Like 9/11 and JFK's assination there is something about this event for those of us experienced, a quite peculiar something. These myths in this article and the jokes and stories and general challengerlore that was generated speak to the need to make a strange sense of such an unfanthonable event. Why was this specifically so unfanthomable? That talks to the zeitgeist, I think.
  • 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.

  • by Jaruzel ( 804522 ) on Friday January 27, 2006 @05:55AM (#14577210) Homepage Journal
    Agreed, in this day and age of revisionist historians employed by our governments around the globe, who's sole job it is to re-write history in the favour of the encumbant politicions, it is VERY important that what actually happened during a pivotal event is recorded and re-told correctly. If we brush over the facts, how will we know how to stop it happening again ?

    One of the positive things about the Internet, is it's ability to give everyone a voice. I still have enough faith in the world, that those who what to do the right thing easily outnumber those that dont. Concepts like Wikipedia help to preserve the real facts of events because so many people have a vested interest in keeping the articles they contribute to error-free. Information is power, and the governments of the world don't understand that they no longer control the information flow.

    When something tragic happens the independent blogporters outnumber the employed reporters 10 to 1, agreggating those blogports will yield a more accurate and complete dissection of the event than any commercial newsfeeds can or want to provide.

    Reading through the Myths in the article I was astounded under Myth #2 to discover that TV companies dubbed in an explosion sound! We can no longer trust what the news shows us.

    Paranoid, me? Never.


  • 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.
  • Well done, James (Score:2, Interesting)

    by brindafella ( 702231 ) <brindafella@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Friday January 27, 2006 @06:30AM (#14577307) Homepage

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

    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 that add evidence and weight to Myth #3: The crew died instantly. It seems they died on impact with the water, minutres afterward, as evidence from the video suggests that the capsule remained substantially intact. I recall the analysis that the investigators could not construct a scenario that showed 'the crew died instantly and did not know they were going to die'.

    Myth #4: Dangerous booster flaws result of meddling is also flawed! It seems that the rockets were fired (the Shuttle launched) outside the demonstrated 'safe' parameters of the launch vehicle. For example, if your car is driven across a slickly wet road then full steering lock is applied in an instant then most cars will just be in a skid, as the design parameters have just been exceeded. Get it?

  • by OneSmartFellow ( 716217 ) on Friday January 27, 2006 @07:09AM (#14577393)
    I can't argue with your statement about whether or not the crew were alive, conscious, subject to trauma, or shock. I wasn't there ! That is not my point. My point is to state that their death was sudden and very violent. I think very few people in the history of humanity can be said to have died instantly, the brain may continue to function and experience pain for a lot longer than you or I will probably ever know.

    I know the oxygen tank itself didn't kill them, I said it was dangerous to strap yourself to one. And my reference to lighing the tank was a bit of hyperbolie. However the tanks purpose is to fuel the craft, and being around fuel is inherently dangerous.

    Political pressure comes in many forms, and doesn't have to start at the top.

    My response is to rubbish the assertions made by a whining ex-employee of NASA who feels compelled to justify how NASA dropped the ball and essentially sent the Astronauts to their death on live international television. His purpose seems to be to inflate his own ego, and deflect as much criticism from his ex-employer as possible.

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

    by quokkapox ( 847798 ) <> on Friday January 27, 2006 @07:24AM (#14577420)
    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.

  • by Grench ( 833454 ) on Friday January 27, 2006 @07:35AM (#14577454) Homepage Journal
    Incidentally, what is terminal velocity for a human being falling through Earth atmosphere?

    The reason I ask is that I remember reading about the highest survived fall by a human being in the Guinness Book of Records last year; a flight attendant survived the bombing of her aircraft and fell from 35,000 ft and - despite massive injuries - survived!

    Vesna Vulovi retains the Guinness Book of Records world record for surviving the highest fall without a parachute: 33,000 feet. The incident occurred on January 26, 1972, over Czechoslovakia. Émigré Croat terrorists bombed JAT Yugoslav Flight 364. The explosion tore the DC-9 to pieces, but Vulovi survived.

    She remained strapped into her flight attendant's seat in the tail section of the plane, which remained attached to the washrooms. The assembly struck the snow-covered flank of a mountain. Vulovi was the only survivor on the flight, and not only lived to tell about it, but continued working for JAT Airways at a desk job. Her injuries included a fractured skull, two broken legs and three broken vertebrae, one of which was crushed and left her temporarily paralyzed from the waist down. She regained the use of her legs only after several months of successive surgeries.

    Vulovi was awarded the Guinness Record title at a ceremony by Paul McCartney. She later became a national hero in Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the 1970s.

    This prompts me to say that, although highly unlikely, the astronauts MAY have survived the impact - although their injuries may have been too severe for them to survive long enough to be located, recovered and treated.
  • Drop your paranoia (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 27, 2006 @07:43AM (#14577480)
    Photographers get fired and blacklisted for manipulating their pictures. Have a look here [] for an example.

    As for focussing on both a poster and a person walking past it, you measure the distance from you to the poster. Then you measure the distance between you and where the nearest person you want to focus on will be. You focus between them and use the hyperfocal marks on the lens to choose the aperture you need to use. Then you meter to find the shutter speed you need. If it's too slow, then you have to focus on someone closer to the poster, or use a faster film. Then you stand and wait for someone to get in the right place. It's a trivial process.
  • 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.
  • by 192939495969798999 ( 58312 ) <info&devinmoore,com> on Friday January 27, 2006 @07:56AM (#14577514) Homepage Journal
    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.
  • 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".

  • 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...)
  • by Ancient_Hacker ( 751168 ) on Friday January 27, 2006 @08:21AM (#14577588)
    > 1. Few people actually saw the Challenger tragedy unfold live on television.

    So? What difference does a minute or three make?

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

    No, it *did* explode in the common definition, as in boom, major disassembly. It did not explode in one specific, technical way. There was no bag of TNT on board. There was the equivalent of many tons of TNT just a few feet away. Big diff? I don't think so.

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

    Well, effectively, they did. There was nothing that could be done at that point to save them. Also IIRC the only clue that a few were concious was that two of the emergency airpacks were found turned on. Not exactly uncontrovertible evidence.

    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.

    Totally wrong. There were several previous documented cases of the O-rings burning part way through. Feynman's report clarifies the severe nature of this problem. If you manage to walk across the freeway blindfolded 66 times, does that certify the action as safe? Nope. The political angle is not documentable either way. But one might guess if the president is scheduled to talk to the astronauts during the state of the union address, there's some pressure there to launch.

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

    Well, true in the sense that the whole basic design was foobar. But "unrelated" is a value judgement, one unlikely to be categorically false.

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

    Yep, we went over that already. You expect to find a written memo on this?

    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.

    Wishful thinking, and doesnt correspond with history. There's no way any engineer could get the shuttle grounded and a major subsystem completely redesigned just on a hunch. In the real world flaws often go unresolved until somebody dies. See: Pinto gas tank, Ford ABS switch, Dodge ball joints, Vioxx, thalidomide, radium drinks, smoking, children's air bags, and probably many more.

  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Friday January 27, 2006 @08:44AM (#14577690)
    I realize the columnist's mini-bio at the end says he spent 22 years at JSC as a Mission Control operator, but anyone who says an ignited LOX/Hydrogen mixture -- which formed a huge fireball -- does not constitute an "explosion" in the commonly understood sense of the word is definitely splitting hairs.

    For those interested in more detail, I highly recommend Feynman's book [], the last part of which describes his involvement in the Rogers Commission in great detail.

  • by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Friday January 27, 2006 @09:06AM (#14577780) Homepage
    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 all over before they knew anything was wrong" etc. I remember being chilled by a report shortly afterward that the captain had opened his mike to talk just before the break-up, because it meant that he did know something was wrong, which took the gloss off that presumption that they'd died blissfully unaware of their peril.

    It wasn't until much later (memory's admittedly hazy on the timeframe), as the investigation into the disaster progressed, that it was reported that the crew had survived the booster failure, and possibly even the whole way back down, and that news was generally buried and ignored, because people really didn't want to hear that. So if people remember it wrong, it's either because they wanted to remember it that way, or more likely because they remember the initial breathless news reports and not the factual follow ups.

  • 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:2, Interesting)

    by MrFlibbs ( 945469 ) on Friday January 27, 2006 @09:58AM (#14578016)
    I saw it live -- from a parking lot in Clearwater, FL. Although Clearwater is 150 miles West of the launch site, the launches were still easily visible. (Night launches were *spectacular*!) What I remember noticing first is the SRB's veering off while still under thrust. My first thought was that the mission was aborted to attempt an emergency landing; however, safety procedures would never have permitted this until after the SRB's had burned out and separated. It was a minute or so later before we heard on the radio that the Challenger had actually exploded.
  • Saw it live.... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Routerhead ( 944388 ) on Friday January 27, 2006 @10:18AM (#14578113)
    I grew up in south Florida, and saw it happen live. I was in 8th grade. It was at the start of our 4th period, which for me was band. I remember it being a freezing cold day, especially for Florida. We all went outside to watch, as was a fairly common thing to do at that point (remember, the shuttle program was only 5 years old at the time, and to middle-school kids was still really neat).

    At the point at which the single contrail split into two (the explosion), we all just stared. There was no Aha! or Oh my God! moment. We all just stared, confused. After a few seconds, someone in the group asked the band teacher if something was wrong. I don't think he knew one way or the other, but he must have been wondering the same thing. He ushered us all back into the classroom, and went to his office.

    About a minute later, he returned from his office and said that the shuttle blew up.

    In the town I grew up in, Pratt and Whitney was the dominant employer. Following the accident, Pratt got the job or reengineering the now infamous O-rings, and a family friend of ours, who had retired a few years earlier, was asked to un-retire and lead the effort.
  • Re:Live at school (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Marillion ( 33728 ) <> 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 [] 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.

  • Live (Score:2, Interesting)

    by gmerideth ( 107286 ) <> on Friday January 27, 2006 @10:44AM (#14578308) Homepage
    Hell, I took the day off from school to a) work on my car and b) watch the launch. I sat for a good sixty minutes watching the screen in total disbelief as did 5 of my friends. I'd like to know how this guy arrived at that statement. If he didn't do any major grunt work in tracking down who did and did not see it and is just "guessing" based on the coverage of CNN at the time then the guys a tard.
  • January 28, 1986 (Score:2, Interesting)

    by not_tomorrow_1 ( 949991 ) on Friday January 27, 2006 @11:19AM (#14578633)
    I remember it pretty clearly, even though I was only five years old. I'm sure some of the memories have been tainted since I've seen so many documentaries and read some many articles. Still, I know some memories are still my own.

    My father worked for Rockwell at the time; he was with the shuttle program from its inception. My mother had lived in Titusville, FL (where I was born) for several years, at least since the Moon program, so she'd grown up around the space program.

    Even though I was so young, I can remember how proud my dad was to work on the shuttle and how proud I was of him.

    I remember we could watch the launches from our house. I don't remember the entire time, but I remember the explosion...

    We had the TV on and were going back and forth between them. When it happened, I remember looking at it and not comprehending what was going on. The TV channel, I think, was following a booster; to me, since I didn't understatnd what was happening, I somehow still thought it was the shuttle. The sky was getting darker, and I kept asking "Daddy, is it in space yet?".

    My father was panicking, saying "No! It's shouldn't be doing that!". I don't remember my mother's reaction...

    My mother did tell me that afterwards, the town was in shock. She said that the people looked dead... She said all she could think of was how she hoped my sister wouldn't be born that day; that she didn't want to happen to the child.

    And it didn't. My little sister was born two days later. About a year later, we left Titusville since my father lost his job in the aftermath.

    Those are my memories.
  • Re:Explosion (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 27, 2006 @11:44AM (#14578879)
    What I really noticed about this article was the claim that some TV-companies added an explosion sound to the footage.

    On the DVD Trinity and Beyond [], one of the special features is raw footage of a nuclear test.

    One thing noticable was a delay between the explosion and the sound, which makes sense. Given that the camera is usually a few miles away from ground zero, the sound would take several seconds to reach the microphone (approx. 5 seconds per mile).

    Most films (both fiction and documentary) with explosions show the explosion and sound at the same time.

    The only movie I can think of that had a sound-delay after an explosion was Red Dawn [] (the first gas station scene, when the protagonists gathering supplies). And maybe The Beast [], which was directed by Kevin Reynolds, who wrote Red Dawn.

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

    by networkBoy ( 774728 ) on Friday January 27, 2006 @12:11PM (#14579168) Journal
    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 involved risks. Look at early seafaring. How many lost their lives doing that?

    I still remember that day. I don't think it is something one can forget. Didn't stop me from wanting to be an astronaut though.
  • 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.


  • by mtdnelson ( 772896 ) on Friday January 27, 2006 @12:27PM (#14579372) Homepage
    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 better. They could even say who was with them on the day, and so on.

    The brain is a funny thing. Very clever, but a little too clever sometimes...

  • 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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 27, 2006 @02:33PM (#14581009)
    Pontiac Fieros have the gas tank between the 2 only passenger seats. Furthermore a Fiero has a rear engine and small trunk that is perfectly sized for the width of a tire. the event of a rear end crash that crushes more then 2 feet of frame you have an engine in the passenger compartment with the gas tank.
  • Re:Live at school (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jacqkeen ( 950036 ) on Friday January 27, 2006 @02:57PM (#14581412)
    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.
  • by Jason Hood ( 721277 ) on Friday January 27, 2006 @03:32PM (#14581896)
    "Reaganomics: Help the poor by giving to the rich!" rather than helping the poor directly."

    I think you need to attend a more centrist univerisity. Reagan definitely had his good and bad imprints on US history. His economic decisions fueled our economy, promoted the technology boom and pulled us out of Carter's recession. Unfortunately he did not get to see his impact based on his illness. Bush Sr. and Clinton rode out his legacy for free (until the market collapsed).

    That of course came at a price, and that was he was not very sympathetic to the real poor - people that cannot help themselves. And that is a shame. His overspending cut many programs and made many peoples lives harder. But even more benefitted. College enrollment exploded in the 80s fueling our technology/engineering foundation today. Children who otherwise had no change to get into (pay) for college could. I am not sure how any competent "economist" (and I used that term loosely) could possibly say reagonomics were summarily "bad".

    I am a staunch liberal and even I can see his place in american history even though I disagreed strongly with many of his views and policies. I still can recognize his economic legacy that we enjoy today. The 80s could have turned out very differently if a different president just sat on the pot (like Bush Sr, Clinton, possibly Bush Jr). I look forward to the next time we elect a truely "Great" president and not just a sleezy politician.

  • 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 Skylab era until well after Columbia. Unlike you, who was out on the periphery, he was there.

Who goeth a-borrowing goeth a-sorrowing. -- Thomas Tusser