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NASA Space Science

Challenger 25 Years Later 236

25 years ago, I peered inside through the playground window of my school. I was never particularly interested in being outside, and there was a shuttle launch on the library TV! The images of what I saw that day will stick with me forever. I didn't know what it really was I saw; I just made jokes. It's still how I deal. But I think I'm a bit wiser today, having maybe learned that the bleeding edge is sometimes literal. The technology we take for granted descends directly from the people willing to do what we never could. Thanks to the crew of Challenger, Columbia and Apollo 1.
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Challenger 25 Years Later

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  • Re:Too soon? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 28, 2011 @01:19PM (#35034316)

    Every single person in a mission control facility is trained to deal with disaster. And part of that training is... don't stop doing your job.

    That telemetry data that he sits there and reads off "like an asshole" is actually quite invaluable data from a post-failure analysis point of view. He wouldn't be helping any if he were to stop reading the data and scream "Oh, the humanity!". He'd just be making noise and contributing to an already chaotic environment.

  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohnNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday January 28, 2011 @01:19PM (#35034320) Journal

    To be honest, my memory if it is actually a funny one. I remember chuckling at the guy still reading the telemetry data as if nothing had gone wrong after it blew up. I remember thinking "Hey asshole, you might want to look at your monitor." And even when he did realize something had gone wrong, I remember him calling it something like a "major malfunction." Yeah, major malfunction, no shit.

    In his defense, there's not a lot of room for emotion in that line of work. And said emotion often leads to inefficiencies. Imagine what sort of data might have been missed had he exploded in tears and rushed out of the room. While information is still coming in, remaining stoic is probably the optimal course of action for such a position.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 28, 2011 @01:20PM (#35034330)

    This was a waste of perfectly good life. Not a race to push technology to new limits.

    Like Columbia, this was an example of short-cutting and not listening to nay-sayer engineers who turned out to be correct. And simply not following the safety rules that NASA itself established.

  • Re:Hell of a Thing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ElectricTurtle ( 1171201 ) on Friday January 28, 2011 @01:38PM (#35034580)
    At least with Challenger it was still slightly abstract. You knew there were people on that machine, but you couldn't see them. Now watching people jumping to their deaths from the WTC... that was... magnitudes more visceral.
  • Re:Too soon? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mark72005 ( 1233572 ) on Friday January 28, 2011 @01:38PM (#35034598)
    Major malfunction is just NASA-speak.

    The guy was struggling with what to say. I think the quote was something like "umm... obviously, a major malfunction".

    What do you expect someone to say in that situation?
  • by mark72005 ( 1233572 ) on Friday January 28, 2011 @01:41PM (#35034624)
    It's an example of a culture of remarkable achievement that had become susceptible to groupthink after a while.
  • by TheReij ( 1641099 ) on Friday January 28, 2011 @01:47PM (#35034716)
    this is my worst nightmare: something that I performed work on malfunctions and lives are lost. Mishaps occur. Sometimes, it is preventable. Sometimes, there is no amount of planning/engineering/contingencies that will allow for recovery. The amount of second-guessing and contemplation of "what could I have done?" can't be described in a number that I know of.

    An earlier comment talked about remaining stoic at mission/launch control. It's the same for the knuckle-draggers on the ground as well. If anything, those directly involved with the launch have the hardest job. I personally don't think that I could have handled something like this the way that they did, so for that, I salute them and only hope that I can be half as awesome as they were on that day.
  • and clamping emotion down has sold probably thousands of gallons of Jack Daniels.

  • Re:Hell of a Thing (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Five Bucks! ( 769277 ) on Friday January 28, 2011 @01:54PM (#35034834)

    Only last year, during the Vancouver Olympics, I saw the most disturbing footage ever.

    Nodar Kumaritashvili was killed in a luge run when his sled flew out of a corner and he crashed into a steel support girder. The reverberant *thwangggggggg* followed by no movement and otherwise complete silence is the stuff of nightmares.

    And people freak out about a nipple.

  • Re:Too soon? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by eln ( 21727 ) on Friday January 28, 2011 @02:11PM (#35035102)
    When I watched it live, being as young as I was (2nd or 3rd grade IIRC), I was in too much shock to really register what he was saying or how he was saying it. I was just staring at the screen while my space-obsessed brain tried to make sense of what had just happened. I probably sat there just staring for several minutes while they replayed it over and over again.

    When I've watched it in later years, though, I'm most struck by his professionalism and commitment to his job. This guy had to know his voice was being broadcast around the world, and that this was the most watched shuttle launch in years (possibly ever). He was probably himself just realizing from the data (I'm not sure he even had the video feed available to him at the time) that something horrible had just happened, and people he probably knew and worked with had likely just died. Through all that, he kept a measured tone and suppressed whatever emotion he might have been feeling. His calm monotone and understated assessment of the situation was the perfect backdrop to the utter shock everyone was feeling at that moment. Having that guy panic or lose his shit would have made the whole thing much much worse.
  • Mod parent up (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 28, 2011 @02:19PM (#35035216)

    Mod parent up

  • Thanks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bureaucromancer ( 1303477 ) on Friday January 28, 2011 @02:49PM (#35035720)
    "Thanks to the crew of Challenger, Columbia and Apollo 1." Lets not forget the crews of Soyuz 1 and Soyuz 11.
  • And not forgetting (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lincolnshire Poacher ( 1205798 ) on Friday January 28, 2011 @03:08PM (#35036054)

    > Thanks to the crew of Challenger, Columbia and Apollo 1.

    And Soyuz 1, Soyuz 11 and all the astronauts and engineers of whom we seldom hear who are listed here [members.shaw.ca] but who all gave their lives for the cause.

  • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .retawriaf.> on Friday January 28, 2011 @04:07PM (#35036966) Homepage

    One of my professors at the time noted that there would have been no O-ring to fail if the thing had been built in one piece. And it could have been built in one piece if built local to the launch site. Which it could have been. But it had to come by train because the bid was won by someone who did not manufacture locally. And since train cars aren't big enough for a whole fuel tank, they had to make the tank in pieces.

    Well, as usual, it's not nearly so simple as that.
    The reality, that when the hardware decisions were being made - we had exactly zero flight experience with big monolithic solids and considerable flight experience with segmented solids. There's also the near impossibility of pouring the grain of a monolithic solid with sufficient consistency in performance, let alone matching two of them to required level of consistency. Then there's near impossibility of handling a million plus pounds worth of monolithic grain without flexing it and damaging the grain or the bond between the grain and the case.
    So in reality, there was many reasons to prefer segmented boosters and no particular reason to prefer monolithic ones. (Which is why of the three bids submitted - only one was monolithic.)
    You're also making the mistake of generalizing from the specific instance of the Shuttle to all segmented booster. The cause of the Challenger accident wasn't because the booster was segmented (we've flown many with zero problems), but because that particular joint design had a serious flaw in that it could not fully compensate for joint rotation.

God help those who do not help themselves. -- Wilson Mizner