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Previously-Unseen Photos of Challenger Disaster Appear Online 207

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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  • by Carl Stanley ( 3489489 ) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @03:10PM (#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.
  • Rocketdyne days (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Camel Pilot ( 78781 ) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @03:47PM (#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.

  • by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @03:47PM (#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.

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

    by Jawnn ( 445279 ) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @03:50PM (#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.
  • by EdIII ( 1114411 ) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @03:56PM (#45978939)

    As well they should have. Stuff happens, and I bet NASA did try to make it safe, but they failed horribly in this case.

    Richard Feynman ripped NASA a new butthole too. After listening to him it became readily apparent that there was a huge disconnect between the administrators and the engineers. In some cases the administrators decided to go with estimates that were several orders of magnitude different.

    I can give NASA a pass when it's really difficult to engineer and design a controlled explosion to get you into space, *and* then how to work, survive, and come back.

    However, everyone of those people that got fired deserved that and more for their "acceptable flight risk" mentality that was in hindsight unreasonably reckless.

  • Post Challenger Days (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 16, 2014 @04:26PM (#45979261)

    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.


  • by danlip ( 737336 ) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @04:27PM (#45979277)

    And by "bosses" you mean Ronald Reagan. His State of the Union address was schedule that night, and the multiple delays didn't look good.

  • by Talderas ( 1212466 ) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @04:41PM (#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 Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 16, 2014 @05:25PM (#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 Medievalist ( 16032 ) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @05:25PM (#45979807)

    I dunno. I was at Morton-Thiokol when it happened, and I've read the Rogers report and Congressional hack job, and I'm pretty convinced that NASA told our upper management to overrule our engineers, and then when Boisjoly et al tried their damndest to contact NASA directly (bypassing Morton Thiokol's upper management entirely) NASA called us and said "shut down your loose cannons". So while I would not say Morton Thiokol's management was blameless, their actual fault was that they gave in to threats and let NASA Marshall bully them. And it's not entirely unlikely that the bullying ultimately came directly from the White House, where Reagan's handlers were anxious to have him give his launch speech, and were upset that the mass media was ridiculing repeated launch delays. Stuff rolls downhill, but not back up.

    This is slightly at odds with the Wikipedia version of events, but that version has Reagan "quoting" High Flight instead of using the more accurate word "plagiarizing" so I tend to trust my memory more.

    When then-popular news figurehead Dan Rather suddenly decided he was a forensic rocket scientist (after weeks of publicly ridiculing NASA for being afraid to launch in bad weather, and no doubt contributing to the pressure to launch) and told America live on-air that faulty SRBs were the cause of the disaster, our phones started ringing... and ringing... and never stopped, all the rest of that day. You wouldn't bother to put the phone down, just press the switch hook and take the next call before it rang. "No, mom, it wasn't our fault. As far as I know. I gotta go. <switchhook> No, Aunt Louise, it wasn't our fault, as far as I know. <switchhook> Hi honey, Yeah, I don't know yet, I'm sure I'll be working late, don't hold dinner, tell the kids I love them, bye" etc. etc. etc.

  • by gishzida ( 591028 ) <gishzida.gmail@com> on Thursday January 16, 2014 @05:36PM (#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 k6mfw ( 1182893 ) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @06:04PM (#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.

  • by Whorhay ( 1319089 ) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @06:05PM (#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 @06:22PM (#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.

  • by Enigma2175 ( 179646 ) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @06:57PM (#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 Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 16, 2014 @07:27PM (#45980859)

    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 loshwomp ( 468955 ) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @08:51PM (#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 nedwidek ( 98930 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @02:04AM (#45983041)

    No, it wasn't habit. It was political pork. There was a Florida company read and willing to build the SRBs as a single unit. Simpler and vastly safer.

    But that didn't spread the pork far enough. Thus Thiokol got the contract and a Utah congressman got to brag about how he brought home the bacon. The result: the SRBs needed to be segmented and seven people got to die.

The best defense against logic is ignorance.