Fascinating Horror on the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster

Well, I was in grad school in a seminar and only heard about it when a fellow student came in late and told us. It made my stomach drop.

I guess I’m old.


No, like you I didn’t know (although I never thought he was the only scientist out there who figured it out). I was just pointing out where his particular and unique talents came into play.

I don’t recall him taking credit at the hearing, just doing the demonstration to cut through the BS and Morton Thiokol’s and NASA’s attempts to cover their arses because they prioritised the “manager’s hat” over the “engineers’s hat” when it came to the launch.



Remimds me of James Loewen’s discussion of also-awful Helen Keller jokes in Lies My Teacher Told Me. IIRC, he said they were justified because kids knew at some level that the received version of her was an unrealistic, simplistic myth (as he then goes on to prove it indeed is).

Maybe in this case, a lot of kids felt at some level that in a way, the whole patriotic Space Shuttle shebang (as it were) had a bit of hot air to it. :woman_shrugging:


There are written reports about this from the engineering company that were covered up. They knew exactly how cold was too cold for the O-rings and when the explosion happened, the engineers from that section knew immediately that it was the O-rings that had failed. Feynman was simply the only one not willing to participate in a cover-up.

This was a classic case of management not listening to the engineers. It’s a real disease that NASA had after Apollo. Apollo went so well (relative to how risky those missions were- Apollo 1 was terrible, of course) that the org got complacent and management took over. The morning of the launch, multiple letters were received from different engineering groups pleading with them not to launch because it was too cold for multiple systems. It was classic groupthink in management and has been studied as such in the years since.


No, that wasn’t the point. He didn’t claim to figure it out. He made a simple demonstration showing what the problem was. Maybe the issue here is that I was old enough to see through how it was reported and, uh, you weren’t there yet and never revisited the memory with a more informed point of view.
The problem here, I think and to pointlessly repeat myself, is/was that media does a poor job of reporting about science and makes it out o be a competition/drama more than it is. I was thirty then so I was already very aware of this issue and watched the whole thing with that in mind.


Well, we were Canadian kids in Canada, so patriotism didn’t play into it for us. It’s tempting to say “kids can be cruel” and leave it at that, but I think it’s more complicated than that. I’m the wrong person to speculate further though.


I hate you all. I was sitting in the college cafeteria when it happened, they put it over the PA system. One of those “where were you when…” moments for me.


We’re Gen X, yo; we’re used to it.



I think those 13 guys on Snake Island knew they were speaking not only for Ukraine but for most of GenX with “Go fuck yourself.”


If GenX ever had it’s own signature catch-phrase, that would probably be it.


Diane Vaughan’s 'The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA’ (University of Chicago Press, ISBN: 978-0226851761) is the definitive book on this and goes into exhaustive detail about how the various parts of NASA knew there was a problem with the O-rings and that there was evidence it was correlated to launch temperatures.

And then NASA compounded the tragedy by making many of the same errors and assumptions about the risk from foam shedding on the external tank - a problem that had been there since the very start and even after they had nearly lost Atlantis to a foam strike in 1988.


I was waiting for a campus bus my junior year in college when a friend of mine walked up and made a comment of consolation to me. She knew I was a big space buff, and assumed I’d heard the news. I hadn’t. It really shook me.

Years later, my family and I were visiting a science center in Atlanta where a friend worked. We were in the space sciences section. There were televisions talking about the shuttle disaster. It took me a few minutes to realize they were talking about a new disaster – Columbia.


I had just walked out of a snack bar on campus when one of my friends ran up and said “Did you hear – Challenger exploded!!” I said something to the effect of that being some tasteless bullshit, then found out they weren’t shitting me, that the catastrophe was real. :sob: :sob:


I was in elementary school at the time and didn’t watch this live. I do vividly remember my teacher at the time telling us what happened, though.

I also later remember my sixth grade teacher telling us about how he was a finalist to be on the Challenger.


Few years later in HS the story was our biology teacher was an alternate but that was years later.


I remember hearing all sorts of racist homophobic jokes as a pre schooler from neighborhood kids (and their parents after they’d had a few at the block party). My mother wouldn’t put up with any of that shit thankfully. Still looking back those were inexcusable and worse than some of the schoolyard jokes.



There should be a collective conversation on how this affected young kids who were watching it live.
This made for a bizarre day for me. It happened right before boarding a plane to go halfway around the world. You may recall that airlines avoid putting airline disaster films on in flight screens. Instead, we were treated to repeated views of the Challenger disaster while awaiting takeoff. And again, at a stopover and an airport where coincidentally another space shuttle was stationed and visible from the window. There was nothing to say. So I watched one blow up and other pondering its next journey.

The gallows humor around this disaster was relentless.

I was also in the air on 9/11, landing in the wee hours, got home and slept through the whole event. Could not register it as real when learning of it in a phone call.


What’s really interesting about it is, and I don’t know if it’s mentioned in the video… is that unless you were a school kid who got NASA’s satellite broadcast of it, you didn’t see it live. CNN cut away before it happened though they did carry the first 30 seconds of the launch… and no other channel was carrying it live.

So I was at home, sick, I think? And saw it on TV. I had to have seen it on the tape delay because I wasn’t one of the 10000 or so schools that had it live. My school actually (I found out later) , was showing kids the CNN feed.

EDIT: I’m off by two orders of magnitude . Nasa estimates 2.5 million students in 10000 school districts saw the launch live.


I was teaching class. I came back after class to find one of my colleagues walking through the hallways repeating “It blew up. The space shuttle blew up.”


I know that feeling. I remember hearing Scott Simon talking about the Columbia disaster on Weekend Edition all that morning when it happened; it took me a while to realize he was not talking about the Challenger.