January 28, 2011

"No one thought anything bad would happen. It was an adventure."

"So teachers made a special point of showing the lift-off to their classes.... And we needed to tell them something's gone wrong. And they kept asking, you know, are those people dead? And we had to tell them yes."

33 comments:

Seven Machos said...

I remember that surreal day. I was in junior high school. Word started spreading through the school about the explosion and by later afternoon, all the classrooms (at least the ones I was in) had the televisions hauled out and the news on.

edutcher said...

The teacher describing the day called it an adventure.

I remember Louis L'Amour, in one of the Sackett books, once described adventure as a nice word for lots of trouble.

PS The most haunting part of that whole thing was the control room people going on for a minute or so before they knew anything had happened.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

I was in 10th grade. A guy in my sister's 9th grade english class made a paper airplane, tore little paper dolls and put them in the seam running down the middles, wrote "Challenger" on both sides and set it all on fire with a lighter. Then he threw it across the main floor of the high school library.

Nowadays that would have made headlines and he would be in some kind of lock-up while taking heads chewed on it for a couple of news cycles. Back then? He was suspended for the remainder of the week.

Julius said...

I was in 5th grade. Overheard the teachers discussing something... "Should we show them?" was the gist of it. Then they huddled us in a classroom and let us watch the news on TV.

I remember thinking at the time that too big of a deal was being made of it. Didn't the possibility of accidents come with the job of being an astronaut? And neither I nor anyone else I knew had any personal connection with the people who died.

Original Mike said...

"No one thought anything bad would happen"

It's a freakin' rocket launch, for Christ's sake! OF COURSE something bad could happen.

Big Mike said...

I was well into my career, and I remember thinking that NASA had come a long way from the over-cautiousness that had them sending up a chimp before Alan Shepard (and consequently Yuri Gagarin beat Shepard into space). I worked then with a number of former NASA engineers and several of us were concerned about the impact of the freak cold snap at the launch pad.

In retrospect it seemed as though the crew was right out of central casting for a disaster movie -- two pretty women (one of them a gorgeous brainiac), a black man, and an Asian, to go with a couple white guys.

I've always been a bit upset that Judith Resnik gets overshadowed by Christa McAuliffe. Resnik had perfect SATs (back before you got several hundred points just by spelling your name right) and earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering during a time when women were distinctly unwelcome in engineering and the hard sciences. Perhaps it's cruel to say so, but Judith Resnik was on board that flight to work; Christa McAuliffe was on board that flight as a passenger and publicity stunt.

The Drill SGT said...

I'm of a different generation than 7m. I was in Jr High when JFK caught a bullet.

I was in HS when Apollo 1, (34 years ago) burned on the pad.

I was just about ready to join the Army when we landed on the moon. Those movies of Saturns lifting off were burned into my psyche. Those guys had big brass ones. I love "Apollo 13.

Original Mike said...
"No one thought anything bad would happen"

It's a freakin' rocket launch, for Christ's sake! OF COURSE something bad could happen.


Those guys had the "right stuff" sitting on an energy reserve that was about the size of a small nuke, was never a safe 9-5 job. What the early shuttle shots tried to do was downplay the danger. They purposely tried to make a very dangerous activity sound like something safe. Then there was an ah-shit moment. I was standing in the DC Cerks office getting a Wedding License when Challenger blew...

paul a'barge said...

"no one thought anything bad would happen".

come on. Who the heck thought this? We'd already had Apollo 13.

Why do they put complete denial-aholics in front of children in schools?

Shanna said...

We watched it on tv live in elementary school. It was shocking. We definately weren't expecting anything bad to happen.

Bender said...

"No one thought anything bad would happen"

That's what they said after Apollo 1 -- a failure of imagination.

Actually, however, that is false. They did think that something bad could happen. But they didn't figure that the crew would survive if that something bad happened.

That's why they didn't bother to engineer the crew compartment to be a self-contained and detachable capsule, with parachutes attached. If it had been, the Challenger crew could have survived.

As it is, they were alive after the explosion. And they were alive as they fell back to earth. But they weren't alive after they hit the ocean.

MadisonMan said...

I was in grad school watching. Work ground to a halt that day for a variety of reasons.

Then we loaded up the satellite imagery to see if you could see the plume. You could.

Shanna said...

As it is, they were alive after the explosion. And they were alive as they fell back to earth. But they weren't alive after they hit the ocean.

Damn I didn't realize that. That sucks.

Bender said...

Immediately after, all communications between the shuttle and the ground were lost. At first, many people watching the blast, and others in mission control, believed the astronauts had died instantly — a blessing in its own right.
But they were wrong.
NASA’s intensive, meticulous studies of every facet of that explosion, comparing what happened to other blowups of aircraft and spacecraft, and the knowledge of the forces of the blast and the excellent shape and construction of the crew cabin, finally led some investigators to a mind-numbing conclusion.
They were alive all the way down. . . .
What the best data tell the experts is that the Challenger broke up 48,000 feet above the Atlantic. The undamaged crew compartment, impelled by the speed already achieved, soared to a peak altitude of 65,000 feet before beginning its curve earthward.
The crew cabin, reinforced aluminum, stayed solid, riding its own velocity in a great curving ballistic arc, reached the top of its curve, and then began the dive toward the ocean.
It was only when the compartment smashed, like a speeding bullet, into the sea’s surface, drilling a hollow from the surface down to the ocean floor, that it crumpled into a tangled mass.
But even if the crew cabin had survived intact, wouldn’t the violent pitching and yawing of the cabin as it descended toward the ocean created G-forces so strong as to render the astronauts unconscious?
That may have once been believed. But that was before the investigation turned up the key piece of evidence that led to the inescapable conclusion that they were alive: On the trip down, the commander and pilot’s reserved oxygen packs had been turned on by astronaut Judy Resnik, seated directly behind them. . . .
The evidence led experts to conclude the seven astronauts lived. They worked frantically to save themselves through the plummeting arc that would take them 2 minutes and 45 seconds to smash into the ocean.
That is when they died — after an eternity of descent. . . .

--An Eternity of Descent

Bender said...

Immediately after, all communications between the shuttle and the ground were lost. At first, many people watching the blast, and others in mission control, believed the astronauts had died instantly — a blessing in its own right.
But they were wrong.
NASA’s intensive, meticulous studies of every facet of that explosion, comparing what happened to other blowups of aircraft and spacecraft, and the knowledge of the forces of the blast and the excellent shape and construction of the crew cabin, finally led some investigators to a mind-numbing conclusion.
They were alive all the way down. . . .
What the best data tell the experts is that the Challenger broke up 48,000 feet above the Atlantic. The undamaged crew compartment, impelled by the speed already achieved, soared to a peak altitude of 65,000 feet before beginning its curve earthward.
The crew cabin, reinforced aluminum, stayed solid, riding its own velocity in a great curving ballistic arc, reached the top of its curve, and then began the dive toward the ocean.
It was only when the compartment smashed, like a speeding bullet, into the sea’s surface, drilling a hollow from the surface down to the ocean floor, that it crumpled into a tangled mass.
But even if the crew cabin had survived intact, wouldn’t the violent pitching and yawing of the cabin as it descended toward the ocean created G-forces so strong as to render the astronauts unconscious?
That may have once been believed. But that was before the investigation turned up the key piece of evidence that led to the inescapable conclusion that they were alive: On the trip down, the commander and pilot’s reserved oxygen packs had been turned on by astronaut Judy Resnik, seated directly behind them. . . .
The evidence led experts to conclude the seven astronauts lived. They worked frantically to save themselves through the plummeting arc that would take them 2 minutes and 45 seconds to smash into the ocean.
That is when they died — after an eternity of descent. . . .

--An Eternity of Descent

Original Mike said...

The Drill SGT. said: "Those guys had the "right stuff" sitting on an energy reserve that was about the size of a small nuke, was never a safe 9-5 job. What the early shuttle shots tried to do was downplay the danger. They purposely tried to make a very dangerous activity sound like something safe."

One of the messages of the "Teacher in Space" program was to be that space flight had become routine. Oops.

The Drill SGT said...

Shanna said...
As it is, they were alive after the explosion. And they were alive as they fell back to earth. But they weren't alive after they hit the ocean.


to clarify:

- The G forces didnt kill them
- the capsule didnt break up
- they were at 65,000 ft
- if the capsule lost pressure, there was no system of providing pressurized air.
- the capsule hit the water at 200 mph, equiv. to a 200g impact

they may have:
- died of depressurization at 65k ft
- been out before they hit the water
- been pressurized and awake at impact

we.do.not.know

what we do know is that 3 of them took actions after the system broke apart before apogee

NASA doesn't talk about that part. They want folks to think that the crew died in an explosion. There was no explosion in the true sense. There was very rapid burning of unconstrained fuel, not explosion.

just like the lies that commanders told with Tilman and pilots since 1914 to spare families.

- it was quick
- he didnt feel a thing...

Bender said...

Well, I TWICE linked to a story from MSNBC detailing what happened while the crew plummeted to earth, alive, but it was twice deleted (not by me).

If you want to read the story, here's the link again --
An Eternity of Descent

The Drill SGT said...

Mike Smith uttered his final words for history, preserved on a crew cabin recorder.

“Uh-oh!”


Capt Smith was a Navy test pilot. Test Pilots are the most focused, mission oriented guys in the world. bar none. There are some amazing voice tapes of test Pilots in the 40's and 50's out in the calfornia sky over Edwards, aguring into the ground, still reading off gauges and going thru checklists, confident that they can pull this one out and save the bird.

Smith's uh-oh... the sign of a system failure.

it is a world wide truism that acident boards can always recognize pilot erro crashes by the ah-shit, Merde or sheisse. When a pilot says that, he has screwed up....

PaulV said...

For environment safety?? reasons the abestos was removed from the compound around the o rings of the solid fuel boosters making the accident more likely.

WV: messi
It was messi

The Drill SGT said...

reasons the abestos was removed from the compound around the o rings of the solid fuel boosters making the accident more likely.

we can vent 20 zillion tons of rocket exhaust into the air, but have abestos locked up in a rubber compound, sealed inside of a steel casing? by god, get OSHA down here and break out the masks

Big Mike said...

@PaulIV, I think you may be confusing the two shuttle disasters. The Columbia disaster occurred because NASA, in response to "environmental concerns" replaced the fuel tank cladding with a foam that was more environmentally friendly than the original formulation, but more prone to break off during liftoff.

The environmental impact of scattering a broken up shuttle over the entire northeast corner of Texas was apparently not included in their calculations.

ken in sc said...

I went home for lunch. I saw it on TV. I cried.

Skyler said...

And yet no one has explained why a teacher was a necessary member of that crew.

Are children really so dense as to think that they should be a school teacher on the off chance that they'd get a political appointment to ride in a space ship?

Nope. They aren't.

Are Americans so lacking in understanding merit as to think that someone getting one of the easiest college degrees available actually "earned" a seat on our government funded rockets?

Apparently.

What a tragedy for all the crew. It's a shame that Christa McAuliffe had to die in a farce. The others, so far as I can tell, died in a tragic accident, but not a farce like she did.

Ambrose said...

25 years goes by fast these days. I was working; pretty much the same job I have now. We all heard - I am not sure how we heard pre-internet, phone calls I guess. Turned on radios, portable TVs. It was like a kick in the gut. I did not have the same feeling again until 9-11. I know they were very different events, but the feeling was the same - we are not as in charge of things as we would like to be.

Challenger gets the press. Let's not forget 8 years ago this week, the other Shuttle disaster.

Ambrose said...

25 years goes by fast these days. I was working; pretty much the same job I have now. We all heard - I am not sure how we heard pre-internet, phone calls I guess. Turned on radios, portable TVs. It was like a kick in the gut. I did not have the same feeling again until 9-11. I know they were very different events, but the feeling was the same - we are not as in charge of things as we would like to be.

Challenger gets the press. Let's not forget 8 years ago this week, the other Shuttle disaster.

JAL said...

I was at a home for troubled kids doing some work on a mid-life masters degree. Standing at a doorway.

My college roomate lived in Concord where McAuliffe was from. (Yes Judith Resnick was awesome.) I remember having read about McAuliffe reassuring her little girl about her flight.

Somethings are just way too sad.

madAsHell said...

If only Obama had been there to save the Challenger crew....

I blame George Bush.

It doesn't matter 41 or 43, you pick.

Robin said...

As a college engineering student, I had interned at space shuttle operations group in Rockwell Int'l. Years later, when the Challenger was destroyed, I was stunned as I had actually met two of the crew during my internship.

I still can't watch the video of the explosion with the smoke trails of the SRB's entertwining out of control without choking up.

chuckR said...

SRB field joints between the several booster segments were sealed with a vitrifying putty and then the primary and backup O-rings. The putty was meant to reduce o-ring erosion - nice use of that word. On this day 25 years ago, the o-rings were cold and didn't respond like rubber. This was later demonstrated by Richard Feynman who took a small o-ring and dunked it in ice water, then snapped it like a pretzel. Feynman's demo showed the issue but I don't recall if he used one with the same rubber formulation. Rubbers are flexible above the glass transition temperature and brittle below. Overnight cold soak left the o-rings below that cross-over temperature.

Martha said...

Original Mike said...
It's a freakin' rocket launch, for Christ's sake! OF COURSE something bad could happen.

Any one with a brain knows space missions are fraught with risk.

I remember watching a carefree Christa McAuliffe bubbling with enthusiasm and anticipation on the Today show saying she had no worries or concerns at all about the upcoming flight.

And I thought "Oh No....she is not knowledgeable about NASA flight risks."

John Lynch said...

Columbia burned up during reentry. The crew died on the eve of the Iraq war and less than two years after 9/11. So, there just isn't the Gen X angst over it. Challenger is their Kennedy story.

Russia hasn't lost a man in space since 1972 and still has a manned space program based on the Soyuz, which was contemporary with Apollo.

The shuttles killed the crew one launch out of 50. They were safer than Apollo (which killed one crew and almost killed another in many fewer missions).

Manned spaceflight is very risky, expensive, and mainly a point of national pride. This has never changed (Tom Wolfe completely covered the subject). It's essentially about climbing Mount Everest. All the real science and economic benefits can be done with robots.

CatherineM said...

I was a jr. in HS I remember I went off campus for lunch and cut the next class, 2 things I never did. My English teacher told us. She blamed Reagan. I just remember her saying, "Damn Reagan, damn Reagan for putting a teacher into space. So stupid!"

She was an idiot who thought she was brilliant.

She was also morbidly obese, but was always munching on apples...and she had an asymmetrical haircut.

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