Challenger: Learning of Tragedy in Real Time

Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire and his writing website Yonder and Home. Andrew is the host of Heard Tell podcast.

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10 Responses

  1. Aaron David says:

    I was playing hooky from school, and I while I am pretty sure I wasn’t watching it but whatever I was watching was interrupted to show the disaster. Over and Over and… It was pretty intense, enough so that I remember it years later.Report

  2. Doctor Jay says:

    I now know pretty much why that happened. Being an engineer, I figured that no, I really did want to know. But that was years after the incident, during which I was an adult.

    I was right, too. It’s a story that’s familiar, horrifying and banal all at once. And even though this failure has a very human side to it, I am sure that nobody wanted that outcome. In fact, all involved worked hard to stay away from disasters like that, and yet it happened.

    In some ways, I endorse Reagan/Noonan’s message. It’s always going to be like this sometimes. Sometimes stuff goes wrong. But as a person who might have been responsible for some of that stuff, that’s not nearly good enough.Report

  3. Patrick says:

    When I was about 8 I was *obsessed* with astronauts. I had 8×10 glossy photos an unvle had given me from the Mercury and Apollo missions and had Very Strong Opinions about Michael Collins being the greatest unsung hero in US history.

    I also had read about every disaster in the space race and thus wasn’t really all that surprised when Challenger blew up when I was 14. I was kinda surprised that people were so shocked, actually.

    I don’t know what this says about me, really.Report

    • Road Scholar in reply to Patrick says:

      When I was about 8 I was *obsessed* with astronauts.

      Oh, man, me too! And my kid obsession was during the Apollo era leading up to the first moon landing. I built the styrene models, made a scrapbook, and my folks indulged me with some kind of kid book series on space and science. My answer to “what do you want to be when you grow up?” was always astronaut. I have a memory of watching the first moon walk on a B/W tv (with Walter Cronkite natch).

      And I was at the Bell Labs campus taking a course in quality control and watching the launch coverage live during a break of some sort (lunch?) with a bunch of AT&T engineers when the Challenger blew up. It was all rather traumatic for a bunch of tech heads.Report

      • I was in the lobby at the former AT&T General Departments building in New Jersey watching the launch just before lunch. I had given some sort of technical talk to the management types and was waiting to grab a bite before heading back south. As a side effect, it really burned the awful purple-and-orange color scheme used in that lobby into my memory.Report

  4. George Turner says:

    The engineer in charge of developing the SSMEs was surprised that we never lost one to a main engine explosion. The RS-25 engines violently blew up all the time during test and development, yet what doomed the Challenger was one of the trusty solids.

    Wayne Hale (the NASA flight director who had to say “Lock the doors” after Columbia was lost) has an interesting post about the enduring lessons of Challenger.

    He also has a lot of other interesting posts, not that he has a non-interesting one, such as How We Nearly Lost Discovery, which suffered a major foam separation after the loss of Columbia. We often almost lost a mission, and sometimes they didn’t know how close a mission came to disaster until after it landed, such as STS-93.Report

    • Hale’s rules are all good ones. Versions of #6 and #9 are part of Cain’s Laws™.Report

      • George Turner in reply to Michael Cain says:

        #10, “Nothing worthwhile was accomplished without taking risk.” is a current NASA problem. If safety is the highest priority then accomplishing a mission isn’t worth risking, as the safest way to fly is not at all.

        Rand Simberg wrote a book called Safe is Not An Option, which basically said that we should be willing to kill more astronauts, and in the reviews, astronauts, Congressmen, and NASA safety engineers agree.Report

  1. January 7, 2020

    […] how to handle crisis. I, like many of my age and generation, can tell you nearly every detail of the day the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, a traumatic event for kids because of the way it had been hyped up to school children. But the […]Report