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They've Got Trouble Of Some Kind, George
February 5, 2010 10:25 AM   Subscribe

Amateur video footage of the Challenger explosion previously unknown, has now been found and, of course, posted to YouTube. A retired man named Jack Moss was taping the launch from his front yard when the explosion occurred moments into the launch. The tape was relegated to his basement and forgotten, and Moss died late last year. His pastor remembered a conversation about the video and found it among other old Betamax videotapes from the same period. It is believed to be the only amateur footage of the event.
posted by briank (121 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
I stopped it about a minute in, with a knot in my stomach, and decided that however historically relevant, it's really just not something I want to see.
posted by Nomiconic at 10:33 AM on February 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


"that doesn't look right."
posted by philip-random at 10:34 AM on February 5, 2010


The soundtrack on these things kills me. (I just muted the video, someone else can listen to it for me.)
posted by smackfu at 10:34 AM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


That's amazing, thank you for sharing. I'm surprised at how emotional this made me; it took me right back that day when I was ten years old.

What an indication of how times have changed, too. If someone caught something like this on film today it would be all over the internet and cable news stations in less than an hour.
posted by something something at 10:36 AM on February 5, 2010


How can this really be the only amateur video of the disaster? I grew up practically next door to KSC and shuttle launches were still a huge citywide event in 1986. Someone else had to be recording the launch. I was 5 years old at the time and still remember watching this unfold live in the sky as it happened. Terrible day.

On a brighter note, this coming Sunday is your last chance to see a night shuttle launch. Don't miss it if you're going to be within range.
posted by Servo5678 at 10:38 AM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am still hoping that the astronauts had a quick passing.

I hate the thought of them possibly riding the thing down, being conscious until impact with the ocean. I have never heard that this question has been answered.
posted by Danf at 10:40 AM on February 5, 2010


Why do you post things that make me laugh at tragedy?

"What? What's that? He said 'it exploded?' Well, I could tell that didn't look right."

Reminds me of another terrible news story from junior high that an old person colored with their geriatric sensibilities. I was watching news footage of the Tiananmen Square protests with my grandfather. He observed "You know what? You shoot one chinaman, two more pop up to take his place."
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:40 AM on February 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


I remember where I was when I heard about this event, and the raw sense of shock and sorrow seeing the news coverage immediately afterward. It had been so wonderful to watch the astronauts stride with happy confidence to board Challenger. It was hard not to think first of Christa McAuliffe, whose face had been glowing with joy and excitement, and her students. This event still devastates me.
posted by bearwife at 10:41 AM on February 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


I was taking Astronomy 101 ("Stars for Everyone"), and our professor was so upset he could hardly speak. He talked for a few minutes about the shuttle program, the value of exploration and science, and then dismissed class. Pretty much everyone trooped over to the big TV in the student center and joined the large group already there. This was in New Hampshire, so the local coverage was all focused on McAuliffe. The footage was terribly shocking at the time. I imagine it still is; I'm too afraid to click the link to find out.
posted by rtha at 10:41 AM on February 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


That was really difficult and eerie, watching people die.

That said, I feel icky and jaded, because during the opening moments of the video, I kept expecting to see that old guy get hit in the junk with a football.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:44 AM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


How can this really be the only amateur video of the disaster?

It may turn out that this video unleashes a slew of others that have been moldering in basements for the last 24 years, but none have ever turned up. Home video cameras were both rare and expensive in 1986. By way of example, "America's Funniest Home Videos" would not premiere for another several years after this event, and it was definitely a novelty at that point in time.
posted by briank at 10:46 AM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Even though I knew what was going to happen (Spoiler alert: it's bad) I was still on the edge of my seat waiting for it.

Also, the space nerd in me has to remind you that it technically didn't explode. It broke up.

"That's trouble!"
posted by bondcliff at 10:47 AM on February 5, 2010


Thank you for posting this, but... God, I kind of wish I hadn't watched it. So sad. When I was in elementary school, I was part of a Young Astronauts chapter named after the Challenger (a year or so after the disaster), and that event has always weighed heavily on me for some reason.

I've seen the official footage so many times, of course, but seeing this ground-level view (with folksy commentary)... it's like a punch in the gut.
posted by brundlefly at 10:48 AM on February 5, 2010


Watching that gave me the chills. I still can't watch the official NASA footage, just as I can't stomach watching video of the collapse of the Twin Towers.
posted by ericb at 10:50 AM on February 5, 2010


If you look really closely, you can see the Klingon Bird of Prey decloaking right before the explosion.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:52 AM on February 5, 2010 [10 favorites]


It's really weird seeing those iconic contrails from a different angle.
posted by quin at 10:53 AM on February 5, 2010 [10 favorites]


Wow. Seeing this again brought it all back -- this was the first disaster I was old enough to remember, and I'd been super into the Teacher in Space stuff at school. I got up ridiculously early to watch it on TV, and then had to go to school all day feeling like I just got sucker-punched. I remember school being very, very quiet. A few of the teachers tried to say something, but mostly we just sat and filled out worksheets, because otherwise everybody was gonna start to cry.

I wrote a "sorry you didn't get to see space" letter to Christa McAuliffe, and I'm pretty sure I did cry onto the paper, because I'm sure as hell tearing up now.
posted by vorfeed at 10:54 AM on February 5, 2010 [13 favorites]


<old-fart>
If I remember correctly, home video cameras cost roughly $1500-3000 back in the day. Ran for 20-30 minutes per charge, recorded on full-sized betamax or VHS tapes -- or, if you were fancy about it -- on wee compact tapes that nested inside a carrier. This wasn't VHS+ that you might remember from the late 90s or earliy noughties, but crappy original VHS that recorded about 270 lines of resolution. And the smallest camcorder I'd ever seen as of 1986 weighted about 5 kilos and had to be shoulder-mounted.

(Back in 1985, my then-gf's dad bought a video camera/recorder kit. Separate camera and a boxy recorder about the size of a modern desktop PC. Exotic. High tech. We've gotten used to this stuff; in 1986 it was still new and shiny.)
</old-fart>
posted by cstross at 10:57 AM on February 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


I think the reactions are interesting. I saw this accident televised live in a big room with hundreds of fellow US Navy sailors, who spontaneously burst into cheers and applause and laughter; I found it doubly heartbreaking in that it cured me of my more naive, sincere acceptance of all that honor and service bullshit (a sadness that turned to hate with the realization of the extent of blatant sexism, the strange prevalence of amputee porn, and the disturbing frequency of shipmates' preferences for barely pubescent girls). What a shitty year.
posted by troybob at 10:59 AM on February 5, 2010 [12 favorites]


God, this upset me to watch.

One of my first real memories was paired with a video that I loved to watch. You know how with VHS when you record something on a used tape, you sometimes get a hiccup of the previous recording before your new one starts in? It had to be about 1987 when I was about 3 or so, and I loved Pete's Dragon. My parents had recorded it off of the TV for us and my brother and I would sometimes pick it up and watch it. We'd seen it a bunch before but I wanted to watch it again and the whole family obliged. Probably because I was the youngest.

Anyway, the front part of the movie was a little bit cut off because when they'd first recorded it they hadn't pressed record quite fast enough, so I made them rewind the tape the whole way so we could see as much as possible. On the screen there was that hiccup, previous footage, and I'd noticed it before but never really paid any attention to it. This time I decided to comment (rather gleefully, actually) on how the big cloud looked like a bunny rabbit, with the ears and all, and when I didn't get a response from my parents I turned back to look at them. I don't think I'll ever forget how sad they looked, and how they didn't say a word. I didn't understand at the time, of course, but I didn't like to see it anymore after that.

It wasn't until high school when I saw the actual footage again, it wasn't hard to recognize. It hit me pretty hard. It's kind of odd to have the first thing I can consciously recall be a widely-shared tragedy. In a way I'm glad, though; I probably wouldn't have much, if any, connection with it otherwise aside from a general awareness of and sense of sadness about it, being that I was only 2 when it happened.

But yeah. I think for me these old folks' narration only made it hit harder because I was anticipating that same pain/mourning I'd seen on my parent's faces to erupt at some point, and even knowing what was going to happen didn't keep that sense of unease and 'not right' from creeping in.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 11:01 AM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Home video cameras were both rare and expensive in 1986.

They were rare and expensive around 1980, but all the geeky and nerdy people I knew had a VHS camera by 1985. I didn't own one until 1990 but had no problems scrounging up one whenever I wanted. I expected that SOME geek would have been out there at KSC with a zoom lens and tripod. After all, the Shuttle had only been flying for 5 years and was still an exotic thing, and the launch was visible for 30 or 40 miles in all directions. Yes, absolutely, it definitely astounds me too that there's been only one set of footage out there for 25 years, at least until this bit.
posted by crapmatic at 11:03 AM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Great video. Especially the commentary, which shows how the hopeful mind refuses to accept what it's just seen. "Oh, that must be one of the boosters, there it goes" . . . "Somethin' don't look right" . . . "It looks like trouble" . . . "It looks like trouble, or don't it?"
posted by meadowlark lime at 11:04 AM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Challenger explosion was the defining tragedy of my childhood. The Berlin Wall coming down was the defining triumph.
posted by sciurus at 11:07 AM on February 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


One of my first real memories was paired with a video that I loved to watch.

one of mine was my dad trying to make a fallout shelter out of a pingpong table and some bags of sand in the basement during the cuban missile crisis

it's odd how things like that stick with you
posted by pyramid termite at 11:09 AM on February 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Screw you, briank, you made me cry.

It's a really good post though, thanks.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 11:10 AM on February 5, 2010


I hate the thought of them possibly riding the thing down, being conscious until impact with the ocean. I have never heard that this question has been answered.

From the Straight Dope
After insisting for months that the astronauts never knew what hit them, NASA conceded that they not only survived the explosion but tried to save themselves and may even have been alive when the cabin smashed into the sea at 200 MPH.
...
"The forces on the orbiter at breakup were probably too low to cause death or serious injury," NASA medical honcho Joseph Kerwin wrote in a separate report. "The crew possibly, but not certainly, lost consciousness in the seconds following orbiter breakup." Some of the astronauts managed to get their emergency air packs switched on; of the four units later recovered, three had been manually activated. The fact that the fourth was not may indicate it was only a short time before everybody blacked out, but nobody knows for sure.
posted by DU at 11:12 AM on February 5, 2010 [12 favorites]


I hate the thought of them possibly riding the thing down, being conscious until impact with the ocean. I have never heard that this question has been answered.

It seems unlikely the crew could have survived the explosion and breakup, and it also seems unlikely that this question has remained unanswered.

Here is some video analysis of the fate of the crew cabin. The nose cone blew off, for one thing. It would have been very violent directly after the explosion and breakup.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:13 AM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Whoops, DU seems to have found the definitive answer. Thank god for Cecil Adams.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:14 AM on February 5, 2010


Why do you post things that make me laugh at tragedy?

...

Screw you, briank, you made me cry.

Just you wait until I get my "Old Yeller" post all ready, and then we'll talk.
posted by briank at 11:16 AM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jesus, DU. I'll lump you in with briank by simultaneously thank you for posting that and giving you the middle finger.
posted by brundlefly at 11:16 AM on February 5, 2010


I don't know if it was previously reading about test pilots and astronauts who had died or what, but I saw the Challenger disaster as more of a glorious way to die for those who were expanding our knowledge of space than a particularly sad event. I mean, if you're an astronaut, wouldn't it be better to go out doing what you love?

Less abstractly, I feel sad for their families and can't even imagine what must have been going through their heads at the time. (Or that of the astronauts, for that matter)
posted by wierdo at 11:17 AM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Don't turn off the soundtrack. The tenor of the video changes subtly and makes the whole thing more affecting. It really encapsulates the stages I went through when seeing this live on TV ( I was home sick from school that day). From cool to hmm, what? to oh, no.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:19 AM on February 5, 2010


I was five years old when this happened. I remember sitting in front of the TV watching Newsround (a news programme for kids on the BBC at about 5pm) and being hugely upset by the footage. I was obsessed with space at that age. The Challenger disaster is the earliest proper memory I have and even now I only have to watch footage of it to be zapped straight back to being 5 years old, sat in my little plastic chair in front of the television, crying and asking my mum what had happened.
posted by greycap at 11:25 AM on February 5, 2010


"That didn't look right."

Jesus.
posted by Mike D at 11:32 AM on February 5, 2010


It was 1967. I was home alone watching television when the program was interrupted with a bulletin: The Apollo I capsule had caught fire and three astronauts had died.

Having watched the Gemini launches at school assemblies, and being essentially as-yet innocent of certain realities, the bulletin was shocking as it came with the realization: Wow, people can die doing this.
posted by kinnakeet at 11:35 AM on February 5, 2010


This video brings back that rock-in-the-chest feeling I got when I first saw the Challenger explosion, live on TV when I was 10. I loved the space program as a kid; upon the explosion I remember carrying with me a hurt that felt oddly personal at the time. It's still hard to look at without remembering just how much this effected me, perhaps because it was the first time I was forced to acknowledge the notion of loss. Later events in my life dealt far worse, but this was the first time I remembered getting that 'feeling.' As such, I have always remembered it.

BTW (as previously mentioned), video cameras were extremely common in 1986 (my family, not rich by any means, got our first BETA in 1983) partially as a result of new, cheaper VHS models that began to hit the market around '85. It always surprised me that no other video of the explosion had surfaced.
posted by tiger yang at 11:40 AM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


At the risk of becoming the most HATED person in this thread, I feel compelled to offer the following fragment from an old interview transcript. The topic was 1980s underground art + culture. The man speaking was Will Daley, drummer in various bands/combos that never amounted to anything.

"Yeah, the mid-eighties. An evil time on this planet. I remember I almost cheered when the Space Shuttle blew up - just to see any mud in the eye of the fucking evil facist Reagan America. I mean, I'm still angry about it, aren't I?
posted by philip-random at 11:45 AM on February 5, 2010


I was 10, and on the East Coast, so we watched this live in school. I was also a huge space nerd, and the only one in the room that realized when the contrails split up that something was very wrong. Everyone else was whooping and celebrating. Then the principal came on the intercom and told all the teachers to shut it off. I think that was the first time my teacher realized there was a problem. I wish I remembered what they told us after that, but I don't. I may not have been listening, since it was sort of obvious to me that it had blown up.
posted by rusty at 11:49 AM on February 5, 2010


I used to watch shuttle launches from my front porch. My parents would let us stay home from school and watch the whole thing. I still remember the visceral response to the body shaking rumble that hit us minutes after the initial launch. Sometimes we even went down to the jetty to watch, just across the bay from KSC.

This happened two years after we had moved away from Florida. It was a snow day and school was closed. I remember watching the launch with a sense of nostalgia, wishing I were back there in Florida. The nostalgia turned to shock. I ain't been right since.

I still remember all of the idiotic jokes people told at school about this. That sucked.
posted by Seamus at 11:49 AM on February 5, 2010


I'm about to sob without even clicking the link.

DO NOT WANT

HOWEVER if you happen across some previously undiscovered footage of the original Apollo missions, news about breakthroughs in getting of the planet, or even some goofy UFO/etc footage, LET ME KNOW!

[hearts space]

posted by humannaire at 12:02 PM on February 5, 2010


I was a 11-year old when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. The 60s was a good decade to be a space-mad science geek.

I was on-shift in the tech dept of a TV station when the Challenger was launching. Our station wasn't carrying the launch, but since we techs had control of the satellite dishes, we tuned in and watched it ourselves.

When the shuttle blew up, there was silence, some low muttered profanity, then we called the newsroom.


.
posted by Artful Codger at 12:03 PM on February 5, 2010


After insisting for months that the astronauts never knew what hit them, NASA conceded that they not only survived the explosion but tried to save themselves and may even have been alive when the cabin smashed into the sea at 200 MPH.
...
"The forces on the orbiter at breakup were probably too low to cause death or serious injury," NASA medical honcho Joseph Kerwin wrote in a separate report. "The crew possibly, but not certainly, lost consciousness in the seconds following orbiter breakup." Some of the astronauts managed to get their emergency air packs switched on; of the four units later recovered, three had been manually activated. The fact that the fourth was not may indicate it was only a short time before everybody blacked out, but nobody knows for sure.




WHHHHAAAAAATATAAAAAATTTTT?!!!!!?!!!!???????????????

[choking sobs]
posted by humannaire at 12:05 PM on February 5, 2010


“You shoot one chinaman, two more pop up to take his place.”
The chinaman is not the issue here. The shuttle really tied NASA’s space program together.
“Home video cameras were both rare and expensive in 1986.”
How did Marty McFly get one?

“After insisting for months that the astronauts never knew what hit them, NASA conceded that they… tried to save themselves.”

I’m pretty serious about the truth. But what else do you say just after something like that? ‘Yeah, what with the oxygenated air and the fire and all they were probably being horrible burned while kept completely alert knowing their actions were completely hopeless and they were beyond any possibility of rescue. Ever read ‘I have no mouth and I must scream’? Probably like that. Although we've got loads of audio of their horrible screams.Hey, next question – sure?”
“Do you think they lost bowel function?”
‘Oh, almost certainly. Because of the pressure differential feces, blood, vomit, urine and other fluid would have been circulating wildly throughout the cabin and probably caught fire as well, adding to the respiratory…’ Etc.
I’ve had people die on me. No matter the state they’ve been in I’ve always told them they’re going to be fine. Maybe some hospital time and a long recovery, but yeah, you’re going to see your mom, your kids, you might be shy a wing, and a leg, but you're going to be ok.
Unlike almost anything else I’ve ever lied about, it's totally convincing. I talk to his family, same thing, he never saw it coming, died without pain.

The alternative is pointless. If you can spare someone that pain in a (specific) hopeless situation, something there's nothing to do anything about after the fact, why not?
You an engineer or first responder or in the safety business? ‘No.’ Archivist or historian or something? ‘No’ So this is just curiosity? ‘Yes.’
Ok. They never knew what hit them.

Some people will always want to know everything and the truth absolutely needs to be there in the record, transparent and available. But I don’t think it needs to be up in anyone’s face too close on the heels of it.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:16 PM on February 5, 2010 [15 favorites]


My father worked on the shuttle main engines when I was a kid in Florida. He did reliability testing, so they'd frequently run a part until failure, which was great because he'd bring home bits and pieces that I'd later take to "show 'n tell" at school. Occasionally they'd get visits from the astronauts, and he never failed to get an autograph for me. It was probably the most wonderful job a kid's dad could have.

(Captain) Mike Smith was the last autograph I ever got. After Challenger my dad stopped bringing stuff home… and I never asked why because I already knew. That was easily the saddest day of my childhood.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:19 PM on February 5, 2010 [10 favorites]


I think the reactions are interesting. I saw this accident televised live in a big room with hundreds of fellow US Navy sailors, who spontaneously burst into cheers and applause and laughter
posted by troybob at 10:59 AM on February 5


Richard Scobee, Lieutenant Colonel, USAF
Michael Smith, Captain, United States Navy
Judith Resnick, engineer
Ellison Onizuka, Lieutenant Colonel, USAF
Ronald McNair, physicist
Gregory Jarvis, Captain, USAF
Christa McAuliffe, teacher
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:19 PM on February 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


I find it fascinating that the amateur filmmakers knew something was off right away "it's brighter than usual". From the tv transmission it seemed that none of the NASA officials noticed anything different until the explosion.
posted by any major dude at 12:21 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I guess a positive aspect about the end of manned space flight in the US is that we won't really care any more. No one to cheer for and no one to mourn for.
posted by dibblda at 12:27 PM on February 5, 2010


really shouldn't have watched, at least not at work.
posted by nutate at 12:29 PM on February 5, 2010


I find it fascinating that the amateur filmmakers knew something was off right away "it's brighter than usual". From the tv transmission it seemed that none of the NASA officials noticed anything different until the explosion.

Hm. I was watching the Challenger launch live (had just moved to a new town with my wife and was for a few weeks underemployed and watching too much CNN) and as a complete amateur I immediately had no doubt something very bad had just happened. If any NASA personnel seemed confused, it was probably because they were staring into monitors full of telemetry data instead of the live video.
posted by aught at 12:38 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I saw this live when I was 6, and I don't really know if I need/want to see it again. It didn't change much about my lifelong NASA obsession, either as a child or an adult, but it is probably the clearest memory I have of my childhood.

fuck, that's depressing.
posted by elizardbits at 12:38 PM on February 5, 2010


I saw this accident televised live in a big room with hundreds of fellow US Navy sailors, who spontaneously burst into cheers and applause and laughter

That is seriously one of the worst things I have ever read on this site.
posted by adamdschneider at 12:45 PM on February 5, 2010 [10 favorites]


I watched it, then because I couldn't really see what was going on in the amateur video, I clicked the related CNN Live footage.

That was a suckerpunch. It was very...close up.

I was six years old when it happened, and only today did I realize that my parents never let me see the footage. Our classroom wasn't watching it live, I remember the teachers gather out in the hallway to discuss it and a brief, sad message from my first grade teacher, but I don't remember seeing it on the news that night. And I would have remembered that.
posted by annathea at 12:46 PM on February 5, 2010


That is seriously one of the worst things I have ever read on this site.

Yeah, a very bizarre thing to post. Is he saying they were happy it was destroyed? That doesn't make sense as a response, even from assholes.
posted by smackfu at 12:48 PM on February 5, 2010


I think the reactions are interesting. I saw this accident televised live in a big room with hundreds of fellow US Navy sailors, who spontaneously burst into cheers and applause and laughter;

Are you saying the sailors were actually cheering the disaster? And not what they thought was a successful launch? Because I find the former very hard to believe. Even if you suppose everybody in the military is an ultra right-wing asshole, why would they be cheering the deaths of fellow servicemen and a blow to the space program while the Cold War was still going?
posted by kmz at 12:48 PM on February 5, 2010


Is he saying they were happy it was destroyed?

Reading the entire comment makes it sound like they were happy because McAuliffe was on board.
posted by adamdschneider at 12:51 PM on February 5, 2010


DU, I could have happily lived the rest of my life not knowing that.

.......
posted by Space Kitty at 12:52 PM on February 5, 2010


Jello Biafra : Why I'm Glad the Space Shuttle Blew Up (three minute mp3).
posted by squalor at 12:57 PM on February 5, 2010


"You know what? You shoot one chinaman, two more pop up to take his place.

My second grade teacher had us convinced that the Chinese population was so vast that if they lined up 4 abreast and could cross the Pacific Ocean and we were to meet them with a machine gun as they reached the U.S.A. given their numbers and rate of reproduction they would never stop coming.

Also if the entire Chinese population jumped up and down as one, they would create a tidal wave that would destroy us.

Edumcashuion.

Edumacati
posted by pianomover at 1:04 PM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


aught wrote:

If any NASA personnel seemed confused, it was probably because they were staring into monitors full of telemetry data instead of the live video.

yeah I figured, just find it interesting that the most sophisticated computers in the world are often a pale substitute for a pair of eyes.
posted by any major dude at 1:04 PM on February 5, 2010


Wow. Yes, thank god for Cecil Adams, but I'm shocked-- I never knew this. I was 13 when it happened, and I was terribly saddened then. I took some solace in believing they had a quick end, and that's been taken away now. Which is okay, I guess. I mean, I believe in the capital-T Truth, and how knowledge is power and all that, but some things don't help some people some times. Shit.
posted by exlotuseater at 1:05 PM on February 5, 2010


I remember, at the time, a few months before, there had been a failure of some french or russian rocket. And I had remarked to my roomate, "I wonder when something's going to go wrong with the space shuttle". And at the time, I had no TV, nor no real access to TV. So I have never seen the entire footage of the disaster...

Nope. Not clicking that link.

.
posted by Windopaene at 1:09 PM on February 5, 2010


Me, at Space Camp. It was the summer after the disaster. This takes me back.
posted by ColdChef at 1:10 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Feynman on the O-ring failure. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8qAi_9quzUY
posted by pianomover at 1:11 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Are you saying the sailors were actually cheering the disaster?

They were. There wasn't really a response to the launch itself; it was the explosion and realization of what had happened. ('We've killed a civilian this time' elicited laughter, in particular.) I don't know that it even registered that there were servicemen on board, or that it would have mattered. At the time, and in the years since, I have wondered whether it was the spectacle of it, general boredom, cynicism, or male posturing; I've tried to understand it in terms of mob mentality or some mechanism of group dynamics; or as something unique to military mentality or training.

I literally did not believe what I was seeing and hearing; for a moment, I even questioned (or just hoped) the broadcast was some kind of practical joke I had missed out on.

Again, it was a heartbreaking moment on several levels.

If any NASA personnel seemed confused, it was probably because they were staring into monitors full of telemetry data instead of the live video.

I would guess that the reaction had more to do with the idea that each person on the team was hyperfocused on his or her own constellation of expertise and was trying to understand the data in those terms, such that the realization of the big picture was a bit delayed.
posted by troybob at 1:21 PM on February 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


Also if the entire Chinese population jumped up and down as one, they would create a tidal wave that would destroy us.

No, but they did build a the Three Gorges Dam which is displaced enough water that it supposedly altered the rotation of the earth and made days slightly longer.

Really, really slightly: 0.06 microseconds.
posted by quin at 1:22 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


A Fortune Magazine article from September 1985 (via CNN) about the increasing popularity of camcorders.

Price range: $1500-2000
Number of camcorders owned in the U.S. at that time: 1.5 million
posted by briank at 1:34 PM on February 5, 2010


I don't know if it was previously reading about test pilots and astronauts who had died or what, but I saw the Challenger disaster as more of a glorious way to die for those who were expanding our knowledge of space than a particularly sad event. I mean, if you're an astronaut, wouldn't it be better to go out doing what you love?

Not every crew member was an astronaut though. What compounded the tragedy, and eclipsed the glory, was that Christa McAuliffe was a high school teacher, and although she did train for a full year to prepare for her trip to space, she was not an official member of the NASA Astronaut Corps. Her blowing up in mid-air did not feel (at least to me) like a glorious end to a teaching career. Christa was the Everyman(woman). She represented the ordinary person's dream of one day experiencing outer space. That dream, not just the shuttle program, took a big hit that day.
posted by Kabanos at 1:36 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


On a more serious note, sometime before the disaster, I bought a copy of the Space Shuttle Operator's Manual (the original edition came out in '82) and, even though I was (nominally) an adult by that time, indulged in the fantasy of being picked by a lottery to go up on a mission, and having to pilot the craft safely home after everybody else got sick on space food or something.

After what happened to Challenger, not so much.

.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:45 PM on February 5, 2010


I'll copy/paste what I said a few years back when we discussed the 20-year anniversary of the disaster. Concord High was Christa McAuliff's school...

...I was a Concord High junior at the time. I was in a typing classroom, pretty much by myself, watching on one of the many tv's that had been placed all over the school. I think it initially had CNN on, but I do recall switching over to the direct NASA feed after the accident, because it was dead silent except when the official NASA voice would come on to give updates. I spent quite some time watching bits and pieces fall, and at one point I think there were things with parachutes that gave people a glimmer of hope. Not sure what those turned out to be.

I wandered down the hall, seeing teacher after teacher in tears, then went to a friend's house to watch the news for the rest of the day.

The most amazing, touching part of the whole thing was the sheer volume of cards, letters, banners and flowers sent to the school from all over the world. They had to use one entire room of the library to store it all. And then later, Japan sent some people over to present a check for a scholarship or something.

The chorus sang "Life In A Northern Town" at the memorial assembly.
posted by schoolgirl report at 1:47 PM on February 5, 2010 [13 favorites]


We were staying at our grandparent's place in Waimate, South Canterbury, New Zealand when we heard the news about the Challenger disaster. Our family was living in Singapore at the time.

I was nine years old; the night after is happened, January 30th was the last night I wet my bed as a child.

It is kinda sad that I can relate to the sentiment of shock and loss expressed by others in this thread. It's sad because it takes a disaster to pull our global village together.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 1:49 PM on February 5, 2010


I've tried to understand it in terms of mob mentality or some mechanism of group dynamics; or as something unique to military mentality or training.

I once said something pretty horrific on the news of hearing someone had died. So bad I'm not going to repeat it -- but I've felt bad about it on and off for fifteen years, wondering where the hell that came from.

I think it comes from the desire to separate yourself, the living you, from the dead. The dead has to become Other, otherwise you have to think about it happening to you, and that's terrifying. It's an effort to separate those who have died from Us, the warm and living.

That's my theory.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:50 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was 15 in 1986, sitting in word origins class with the TV on, watching the live broadcast of the Challenger launch. The teacher was one of the most beloved in the school and was letting us watch the launch even though it had nothing to do with word origins (the launch wasn't being shown in every classroom; just the science classes, I think). We all cheered when the Challenger went up and as soon as the contrails split, the room went silent. Mr. Short let the footage run for a bit and then turned it off when it was clear what had happened. I put my head down on my desk and started crying. He came over and put his arm around me (this was before teachers weren't allowed to comfort students)...I'll never forget that gesture of kindness. He got us all talking and the girls were crying, but I think any other teacher wouldn't have known what do.

I'm not going to watch the video.
posted by cooker girl at 2:02 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was 7. The window of my room was covered in mission badge replica stickers from Apollo, Gemini, and the shuttles Discovery, Columbia, and Challenger. The previous summer, I had lobbied unsuccessfully for a trip to SpaceCamp. Astronaut ice cream was a twice-a-year delight, sent from Houston by my aunt and uncle. I remember, after the disaster, looking out at the sky, half-obscured by the souvenirs of spaceflight. I don't think I cried. I just stared, trying to understand what had happened and how it could have.

One of my friend's mom was a finalist for the Teacher in Space program. I remember going to McDonalds with them a while later and happily tearing into a cheeseburger while she looked at her son and said something about how close she'd come. I thought she meant to going into space, but now I think she meant something else.
posted by Errant at 2:59 PM on February 5, 2010


According to wikipedia:
Barbara Morgan, McAuliffe's backup, became a professional astronaut in January 1998. Morgan flew on space shuttle mission STS-118, to the International Space Station, on August 8, 2007, aboard Endeavour, the orbiter that replaced Challenger. She became the first teacher to successfully reach space, 21 years after the Challenger disaster.

That is one hell of a way to deal with "Could have been me!"
posted by Kabanos at 3:09 PM on February 5, 2010 [7 favorites]


"That's sort of a historical moment we got here on tape, I guess."
It's a fascinating video. The first time you go through it you're not sure what it's going to look like or how it's going to go down, so you're really on the same page as the people in the video as it slowly becomes apparent that something is wrong.
posted by i_have_a_computer at 3:15 PM on February 5, 2010


Since everyone's reminiscing about where they were when this significant event happened, it's interesting to note you may be misremembering. So-called flashbulb memories turn out to be no more reliable than ordinary memories, no matter how much you think you remember so strongly.
posted by Nelson at 3:19 PM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Nelson--that's what I think about every time someone mentions this particular historical event. As I remember it, I was taking a German exam in high school when a kid in the class, who had finished his exam and was listening to a walkman radio on a headset, shouted "shit!"; got in trouble; then explained the Challenger had blown up; got in more trouble and then got an apology from the teacher when he handed over his headphones. Every time I open my mouth to tell that story, it sounds completely false to me. So I usually don't.

Truly, I was in high school in 1986, and I did take German all through high school. January 28 was a Tuesday, and 11:39 EST is 8:39 PST, so I would have been in class. I could have been taking an exam, I suppose, or more likely a quiz. I don't remember watching the launch on television, but I remember hearing about it in class, immediately contemporaneously with the event. So I remember that this one boy, who was always in trouble, told us all, because he listening to an illicit radio. I wish I still knew someone from my high school German class, so I could as him or her.

I think it's interesting that there might be other forgotten home movies of this. I like remembering when taking amateur footage of something significant didn't automatically have everyone reaching for internet celebrity.
posted by crush-onastick at 3:41 PM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


To make it even more depressing for me, I did watch this video, at work, only to have my coworker go "What's that?"

Okay, he's 21, and he's English, so it wouldn't imprint as much as it would on an American kid, but jesus...
posted by Katemonkey at 3:49 PM on February 5, 2010


"They've got trouble of some kind ,George."

I'm so glad he didn't say: "They blowed up real good."

Like many here I recall exactly where I was when I watched the shuttle disaster; it is one of those defining moments of humanity that occur in every generation that touch people worldwide.

In this case it made us question why we go into space, while simultaneously making us more determined to go back, again and again.
posted by bwg at 3:49 PM on February 5, 2010


I think this is wonderful that the tape was preserved and found - I have to find a computer where I can listen to the audio though! I'm putting my ARMA hat on here, but the loss of history due to format conversion or degradation is a big issue; more so with our digital history where things are easily deleted. I can only wonder what valuable gems are sitting in storage somewhere :\
posted by Calzephyr at 3:59 PM on February 5, 2010


I was sitting at the dining room table with my elderly stepfather. We'd been discussing the space program (we were both space geeks and my late father had been peripherally involved in the space program) and were watching the launch.
I distinctly remember commenting how there had been so few lives lost for such a major undertaking. He agreed.
I also remember looking at the launch and thinking something wasn't right. It just didn't look right. I can't explain it better than that. It seemed hesitant and delayed, almost.
posted by pentagoet at 4:13 PM on February 5, 2010


> Okay, he's 21, and he's English, so it wouldn't imprint as much as it would on an American kid, but jesus...

It wouldn't imprint at all. It's not like this is taught in our schools, and there's literally nothing about this that's relevant to British culture - space travel isn't really something that we're culturally interested in en masse (not that there aren't space geeks out there!). I think I probably heard about it when I was 16/17, and that is only because I love modern American history/culture. I'm sure there are plenty of British disasters Americans aren't aware of.

I love the stories people are sharing in this thread - it really gives a whole new level of insight into how this affected the American people. Thank you everyone!
posted by saturnine at 4:58 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


My second grade teacher had us convinced that the Chinese population was so vast that if they lined up 4 abreast and could cross the Pacific Ocean and we were to meet them with a machine gun as they reached the U.S.A. given their numbers and rate of reproduction they would never stop coming.

Well, it was in an old All in the Family episode, too. Mike (Meathead) and Edith are going through some of Archie's things, and they find a clipped Ripley's Believe It Or Not! cartoon that has basically the same thing on it: "if all the Chinese marched into the sea two by two, the line would never end".

Mike: Why would Archie save something like this?
Edith: Maybe he liked the idea?
posted by gimonca at 5:34 PM on February 5, 2010


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posted by pearlybob at 6:07 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nelson, you have a point there. To this day, I don't know where I was. I know one of the 4th grade classes in my school was watching it live in the cafeteria, and the other 4th grade class was in their classroom. School was cancelled after the shuttle broke up. The principal came on over the intercom and explained what happened, and we all went home. I know I cried a lot, as the teachers had gotten us really excited about the launch. After all, there was a teacher on board. They all seemed so genuinely excited.

I still can't remember if I was in the cafeteria watching it or not. I have vivid memories of being there, but I have conflicting memories of being in the classroom. Either way, I kind of wish I hadn't clicked the link.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:43 PM on February 5, 2010


I attended the Christa McAuliffe public elementary school ( built in 1991 or so ), in Hastings Minnesota between the grades of 1 and 5. Our motto was 'Reach for the stars'.

This video is a reminder of how hard and dangerous that task is, and I'd like to take this small space on the internet to thank any pioneer who has given their time, intellect, or even their lives to a cause as noble as exploration and research.

Reach for the stars. Reach for the stars.
posted by localhuman at 6:44 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was pregnant with my second child. My husband worked nights; I'd turned off the tv and unplugged the phone, took my first child to a neighbor to be babysat while I went to the obgyn. There, a whole room of people sat, silent, the tv on, but not very loud. I noticed they kept showing pictures of the astronauts. I leaned over and asked the woman next to me what had happened, and she told me the shuttle had blown up.

My husband had been a research subject for nasa, had ridden the "vomit comet" while being a guinea pig for motion sickness research, and had met quite a few astronauts in training.

I went home, woke him up and told him. He growled at me, told me "that's not funny."

I then turned on the TV so he could see for himself.

We both wept.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:58 PM on February 5, 2010


Nelson, that's a valid point. In my case, I can say that I was a devoted journal writer and as luck would have it, found the box of my high school journals in the basement just last week so I was able to find the entry related to that day before I recounted my memory here. I was thinking about it while I was looking for it and my recollection was pretty close. I was thinking that the whole school was watching in their respective classrooms but they weren't.

I certainly won't say my memories of other memorable events are as clear; I know I was in college when the Berlin wall fell but I don't have specific memories of where I was or what I was doing when I heard.
posted by cooker girl at 7:15 PM on February 5, 2010


The soundtrack on these things kills me....

I think the reactions are interesting....

Great video. Especially the commentary, which shows how the hopeful mind refuses to accept what it's just seen.


I'm with the last two, not the first. In fact my first thought on seeing this post was wondering how the people making it would react. I'm not sure that's what I would have been interested in prior to being steeped in internet make-it-yourself culture, but I do know that's what I thought. It was slightly less interesting to just see the cloud from a different angle.

As to counterpunctual reactions, I don't think the Navy guys were doing anything other than voicing a jaded professional's view of death in action. Something like test pilots watching the Six Million Dollar Man crash. "Man, he really screwed up there." For myself, the knowledge of space I already had outstripped most of my college classmates, so I was able to watch it over and over again then (I only cried the first ten or twenty). Then a notably out-of-step friend of mine was holding one of the color front pages (a novelty then) with the explosion [not debating the technicality here, it's a convenience] and said, somewhat deliberately and tentatively, "It's beautiful." That comment prompted me to tape it up on my dorm door for the rest of the school year. It was a way of fucking with the hagiographic and weepy media approach, which if anything has only gotten worse [for all such media events] since. We all understand that laughing -- when not on a Navy boat -- is impolite, but there isn't really a need to enforce a limited range of social reactions.

I expected that SOME geek would have been out there at KSC with a zoom lens and tripod.

I sort of would, too, as this is one of the ultimate geek things. Heck, today, there are whole websites devoted to just planespotting. Whenever you see a launch you can see the space geeks with cameras both still and video. Where were they? On the other hand, anything shot from the public viewing area wouldn't be much different from the official viewpoint.

From the tv transmission it seemed that none of the NASA officials noticed anything different until the explosion.

Well, first of all, the TV feed was only Public Affairs Officer Steve Nesbitt. As I said last time this came up, referencing this transcript of the public and CAPCOM feeds:
Nesbitt at first did not realize there had been an explosion and continued to read from data screens; his careful phrasing reflected his role as a media liaison rather than a part of the flight control hierarchy (he was actually in a separate room). It was the FIDO analyst who said "Flight, FIDO, filters (radar) got discreting sources. We're go." In this case, GO signalled the ready state of the range safety officer whose responsibility was to remote detonate the Solid Rocket Boosters. They were getting "discrete" radar blips showing an orbiter stack flying in all directions.
In any event, in those days, there wasn't as much video being taken of the launch. The people doing their jobs were focused on their own telemetry. Mostly, the visuals are indistinguishable from a normal launch until the last 10 or 15 seconds, and then a lot of the data feeds started to go haywire as Challenger tried to maintain its trajectory in the face of a strong lateral rocket plume. Even then, though, it isn't really something where you're going to be saying "Boy, this looks odd" let alone "Holy shit". We'll always wonder, of course, what pilot Smith was reacting to with his last recorded words: "Uh oh." But the transcript shows that the astronauts were already saying things like "Looks like we've got a lot of wind here today", which while true, may have been related to sensing the changes in the feel of the launch. All that said, some of the NASA people were watching the video, and some on the ground were watching the plume, but none of these people were in a position to affect anything regardless of what they saw. And of course you have the twin issue that first there is nobody at NASA mic'ed up to just throw out random observations and anyone in a position to actually see something would be too professional to do so in a non-useful manner, e.g. what you would hear is something much more akin to alerting the Range Safety Officer than anything TV-friendly. Because everybody there knows that if you have a Bad Day, saving the lives of anyone on the ground is tremendously more important than anything else. The astronauts and vehicle were not and are not salvageable in any meaningful sense unless the pilot can effect an abort scenario, and then you're just going to wait to hear them tell you that if they can.

(The conversation at T+89 indicates both of these things:
Greene: "OK, all operators, watch your data carefully."

FIDO: "Flight, FIDO, till we get stuff back he's on his cue card for abort modes."

Greene: "Procedures, any help?"

Unknown: "Negative, flight, no data."


Watch your data means they are entertaining the possibility of a data interruption -- till we get stuff back -- and then he's on his cue card means it's up to the pilot. Yes, at the point, they all know things have seriously fucked up, but they still have jobs to do including saving the life of the crew if at all possible.)

There may a bit of Gladwell Blink here, where somebody intuits something is wrong based on inchoate data, but I don't think it is that instructive. The tape only starts about 20 seconds into flight, and when he says "That's brighter than usual!" it's 0:43, so just about 0:64, which is when the first visible glow appears on official video because the plume has begun to burn the LH2 leaking from the main tank. They aren't really seeing anything earlier than it was visible to anyone.
posted by dhartung at 7:19 PM on February 5, 2010 [7 favorites]


My aunt was one of the trainers of the crew on Challenger. I asked her a couple years ago what it was like to be watching the launch from Houston. Even more than twenty years after the incident she was clearly still affected by it. She and her colleagues were watching the feed from a conference room at NASA and she said that the room just went silent as it happened. I can't begin to imagine what it felt like.
posted by bendy at 7:50 PM on February 5, 2010


That made me feel a little sick and I couldn't watch it. It's amazing to me that all these years later, I can still remember exactly how I felt as a kid, hearing about this and seeing the pictures and video. So very sad.
posted by TurquoiseZebra at 7:59 PM on February 5, 2010


And the smallest camcorder I'd ever seen as of 1986 weighted about 5 kilos and had to be shoulder-mounted.

Nope, sorry, I'm with crapmatic and others. Even in Australia - FREAKEN LUDDITE AUSTRALIA - they were common enough back then to be seen at the occasional birthday party or family gathering. And as for them being shoulder-mounted behemoths...?

I'm amazed this is the only other footage.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:24 PM on February 5, 2010


Flight controllers here looking very carefully at the situation, obviously a major malfunction..... we have no down link..... we have a report from the flight dynamics officer that the vehicle has exploded, flight director confirms that.

We are looking at, er, checking with the recovery forces to see, er, what can be done at this point.


That's NASA communications used at the end of the song Getting Away (From This World). It's by an Aussie band called Ratcat, and it's a very good tune with great lyrics.

The start of the song also uses NASA communications from the same flight when things were going more swimmingly.

NASA ground crew chappy: Initiate roll sequence.
Pilot: Roger, ready to roll.

posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:39 PM on February 5, 2010


Vintage camcorders.

It's weird to think of a world where such a public event could pass relatively unfilmed.

1986 seems both so recent and so long ago...
posted by mazola at 8:46 PM on February 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Then a notably out-of-step friend of mine was holding one of the color front pages (a novelty then) with the explosion [not debating the technicality here, it's a convenience] and said, somewhat deliberately and tentatively, "It's beautiful." That comment prompted me to tape it up on my dorm door for the rest of the school year. It was a way of fucking with the hagiographic and weepy media approach, which if anything has only gotten worse [for all such media events] since. We all understand that laughing -- when not on a Navy boat -- is impolite, but there isn't really a need to enforce a limited range of social reactions.

Yes, not intending to disrespect the many heartfelt remembrances in this thread, but my memories of the Challenger Disaster are rather complex. Again, I will quote from an old transcript for a radio documentary (never completed) on the general topic of 1980s underground art + culture. The words are not mine:

"This concerns the Challenger 7 - recently dead.

"I wonder if it occurred to them at the moment of their instantaneous demise that they'd be scorched indelibly across a few billion psyches - in full colour - white on blue - forever -

"Because, it's only a matter of time before Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment purchases the screen rights to what's her name's - (the schoolteacher's) story - and that of her family. The movie's called AN AMERICAN GIRL - the true to life drama of the smalltown girl who reached for the heavens to touch the face of God and discovered along with her six friends that maybe God doesn't like having his face touched.

"And this tragedy rips into all these NORMAL PEOPLE. It unleashes hidden demons: lurid scenes of violence, drugtaking and weird sex. Yet, through it all, the human spirit stands tall and inevitably conquers all evil.

"With a soundtrack by Huey Lewis and the News. Starring Sally Field as THE AMERICAN GIRL, Alan Alda as her husband, Ricky Shroeder and Gary Coleman as the blind indentical twins - Charlton Heston and Joan Collins as her parents - Sylvester Stallone as the Gay PE teacher who understands - and Ronald Reagan as the senile President with his finger poised over the doomsday button.

"And, of course, it's a huge box office success - and Spielberg finally wins his Oscar and so does Stallone - for best supporting actor. And then Heston announces he's running for the Republican nomination - Ronald Reagan having being revealed to be not a human being at all, but a robot-monster constructed by the people at Walt Disney Inc. The real Ronald Reagan died years ago in Beverly Hills in a freak hairstyling accident, but that's another story. And Heston wins the nomination. And he chooses Stallone as his running mate. But it's gonna be a tough race because the Democrats have Alda and Field.

"And this hateful bullshit goes on and on until the handsome prince from Planet STUPID finally slays the fiscal apathy dragon, kills all the terrorists, frees all the P.O.W.s, climbs the wall, kisses the Princess - and then WHAMMMM!!!! - everyone suddenly snaps awake and realizes they've all had the same absolutely horrifying dream - except none of them can remember what it was about."

posted by philip-random at 9:02 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Keith Leblanc - Major Malfunction
posted by philip-random at 9:05 PM on February 5, 2010


That's the same guy, philip-random!

However, if I can be so bold, the Ratcat tune is much better and uses much more of his transcript without any goofy interruptions from B-grade Hollywood alien invasion movies.

I did a really quick search on youtube and can only find a live version that doesn't contain the NASA verbiage.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:45 PM on February 5, 2010


I do remember that day and moment. I was standing in front of my locker; thinking about a girl I liked more than life itself. I was thinking how maybe I would sit by her at lunch, or maybe walk her to class. I had my locker open, and I was staring into it blankly thinking how glory was just within reach. Suddenly, my serenity was interrupted by the most unpopular girl in the entire school. She said something to me, and I told her not to bother me, and then it began to seep ... slowly.... and I said, "wait, what did you say?", and she said, "I told you. The Space Shuttle blew up," and I put my head in my locker and cried.
posted by Senator at 10:14 PM on February 5, 2010


I don't remember when this happened. I was 10, so I was in school, but I don't think we watched this live like a lot of other schools did. Part of me thinks that the Principal announced it on the intercom, but maybe I'm just making that up. Maybe I didn't know until I got home and my parents told me about it.

What I do remember is watching that Punky Brewster episode that came out like a week later. It was a very special episode and Buzz Aldrin was on and comforted everyone.
posted by jefbla at 10:53 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's weird to think of a world where such a public event could pass relatively unfilmed.

I think (but I'm not positive) that it was on William Gibson's Twitter feed where I read the observation that one way to judge the swiftness of the spread of camera-equipped cellphones-- which are now of course ubiquitous-- was to note that there is only one recording of the first plane hitting the World Trade Centre, and no cameraphone videos of the event at all.
posted by jokeefe at 11:43 PM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thank you for posting the link to this footage.
posted by TheSarryHeed at 12:21 AM on February 6, 2010


Wow. That is some video.

I was in 7th grade when this happened. We were watching the launch in my science classroom - I think my class and the other 7th grade honors class were watching together, since there weren't a lot of TVs in the school at that time. So we saw this live, and then the principal came on the PA system and announced that the Challenger had exploded.
posted by SisterHavana at 12:27 AM on February 6, 2010


I was friends with Smith's son in 5th and 6th grades before I moved away from Houston. Oddly enough, we both attended Ed White Elementary. Later, when I was a high school junior, I wrote a history paper the very day of the incident comparing the Challenger disaster with the Hindenburg disaster, and my history teacher, Mrs. Bell, gave me a very low grade, basically for being an insensitive prick. No wonder she refused to write a college recommendation for me.
posted by Poagao at 1:20 AM on February 6, 2010


"“Home video cameras were both rare and expensive in 1986.”
"How did Marty McFly get one?"


Doc has a case of plutonium and that is the puzzling part?
posted by Mitheral at 8:09 AM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


After the last Shuttle disaster I remember watching a report about the reentry process and everything that had to go right and I was simply amazed at all the variables and how often it did go right. I have a lot of respect for astronauts. That's risky business.
posted by juiceCake at 8:58 AM on February 6, 2010


I don't know if it was previously reading about test pilots and astronauts who had died or what, but I saw the Challenger disaster as more of a glorious way to die for those who were expanding our knowledge of space than a particularly sad event. I mean, if you're an astronaut, wouldn't it be better to go out doing what you love?

Thanks for pointing that out. When the Columbia disaster happened, and everyone started going on about how we were obviously such arrogant pigs for even thinking of continuing the shuttle program/the space program/aviation/civilization/stone tools, I remember thinking "what if it were me?" I guess that's the question everyone asks themselves when shit like this happens. And that made me immediately want to put in my will the provision that, should I die working on the things that I've dedicated my life to, my entire fortune (what there is of it) is to be spent paying people to hurl rotten eggs at all those who propose canceling those things "because of what happened".

And yes, having reflected on it a lot, I think I could deal with the knowledge of imminent death a little more stoically if I knew it was for something I believed in.
posted by Xezlec at 9:20 AM on February 6, 2010


I grew up in Houston and attended Rice. Rice doesn't have a direct pipeline to NASA but I know a number of people who went to NASA after studying there, my ex-husband among them. Launches were pretty regular things by then. I remember hearing about it on the radio in my car on the way somewhere from school; the memory is solid enough even now that I could tell you what road I was driving on and about what cross street I was at.

The DJ was offering his condolences to the families of the astronauts by name and it took me a minute to figure out what he was talking about. Even knowing that space flight was risky, even knowing that planes sometimes still crashed, it was inconceivable to me until the DJ said it that the shuttle could have blown up that way.

I remember thinking "what if it were me?" I guess that's the question everyone asks themselves when shit like this happens.

Gus Grissom, who died in the Apollo explosion in 1967: "If we die, we want people to accept it. We're in a risky business, and we hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life."
posted by immlass at 10:59 AM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't have much to say except I am also from Concord, New Hampshire and Caroline McAuliffe, Christa's daughter, was in my class.

Like many of you we watched the launch live on a television brought specially into our classroom. Looking over at Caroline's empty seat is not something I'll soon forget, though I had the benefit of being young enough to not quite understand. I was six. My sister, who was nine, and in a class with Scott McAuliffe, Christa's son, had a harder time.

.
posted by nathancaswell at 11:06 AM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


saturnine: It wouldn't imprint at all. It's not like this is taught in our schools, and there's literally nothing about this that's relevant to British culture - space travel isn't really something that we're culturally interested in en masse (not that there aren't space geeks out there!).

Things change. When James burke and Patrick Moore presented the coverage of the Apollo missons on the BBC everybody in England seemed quite interested and space was definitely part of the culture then. I remember pulling the car over to the side of the road so I could listen to the BBC's live radio coverage of the shuttle's maiden flight, so interest stil persisted at that stage. I had left the country by the mid 80's, but I'm sure that the Challenger disaster was well enough covered in England when it occurred.

The difference is probably that in the US it was experienced as a national disaster, so it has entered the national psyche in a way that isn't true elsewhere. Interest in manned space missions has waned even here, but that moment lives on. In England it's an unpleasant event that occurred 24 years ago, just one event in the 50+ year history of manned spaceflight -- unless you are old enough to remember or have a special reason to care why would you know much about it?
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 11:22 AM on February 6, 2010


On a brighter note, this coming Sunday is your last chance to see a night shuttle launch. Don't miss it if you're going to be within range.

And Endeavour is delivering a rad new observation deck ("...like a big bay window") to the International Space Station.
posted by ericb at 1:54 PM on February 6, 2010


Like most everyone else, I remember exactly where I was when the Challenger disaster occurred.

I didn't really have much interest in watching the video at first, as I'd seen the news footage a hundred times growing up, but figured why not? The angle of the video, the way the smoke looked in the sky, the accents of the people on tape all seemed REALLY familiar. The video really brought it home to me.

After a few minutes, I understood why - the video was shot in Winter Haven, FL... down the street from where I was sitting in Mr. Albeitz's 11th grade Algebra class. What we watched outside the window that day, that man was shooting down the road.

It's a strange reconnect to the past for me, so thanks for the post.
posted by matty at 4:22 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I remember the build-up of having a teacher talk to us from space being huge. It was really something to look forward to.

For whatever reason my class was late to go see this in the cafeteria in our school. However, I did watch it many times later that day, as my mom recorded the launch. Back then, VCR's didn't have a slow motion button (or at least ours didn't), but the pause button was kinda weak and would slowly increment frames. So we had a pretty clear idea of there being a fuel leak before anything was officially announced.

Watching the video of it again, I'm actually quite surprised how sad I feel about it.
posted by o0o0o at 11:10 PM on February 6, 2010


I was a fetus, in my mother's womb. She was in Italy. It was warm, and red.
posted by tehloki at 2:59 AM on February 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


What I do remember is watching that Punky Brewster episode that came out like a week later. It was a very special episode and Buzz Aldrin was on and comforted everyone.

I was four when the Challenger disaster happened, so I would have been in preschool at the time and wouldn't have known about it in any significant way - except perhaps for my parents crying at the news, which I don't remember. I do, however, remember watching the Punky Brewster episode where she is in class when the shuttle explodes - but this was probably years later when it was in re-runs.

I also remember where she eats a bag of cheese puffs to try and make her boobs bigger. Punky Brewster was definitely a defining element of my childhood. (Though I was also obsessed with space. I wanted to be an astronaut and had a poster of Sally Ride in my bedroom.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:06 AM on February 7, 2010


I also remember where she eats a bag of cheese puffs to try and make her boobs bigger.

Must have worked.

From Wikipedia: "After suffering from gigantomastia as a teen, Frye underwent a breast reduction three months before her 16th birthday."
posted by nathancaswell at 10:16 AM on February 7, 2010


And a hush descends upon the thread as everyone runs off to get cheese puffs for themselves or their significant others.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 12:24 PM on February 8, 2010


And a hush descends upon the thread as everyone runs off to get cheese puffs for themselves or their significant others.

"Sabor de Soledad" brand.
posted by aught at 9:55 AM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


When I was a kid we had a cat that went nuts over cheese puffs (not Cheetos, which are a different thing). He'd stand up on his hind feet and dance around, begging for them. Never saw anything like it before or since.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 4:07 PM on February 9, 2010


As a coda for this thread, I thought this NASA photo from the final nighttime launch of the shuttle on Monday evening provides some indication of the change in how we experience these events.
posted by briank at 5:59 PM on February 9, 2010


ColdChef: "Me, at Space Camp."

Ha! Space camp! Gold.
posted by Effigy2000 at 11:39 PM on February 11, 2010


Nasty. Alive, all the way down. The astronauts survived the initial Challenger explosion.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:50 AM on February 12, 2010


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