To be a good astronaut, you need to be prepared for the worst.
January 19, 2014 8:56 AM   Subscribe

"I was going through boxes of my grandparents old photographs and found some incredible pictures of a tragic shuttle launch from 1986. I scanned them and made an album. My grandmother actually passed peacefully last week, and was because of her passing that I found these. We were all going through boxes and boxes of photos to find pictures to display at her memorial. I just happened to get the box with the Challenger pictures at the bottom, which was kind of special for me because I am the biggest NASA fan in the family," said Mike Hindes.

Related: In 2012, Huffington Post released newly-discovered amateur film footage of the 1986 Challenger disaster recorded at the time by a 19-year in attendance with a Chinon Super 8 camera. [previously]
posted by Mike Mongo (50 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I still get chills when I see photos and footage from Challenger, I remember watching the feed on the BBC as a 13 year old. We're so fragile, and yet we still strive to get out there. That gives me hope.
posted by arcticseal at 9:04 AM on January 19, 2014 [6 favorites]

Also from the reddit thread: this stabilized GIF, and a composite.
posted by suedehead at 9:09 AM on January 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Many grade-schoolers on the east coast of the US watched the Challenger explosion live in class, myself included. It certainly shattered my 7 year old dreams of becoming an astronaut.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 9:11 AM on January 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

Yesterday (or so it seems):

7th grade. In the stairway with my teammates working on an Olympics of the Mind (Might have already been renamed Odyssey of the Mind by that point, thanks IOC. Dorks.) I came in to get some scissors, and one of my "friends" told me the shuttle blew up. I thought he was just being an asshole to the science nerd, and blew him off. Until I noticed the teacher crying, and the TV in the room on.

I went out to tell my teammates, and Chad mentioned, "The one with the teacher on it?" and that's when I remembered Mrs. McAuliffe.
posted by DigDoug at 9:17 AM on January 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

That's amazing that he or she practically captured the moment of explosion.
posted by Curious Artificer at 9:22 AM on January 19, 2014

I was in third grade. There must have been a ton of elementary education materials going out, with the Weekly Reader program or something, because we were all crazy about space travel that year. I remember "inventing a new rocket fuel" by throwing together equasions from an old algebra textbook.

I don't think I saw the explosion live. I remember how haunted I was by a picture of the cloud that had two big red spots on it and a dark slit, making the cloud look like a giant skull with red eyes. This must have been a doctored photo made as a kind of political cartoon, because I've never seen it since. I remember someone gently telling me no, honey, none of them could have lived . . .
posted by Countess Elena at 9:25 AM on January 19, 2014

I wasn't at school that day because I was sick. Was still in my pajamas when I was watching the launch. I had a Garfield plush at the time; the plush also had on pajamas. I hugged the hell out of that thing as I cried.
posted by radwolf76 at 9:41 AM on January 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

I hadn't seen that video from HuffPo before. Listening to the conversation amongst the bystanders in the crowd is heartbreaking and fascinating at once.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:54 AM on January 19, 2014

I followed the link to the story that shattered my hopes: "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." NASA just says that we can't know for certain. Jesus.
posted by maudlin at 10:05 AM on January 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

I remember someone gently telling me no, honey, none of them could have lived . . .

No, though it wasn't the explosion that killed them.
posted by popcassady at 10:05 AM on January 19, 2014

I was also in elementary school. One of our teachers had applied for the Teacher in Space Program and got quite far in the selection process, supposedly into the finals or something. We were all shocked but also a little glad that he didn't get the job. When watching videos like this, I can't help but empathize with Christa McAuliffe's students.
posted by Woodroar at 10:06 AM on January 19, 2014

After some searching, I found an audio recording of Mission Control. The Quicktime embed on the original site is broken for me, so I uploaded it to Soundcloud as well.

You can read a transcript, written out as part of an accident timeline, here.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 10:18 AM on January 19, 2014

Senior year of high school. I didn't have to take a full load of classes, so I took 1st and 2nd period blank and didn't have to be at school until much later than most students. I was watching the shuttle launch live, and watched it explode. I was devastated and shocked and went to school feeling a bit numb.

I had made our principal's life a bit of a practical joke hell during my years. (My favorite was stealing two portapotties from a construction site and putting them in parking spaces of the principal and vice-principal complete with mock-ups of their license plates on the back sides, but that is beside the point.) I went to school, early for me, late for everyone else, and walked into the office and told Dr Noe (yes, that was his name) that the space shuttle had just exploded.

He didn't believe me. Of course, he couldn't. I'd done too many little things to him over the preceding 2.5 years for him to take this statement seriously.

So I made him come with me to the AV lab of our library and convinced the librarian that she needed to hook up a TV to the cable service so I could show them both something.

She did, I did, they both were shocked and stunned, and TVs were set up in the library for the rest of the day and students were allowed to skip class and be in the library and see the oft-repeated footage of the exploded, failed launch.

There were a lot of dreams about the future that died that day, especially in the town where I grew up, which was deeply tied in to NASA and space and missile research.

It's "that moment" for my generation, I think.
posted by hippybear at 10:19 AM on January 19, 2014 [15 favorites]

You can also hear some audio on Beyonce's new record.
posted by ghost dance beat at 10:26 AM on January 19, 2014

I saw references to that while I was googling. I hadn't heard about that particular detail of the new Beyonce album before, and it is deeply, deeply weird.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 10:29 AM on January 19, 2014

obligatory Keith Leblanc link. Major Malfunction
posted by philip-random at 10:41 AM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I saw it in the school library. I was at school early and the librarian called my teacher and me and the other early bird student in. I can't remember if it was to see it live or if it had just happened and she called us in. And I stayed there, in front of the library TV, for hours and hours. I don't think I went back to class, except maybe at one point when the librarian shooed me out. I believe the teacher had my whole class come in to watch it at one point. It was hugely traumatic for me and I suspect watching it 100x or more probably didn't help.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:43 AM on January 19, 2014

I was in kindergarten. We didn't watch it live, but I remember seeing it over and over again at home on the news. (My mom was almost nine months pregnant, and I guess wasn't paying a lot of attention to what we were watching.)
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:14 AM on January 19, 2014

I was 21, on the highway alone, on my way to ski for the day and heard it on the radio. I was pretty stunned but decided to follow through with my plans.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:00 PM on January 19, 2014

I can still hear it, "Roger, go at throttle up."

posted by entropicamericana at 12:02 PM on January 19, 2014

I was in grade 1. Home for lunch.

I found out many years later that my then-teacher was still--I mean like 15 years later--carrying around the guilt she felt for telling us all to watch if we were home for lunch.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:08 PM on January 19, 2014

I was grocery shopping with my mother, guess i would have been about 4 1/2? They actually made an announcement over the grocery store's PA system, which in retrospect is really wild. I don't remember the wording, but sure wish i did.
posted by like_a_friend at 12:12 PM on January 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Supposedly one of our chemistry teachers was on some sort of secondary list for this. We did know that she'd applied to be on the mission some time before, but she didn't make it.

I was a junior in high school, and we were watching it in her class. When it exploded, she raced out of the room in tears, the biology teacher going after her to calm her down. We just sat there stunned.
posted by droplet at 12:16 PM on January 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also home that day - I'm pretty sure it was a snow or ice day for us in ATL. Pretty sure someone called me to tell me to turn on the TV. Still hard to watch or even listen to the mission audio.
posted by jquinby at 12:35 PM on January 19, 2014

For those who haven't had the opportunity, let me just say that reading the Rogers Commission report is absolutely heartbreaking.

In particular it's the section where the report goes into detail on how they started with an engineering recommendation that the o-rings should be 53 DegF or warmer at launch, based not just on test firings, but also on evidence from previous flights, but by the end of a conference call during which NASA officials told Morton Thiokol execs "I am appalled by your recommendation." and "My God, Thiokol, When do you want me to launch — next April?", that initial recommendation gets changed to "Temperature data not conclusive on predicting primary o-ring blow by." ....... it's that section that drives home what a sensless tragedy this was.
posted by radwolf76 at 12:36 PM on January 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

Sophomore in high school. My English teacher had been an alternate for the program, so we had a live feed at school. She was disappointed to not be chosen, but excited about the launch anyway, and it was a pretty festive atmosphere. Until the explosion.

I had never, ever seen a teacher cry before that moment. First stunned silence. Then a trickle. Then a flood. And a roomful of teenagers with no idea how to comfort a woman they loved and respected - and were a little awestruck by.

I couldn't watch shuttle launches for years after that, because every time I heard "Go at throttle up", I wanted to vomit.
posted by MissySedai at 12:45 PM on January 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

I remember watching Dan Rather in the evening newscasts leading up to the launch reporting that the launch had been delayed (and delayed and delayed -- he was practically rolling his eyes when he reported the last delay). I also remember the sense of "Geez, finally, NASA!" in the press when it was announced that the launch would finally happen.

There was a lot of pressure (some of it political, I think) to get that bird up in the air when they did. Shameful.

Also, in that Reddit thread, I had no idea so many teachers were almost on the Challenger.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 1:09 PM on January 19, 2014

I couldn't watch shuttle launches for years after that, because every time I heard "Go at throttle up", I wanted to vomit.

I never vomited, but that phrase still gives me a case of the hiney pucker. Every time.
posted by DigDoug at 1:22 PM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Last year's made-for-TV movie The Challenger, starring William Hurt as Richard Feynman, is an excellent piece of storytelling and a good synopsis of the investigation into the reasons for the disaster, and how much it was hoped that it could quietly not be blamed on anyone, and how that didn't happen, mostly due to Feynman.
posted by Hogshead at 1:28 PM on January 19, 2014 [7 favorites]

I was in fourth grade. We weren't watching live, but I remember the teacher calling the class together to tell us something terrible had happened. Since we'd already had a moment like this when a classmate's family was killed in an accident earlier in the year, fourth grade is pretty much when the idea of death--and the sudden, unpredictability of it--really hit home.

And although I have no idea what they really mean, the vocabulary of "O-rings" and "rocket booster" has been indelible from that moment as well.
posted by TwoStride at 1:34 PM on January 19, 2014

@jquinby, I'm pretty sure that day was a snow day for much of the Atlanta Metro area.

I was 34, a repair tech for IBM. I was going from one service call to another and heard confused reports on the radio. At my next stop, someone had found a tv and it on, and we watched the reports and tried to figure out what all was going on. Same at the next stop I made.

After that, I was down at the parts center, talking with my co-workers about it. I called my sis (a teacher, and off that day due to weather) and she and I mourned together. We've both always been fans of NASA, and the whole thing was heart-breaking for us too.

Dan Simmons wrote a story called "Two Minutes Forty-Five Seconds" loosely based on what happened with Challenger and guilt and consequences. I read it once and have never forgotten it.
posted by Archer25 at 2:03 PM on January 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was a sophomore in (Catholic) high school and my class was on a "retreat" that day. As we gathered to board the buses back to school that afternoon, one of the teachers addressed us all. "We need to let you know about something that happened earlier today. We didn't tell you when it happened because we didn't want to ruin your retreat..."

I remember trying so hard to hold back the tears. I was totally devastated and just wanted to get home to watch the news. On the bus ride home, a girl who had been pursuing me all day sat next to me and flirted with me relentlessly in a vapid, giggly manner, totally inappropriate for the mood at the time. At my lack of response to her advances she asked, "What is wrong with you? Why such a grump?"

"Did you not just hear what fucking happened?" I yelled. "What is wrong with you?" That got a round of applause from many of my fellow students.
posted by zakur at 2:11 PM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Here's a fixed link to the composited version, which is really interesting.
posted by smackfu at 2:23 PM on January 19, 2014

Myth #1: A nation watched as tragedy unfolded
Few people actually saw what happened live on television. The flight occurred during the early years of cable news, and although CNN was indeed carrying the launch when the shuttle was destroyed, all major broadcast stations had cut away — only to quickly return with taped relays. With Christa McAuliffe set to be the first teacher in space, NASA had arranged a satellite broadcast of the full mission into television sets in many schools, but the general public did not have access to this unless they were one of the then-few people with satellite dishes. What most people recall as a "live broadcast" was actually the taped replay broadcast soon after the event.

(Me, I was listening to NPR in the car when they broke in with the news that "the shuttle may have exploded".)

that phrase still gives me a case of the hiney pucker

Me, too, although it actually had little, if anything, to do with the accident (which effectively began at ignition).

I had no idea so many teachers were almost on the Challenger.

The TiSP program had some 11,000 applicants, and a little over 100 semi-finalists, including 2 per state -- so everywhere.
posted by dhartung at 2:38 PM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by brujita at 3:04 PM on January 19, 2014

I reminisced about the Challenger in this previous thread. Definitely a defining moment in my life. I also remember in great detail the Saturday morning the Columbia was lost; I had just gotten out of the shower and heard Bob Edwards announcing that something had gone wrong on NPR.
posted by TedW at 3:07 PM on January 19, 2014

I was in 8th grade, and I happened to be in science class at the time. The science department head ran down the hallway yelling into each classroom "Turn on your tv!" I remember his energy was agitated, and one that I had never seen from a teacher before. Then we saw the replay, and it all made sense.
posted by Pocahontas at 3:09 PM on January 19, 2014

I watched the replays on the TV of some fellow students in London. We were supposed to be playing some RPG or other but that didn't happen. I said that it was our generation's Kennedy moment, the one where we'd all remember where we were when we heard the news or first saw the footage. They were skeptical.
posted by Hogshead at 3:38 PM on January 19, 2014

I was in fourth grade, and one of the teachers in our school had made it to a decent stage in the screening. The thing is, I don't know if I saw it. There were two fourth grade classes, and only one of them watched it live. Either I was in the class that watched it, and I've blocked it out, or I was in the other and, through all the replays, and talk about the event, I've absorbed enough to have internalized it as my own memory.

It still gives me chills when I see footage of it. That kind of disaster was, to a kid who loved NASA, who was already starting to read science fiction, like the first awareness that there was every chance we wouldn't make it to the bright gleaming future we all wanted to believe in. The Challenger was pretty much JFK for kids born in the seventies. On 9/11, I remember thinking that that would be the Challenger moment for people in school.

I'd love it if, someday, these generational touchstones could be moments of wonder, where something positive happens.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:09 PM on January 19, 2014

I'd love it if, someday, these generational touchstones could be moments of wonder, where something positive happens.

I'd hope that the landing of Curiosity would be like that. I found it thrilling and feel it is a landmark, and I'm in my 40s.
posted by hippybear at 4:37 PM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

NASA was part of the fundamental branding around Why The United States was Better. It was, quite literally, the Cold War transmogrified. no longer the case. Curiosity is cool. But it's not part of our branding.

I'm not sure we even brand anymore. If we do, it ain't good.
posted by effugas at 4:52 PM on January 19, 2014

I'd love it if, someday, these generational touchstones could be moments of wonder, where something positive happens.

they seem to leave us lost for words.
posted by philip-random at 4:56 PM on January 19, 2014

I happened to be watching the launch on CNN that day, and I also happened to be up early watching the re-entry of the Columbia on CNN. What a sick feeling both times.
posted by Red Loop at 5:37 PM on January 19, 2014

Too many connections. I was in 5th grade, and we heard about it in school (didn't watch it live). One of my high school teachers was a state finalist in the teacher-in-space program, and had never quite recovered from the events of that day. I later worked with the guy who did the image analysis that helped them understand that the crew survived until impact, and read the internal NASA report (which is clinical and chilling).

Some years later, I had just gotten back home after a Saturday morning donut run, walked into my Dallas apartment, and heard the sliding glass door rattle. I thought, "huh, must be windy", and then was confused, because I had just been outside, and there wasn't a breath of wind. When I turned on the TV about an hour later, I figured out that I had heard the shockwave that marked the death of seven more astronauts.
posted by grajohnt at 6:10 PM on January 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

I said that it was our generation's Kennedy moment, the one where we'd all remember where we were when we heard the news or first saw the footage. They were skeptical.

This is weirdly what I remember most about the challenger explosion. I was 10, and our class was watching it live on a TV in the hallway. I don't know why in the hallway, but maybe it was because they didn't have enough to for each class? I think I was too far away to see well , and didn't understand what was happening until the teachers explained. We had several teachers and the principal explain it to us. And they all said we'd remember it like they did the Kennedy assassination. Same thing was said by my family, and neighbors.

If I remember anything about that day, it was this sentiment repeated over and over. I remember that much more than anything else about the disaster.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 9:03 PM on January 19, 2014

I think we must have had a snow day or a delay, because I watched it at home, and then had to endure days and days of rebroadcasts, in school and on the news at home.

I used to get up early to watch shuttle launches, when almost no other force on Earth could get me out of bed early, and this one was just... I was soured on the whole experience after that.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 9:50 PM on January 19, 2014

me, here, 2006.

I was 18, on a break from college. I believe the rest of my punk rock house gathered in the TV area watching endless loops and smoking out.
posted by mwhybark at 10:50 PM on January 19, 2014

(I spent February 1, 2003 here, with some of you.)
posted by mwhybark at 10:53 PM on January 19, 2014

First year university; I was home studying for an exam all morning and didn't arrive at campus until early afternoon (Tuesdays I had no classes until 2:30). I walked into the student centre and passed the Blue Room, a student lounge so called because its floor (and the series of risers in place of seating) were carpeted with this navy blue broadloom. There was a TV mounted on the wall in there and early afternoon you might usually find three or four people watching a soap opera or a game show. That day there were maybe a hundred people crowded into the room, all eyes fixed on the CNN coverage.

I didn't make it to class that day.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:16 AM on January 20, 2014

No, though it wasn't the explosion that killed them.

For me, reading the NTSB report on the Pan Am crash was the worse. Astronauts are trained and known of a dangerous mission and possibilities. The passengers of Lockerbie's crash expected a nice holiday travel. They were conscious on their way down.

And I believe TWA over NY was as well.
posted by stormpooper at 8:53 AM on January 21, 2014

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