"No! No! No! They don't mean the shuttle! They don't mean the shuttle!"​
January 28, 2016 1:13 PM   Subscribe

 
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posted by brundlefly at 1:19 PM on January 28, 2016 [10 favorites]


I think I've told this story before... I watched the shuttle blow up live on TV while home from school for lunch. The kids who stayed at school all watched it in the gym.

My then teacher, I found out years later, still felt guilty.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:26 PM on January 28, 2016 [5 favorites]


Kingsport TN had snow that day so I was home when the phone rang and it was my friend yelling to turn on the TV because the space shuttle blew up.
posted by josher71 at 1:28 PM on January 28, 2016


I have a vague memory of this happening but I was too young to be one of the school kids who watched it live. I don't think I really understood it until later. My mother was a school teacher and she went on to start a chapter of the Young Astronauts Council* named after the Challenger.

*Is that still a thing? Their site is down.
posted by brundlefly at 1:31 PM on January 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


My parents insist I saw this live, but I was too young to remember it.

What gets me now, as an adult, is how thoroughly avoidable this disaster was. Those astronauts died for no good reason, and the guy who tried to prevent it had his career ruined forever. Just a tragedy all around.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:39 PM on January 28, 2016 [13 favorites]


I simultaneously want to read and avoid this piece. My first reaction (which will give away precisely how old I am) was no, it's too soon! Twenty years and it still feels like yesterday.... NPR has been running an audio-collage ad highlighting the major news stories they've covered, and right in the beginning is the clip "Challenger, go at throttle up". It stops my heart every single time.

Reading will win, as it always does. Thank you for this, brundlefly.

* * * * * * *
posted by Westringia F. at 1:39 PM on January 28, 2016 [6 favorites]


This is one of those rare events for which I also remember where I was when I heard. I was leaving law school when someone ran out to tell me and the classmate with me. I couldn't believe the footage when I saw it, which was as soon as we could get to a television. It had been so wonderful to see them all filing toward the spacecraft, especially Christa McAuliffe, who always seemed to be beaming joy.

My dad, who had been a Navy flight surgeon, told me later that he watched the launch and knew immediately the craft had blown up, well before the announcers caught on. He said seeing that made him sick with horror.
posted by bearwife at 1:40 PM on January 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


Thirty years, I mean. Jesus.
posted by Westringia F. at 1:40 PM on January 28, 2016 [15 favorites]


I was in Mrs. Lowry's 8th grade English class, with my head on my desk drifting off to sleep. Someone came in (I don't remember who) and the teacher turned on the TV, just in time to see the famous plumes of smoke. Later, we were all herded to the library to watch the coverage.

I suspect my memory of the event is pretty average for folks my age.
posted by slogger at 1:41 PM on January 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


I was in kindergarten. I guess for a lot of us in our mid-30s, the Challenger disaster was our first national tragedy. Thanks for posting this; I was especially interested in Dan Rather's observation that "this event set a precedent for coverage going forward in which the video was so spectacular, so tragedy-laden, that we repeated it over and over again. " I guess that must be true, but for those of us who were five, that sort of coverage is all we have ever known.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:45 PM on January 28, 2016 [17 favorites]


Trivia: The Shuttle didn't explode in the conventional sense. A solid rocket booster partially separated from the stack after that damn o-ring allowed flames to burn through its lower attachment to the External tank. So it bucked around, and that threw off the aerodynamic profile of the entire stack. Everything basically came apart because they were being subject to extreme forces they weren't designed to experience.

The crew cabin survived that breakup at nine mines, continued coasting upward until 12 miles and then gravity did its thing and tore the cabin back down to the ocean. Some of the astronauts were probably conscious and aware all the way down.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:46 PM on January 28, 2016 [31 favorites]


Every time I, an unreconstructed space junkie, watched a Shuttle launch after 1986, I held my breath at the "Max Q" and "Throttle Up" calls.
posted by vibrotronica at 1:46 PM on January 28, 2016 [7 favorites]


I suspect my memory of the event is pretty average for folks my age.

I was in eighth grade as well. My mom called into the school to make sure I got to see it, she was going to come get me but instead they wheeled in the tiny tv my Catholic school had.

I have a vivid memory of the class bully saying "Yeah! They're dead!" like it was cool or something.
posted by waitingtoderail at 1:47 PM on January 28, 2016


A friend has the USPS first day cover of the launch, bought on the day. One feels faintly ghoulish looking at it.
posted by scruss at 1:48 PM on January 28, 2016


Pretty sure I was home from school for lunch and found out when the cartoons I usually watched were preempted by news coverage of the disaster.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:48 PM on January 28, 2016


I was in Kindergarten. I remember watching the launch on TV during nap-time until someone turned the TV off before I knew what was going on. I don't even think the explosion had happened yet by that point.
posted by SansPoint at 1:50 PM on January 28, 2016


I was in some enrichment class, and one of us came in and broke the news. We were all pretty calm and rational, and had a lengthy discussion about it while playing floor hockey with mini sticks. We had sorted all of NASA's problems out by ourselves by the time some other teacher collected our class to watch the tv on a cart in the library. Kids were in there crying or dumbfounded, and we were all "Don't worry, we've got the future of the space program figured out."
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:50 PM on January 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


I was in kindergarten. The whole class - the whole school, probably - watched it live. I can't watch any video of it, as it makes me cry almost immediately.
posted by minsies at 1:52 PM on January 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


I was especially interested in Dan Rather's observation that "this event set a precedent for coverage going forward in which the video was so spectacular, so tragedy-laden, that we repeated it over and over again. " I guess that must be true, but for those of us who were five, that sort of coverage is all we have ever known.

I think this really got started in earnest with the Reagan assassination attempt a few years earlier. I can recall seeing that footage over and over again, and it was memorably spoofed when SNL did their coverage of the "Death Of Buckwheat".
posted by briank at 1:52 PM on January 28, 2016 [10 favorites]


I was at school (Catholic high school in LA) and somebody came up to a group of us between classes and said, "The space shuttle blew up". We thought he was kidding at first. Later, during lunch, they turned on the TV down in the basement chemistry lab and a bunch of us just sat in silence and watched that explosion over and over.
posted by The Tensor at 1:52 PM on January 28, 2016


I predicted it. I was 13. At breakfast, watching the Today Show pre-game, I told my brother through a mouthful of Honey Nut Cheerios it was gonna blow up. I don't remember what made me think it but I just knew.

I was not happy to be right.

I wonder how many people predicted it along with me? Like, I don't think I was having a psychic episode, I just idly thought it was gonna blow. 1 in 1000? In 10000? That's still a ton of people.
posted by dirtdirt at 1:53 PM on January 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


The door of my fifth-grade classroom opens, and in walks Mr. McFadd, the principal. He walks over to my teacher, Mrs. Vigeon, whispers something to her, and they both disappear through a door to an adjacent (empty) classroom. A few moments later, they return. Mrs. Vigeon is sobbing uncontrollably. Mr. McFadd leaves the room. Mrs. Vigeon addresses the class through her tears: "Everyone, something very sad has happened. The Space Shuttle blew up." She turns on the classroom's miserable, ancient TV; there is audio, but the picture is almost entirely that analog static we used to call 'snow'. "This god damned machine," Mrs. Vigeon says as she fiddles with the antenna; it is shocking to hear her curse. I think of my grandfather, a state finalist for the teacher-in-space program, and I am glad he is safe on the ground. Mrs. Vigeon gives several of us (the space geeks) a pass to the school's 'media center' where there is cable television. We watch network news replay the explosion over and over. "Challenger, go with throttle-up." Boom. On the playground a few days later, one of the boys tells a joke about dead astronauts.
posted by /\/\/\/ at 1:55 PM on January 28, 2016 [25 favorites]


I think this was one of the first 'flashbulb' collective societal memories that I was actively aware of. I knew what had happened, had lots of questions and paid attention to the news for more than thirty seconds as a result of it.

I can also recall the Punky Brewster episode 'Accidents Happens' that tackled this issue.
Penelope 'Punky' Brewster: [voiceover as she writes in her diary] I still feel bad about the shuttle, but I'm going to be an astronaut, no matter how scary it might be. Henry says you've got to take risks when you're doing something that nobody's ever done before. And here's something I realized all by myself, 'if' is a word smack in the middle of 'life', isn't that deeeep?
. . . . . . .
posted by Fizz at 1:59 PM on January 28, 2016 [8 favorites]


I live around the corner from a Christa McAuliffe Elementary School. I think it's one of a few dozen schools across the U.S. with that name.

In the same city, in the same school district, there's also the Samantha Smith Elementary School. Someone in the district doesn't have a sense of irony, I suppose. But there's also schools in the district named Rachel Carson, Margaret Mead, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Blackwell. I like it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:59 PM on January 28, 2016 [5 favorites]


For those who haven't read it yet, it might be wise to have some tissues on hand for before you read the oral history.
posted by corb at 2:01 PM on January 28, 2016 [5 favorites]


January 26, 1986 I bought the Sunday newspaper and put it as the last item in a 5-gallon bucket/time capsule, drove into the woods, and buried it. Reporting on the shuttle mission filled the front page and more. It was only the 25th shuttle flight, and at that time every mission was reported on and watched broadly, and this mission even moreso due to the first non-government civilian aboard.

Two days later I was driving cross-country to my first job, which spared me from the devastation of watching live.

.......
posted by achrise at 2:02 PM on January 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


I know i was the cold that did it, the brittle O-rings, but for the life of me I cannot remember the cold from that morning, and I saw it live, from the High School directly across from the launch pads, in Titusville, Fla.

We were in History class and heard the rumble so we paused class to step outside and watch the rest of the launch—since it was quite high by the time the sound reached us—and we all watched the explosion happen in real time, no cameras between us and it. I can recall so much from that day—the immediate knowledge something was dreadfully wrong because by then you knew the drill, knew the boosters shouldn't veer off like that, can recall how clear and sunny it was, and the eerie silence in school the rest of the day since it was filled with NASA engineer kids…but I've never remembered the cold; that part's just edited out of my memory. So odd.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 2:03 PM on January 28, 2016 [55 favorites]


I was the manager of a club with large (10'x15') projection screens. We had the launch up on all of them as we went about the business of getting ready for opening. I stood there, mouth agape in the middle of the dance floor, and watched the pieces fall into the ocean...
posted by jim in austin at 2:06 PM on January 28, 2016


Thirty years, I mean. Jesus.

And here we were, talking about it on the 15th anniversary.

And on the 17th.

And the 20th.

And the 25th.

And also here and here.

Which is totally fine, it needs to be remembered forever. I was a Concord High School student at the time, and I sure won't forget it.
posted by schoolgirl report at 2:06 PM on January 28, 2016 [18 favorites]


God I remember that day. I would have been in 5th grade. I grew up just outside of Orlando and remember walking to school that day thinking it was bitingly cold. Like seriously, the sky was bright ice crystal blue and everything felt sharp. I was outside of class at the time and walking to the office. I stopped to watch the launch and the shuttle track went up between the two wings of the school. I knew something was wrong when there was that puff and those two snaking tracks. I walked into the office and said "I think the shuttle blew up" and was told not to say such awful things by one of the secretaries. I also remember my grandparents - staunch New Englanders and long time New Hampshirites - were so proud that someone they knew tangentially was on the shuttle.

Like a lot of others in this thread - yeah, this was the first national tragedy that I lived through as a touchstone. It was the first time I could think of something negative in my mind with NASA.
posted by drewbage1847 at 2:07 PM on January 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


I've read a fair amount about the Challenger disaster and I hadn't encountered Donald Kutyna's anecdote about getting the O-ring tolerances document from Sally Ride before. That's an interesting detail.

Thinking about Challenger just leaves me so sad.
posted by Wretch729 at 2:07 PM on January 28, 2016 [8 favorites]


Eighth grade, English class. The principal came over the PA and said something like "As you know, today was the launch of the 25th shuttle mission-"

And one of my friends, being a 14-year-old guy, making the same assumption everyone else was - even though our principal never made announcements about normal news stuff, basically the PA was only used for fire drills - sighed loudly and muttered "who cares?"

I don't remember the wording of the rest of the announcement, just everyone going very still and quiet, and the PA cutting off, and then our science teacher in the classroom next door (who had put in an application just like every other science teacher under 35 in the country, and who was not a favorite teacher and also kind of a drama queen) came out of her classroom to run down the hall crying. It was a huge deal at my middle school, teachers weren't allowed to leave the classroom ever for anything, I once had a pregnant teacher puke in a trash can rather than leave, but our English teacher (who was super cool) told us to behave and went out after her.

We ended up going across the hall to the computer science classroom, the only one that had TVs. We stayed there watching the news until the bell rang, and then we went to lunch.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:09 PM on January 28, 2016 [4 favorites]


Like most kids alive then, I watched this live with a classroom of other children.

Then it just blew the fuck up, and the teacher couldn't stop crying.
posted by four panels at 2:09 PM on January 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


When I was young both of my parents were programmers for NASA. I saw the later Apollo launches (starting with 13? 14?) close-up. I was there for the first shuttle launch. I identified as closely with the space program as many kids do with their favorite sports team. Even after I moved away from the area and started my own life and career in a different city, I still kept up with the progress of each launch.

I was late to the office that day; when I walked in someone said "The shuttle blew up!". I said "ha ha, very funny", but when I realized they weren't kidding it felt like my heart and stomach dropped through the floor.

Didn't stop me from eventually repeating all the macabre jokes later on, though. But I was sorry all over again when we found out year later that, instead of dying instantly, the astronauts were most likely still alive for that long fall to their doom. I don't tell those jokes anymore.
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:11 PM on January 28, 2016 [6 favorites]


Maybe an interesting addition to my story: The next launch was in September 1988. I had a job that involved digitizing and visually-enhancing non-destructive-testing X-ray films. We had a relationship with Morton-Thiokol (manufacturer of the SRBs), and had our equipment at at trade show in Seattle and one of their guys came with an armload of films of the o-rings that were in the boosters sitting on the launch pad. After the show hours, we went through the films of every inch of every o-ring on that mission. Needless to say the pressure was kind of high. (They also supplied the brake shoes and we looked at all of those too.)
posted by achrise at 2:26 PM on January 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


Here's the comment I put up on the 20th anniversary.

I don't think I have too much to add. Other than it's weird to be listening to a podcast then the voice of your dead homeroom teacher comes on suddenly. Jarring.
posted by lumpenprole at 2:35 PM on January 28, 2016 [13 favorites]


I've said enough about STS-51-L, and I am feeling very old today.
posted by eriko at 2:39 PM on January 28, 2016 [6 favorites]


I was in 9th grade and did not see it, but my brother was home watching TV after having a tooth pulled, and he started yelling, and my mother thought he must be bleeding to death.
posted by 4ster at 2:47 PM on January 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


> My dad, who had been a Navy flight surgeon, told me later that he watched the launch and knew immediately the craft had blown up, well before the announcers caught on. He said seeing that made him sick with horror.

The man in mission control who continued to calmly and professionally report the telemetry for a few moments after the sickening reality was already apparent to those watching (eg) is interviewed in the article. It's chilling:
Dick Covey (astronaut who, as capsule communicator, or capcom, for Challenger, was the sole voice of communication to the crew from Mission Control): We had been disciplined to watch our data, not to get distracted by watching whatever video might be running in the control center. So I'm watching my data, and there's nothing unusual through the throttle up. The engine guys confirm that the engines look good, so I make a call: "Go at throttle up." Dick [Scobee] responded. And then I'm starting to think about what's the next thing that's coming, if we're going to make a call or whatever, and the data just went all M's, which is "missing."
posted by Westringia F. at 2:48 PM on January 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


NASA has a full vidio up on youtube. It's all countdown to about the 7:20 mark. The audio is NASA guys with very clinical report of the explosion. No cursing, no nothing. Pretty spooky.
posted by bukvich at 2:50 PM on January 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


Space exploration had been a dream of mine, not personally, but as a concept since I was an infant. I have a photograph of myself at 18 months old on the couch next to a newspaper with the gigantic heading about Armstrong's moonwalk.

Senior year of high school. I had no first or second period class, and had taken to watching things like shuttle launches live on television before I went to school. Because space! Dream! Amazing! Saw this happen, went to school.

Walked into the front office and talked to the principal (who had the last name of Noe, and who had gotten a doctorate during my high school years, so he was actually Dr. Noe), and he didn't believe me. I wasn't surprised he didn't believe me -- me and my cohort had spent years playing jokes on him of various sorts.

I made him come with me to the library A/V lab (the only place in school that had cable television), and found some coverage of the event. When he saw the famous forked smoke trails and heard the voice over of the official launch announcer, he finally believed me.

I might be the only person in my entire high school class of over 600 who saw this happen live. My church youth group had an adult sponsor who worked in aerospace research at the missile range close to town, and within a few weeks he handed me an industry insider magazine that outlined everything about the frozen o-rings that was much much later given to the public as the cause. Again, I felt like I was somehow the first to know things about this tragedy.

It was a strange time. It changed how everyone my age and younger viewed space and space travel. We hadn't been back to the moon since I was, like, 7 or 8 years old, but with the shuttle program, it felt like we were starting to take steps (not giant leaps) once again.

But after the Challenger disaster, the steps felt smaller, and the dreams started to fade. I keep hoping the dreams will start again, but other than sending robot friends out to explore, it doesn't seem like they will in my lifetime. (I do admit, the landing of Curiosity on Mars was one of the most thrilling moments in space exploration ever -- so much to go wrong, so much entirely went right.)

30 years is a long time to have those dreams fade. There are kids born after that date who have kids of their own now. I hope someday, somehow, the dreams will start again.
posted by hippybear at 2:55 PM on January 28, 2016 [35 favorites]


I work in human spaceflight. We had an all company meeting this morning to discuss the past year's performance. About halfway through the meeting, the discussion turned to Challenger, followed by video of the accident and a moment of silence. When I glanced around the room, there were a lot of tears. A man sitting in front of me was openly crying. Many of my coworkers started their careers in spaceflight just a few years prior to the Challenger accident - I can't imagine what must have been going through their heads at the time and I hope to never share in their experience.
posted by jal0021 at 3:06 PM on January 28, 2016 [22 favorites]


It was only 29 years from Sputnik to Challenger. The explosion changed everything.
posted by miyabo at 3:17 PM on January 28, 2016 [8 favorites]


I don't have much to add to this. I definitely didn't see it live, and I don't even have the false memories of it that many people report. I have a vivid memory of imagining the frozen O-rings, later on, but I can't remember if they'd been explained to me by my parents or the radio. I was very young.

I've found myself frequently rewatching the 2013 TV drama The Challenger Disaster based on Richard Feynman's account of his experiences on the inquiry commission. It's quite good, if you're interested in that sort of thing.

If you were to search for that title on Youtube, you might come across a 1 1/2 hour video you might be interested in.
posted by figurant at 3:18 PM on January 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


I was sitting in the cafeteria at my college and they were showing the broadcast live. I was a freshman and didn't have a TV in my dorm, so it was just a stroke of luck (?) that I happened to be by a TV at that moment. We were watching it and I was talking about how my parents and I watched all of the launches so I was excited to be able to watch this one. I figured I'd talk with them about it later.

When it happened, I remember muttering something about how this was "our" Kennedy assassination. I stumbled out of the cafeteria back to my dorm and was pretty messed up for the rest of the week.

I, like many of you, got messed up again reading the oral history. Its really good, but you can tell there's still a lot of raw emotion behind everyone's words. The thing that wiped me out was George HW Bush's simple:
"At age ninety-one, my memory is not what it used to be. I am beginning to think I have now forgotten more than I ever knew to begin with. But like all Americans who are of a certain age, I remember the day the Challenger blew up."
I get it. This is one of only a handful of things that I think will stay with me to my grave.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:19 PM on January 28, 2016 [5 favorites]


Somewhere, at my old house amongst whatever stuff I have in storage from my childhood, I have a cassette tape. I used to be in the habit of listening to John DeBella and the Morning Zoo until it was time to go to school, then putting a blank tape in to record an extra 45 minutes to hear when I got home.

This particular tape has Mark the Shark, the sidekick, doing the news and saying "...the Challenger shuttle and the Teacher in Space project are set to blast off in about an hour." It was too macabre after the fact for me to tape over.
posted by delfin at 3:23 PM on January 28, 2016


I'm Australian, so just the time difference (and the fact that it was a US launch) would have meant I would never have been able to watch it take off, but I have no recollection of this happening at all when I was a child. Years later, I heard about the Challenger disaster, and wondered how something so huge had occurred that I wasn't even aware of.

The only thing I can think of to account for my lack of knowledge at the time is that my parents completely sheltered me from it. (Much easier to do in those days, you just turned the tv off.) I can't even imagine how this has shaped everyone involved, particularly the families and schoolchildren.
posted by Jubey at 3:23 PM on January 28, 2016


This reminded of another day but in the 21st century. I was out and about and noticed the flag on a monument wasn't up properly. After a while, a neuron kicked in and said "wait a minute... look for another flag...", so I looked around, and found another building with a flag, and it wasn't up properly either... meaning that they were intentionally at half-mast. And another. And another. The only time I had seen flags at half-mast everywhere like this had been the 9/11 attacks. So either something really bad had happened, or something really bad was happening. And I didn't have a news source anywhere around me, so for the next hour or so, I just felt this ominous not-knowing - seeing a shadow hanging over everything but not knowing what was casting it.
That was the space shuttle Colombia disaster. :(
posted by anonymisc at 3:40 PM on January 28, 2016 [13 favorites]


It's troubling to read in the article that the deaths of the Columbia crew happened because NASA (or whoever) wasn't able to implement the mistakes learned from the Challenger.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:43 PM on January 28, 2016 [4 favorites]


It was a strange time. It changed how everyone my age and younger viewed space and space travel. We hadn't been back to the moon since I was, like, 7 or 8 years old, but with the shuttle program, it felt like we were starting to take steps (not giant leaps) once again.

But after the Challenger disaster, the steps felt smaller, and the dreams started to fade. I keep hoping the dreams will start again, but other than sending robot friends out to explore, it doesn't seem like they will in my lifetime. (I do admit, the landing of Curiosity on Mars was one of the most thrilling moments in space exploration ever -- so much to go wrong, so much entirely went right.)

30 years is a long time to have those dreams fade. There are kids born after that date who have kids of their own now. I hope someday, somehow, the dreams will start again.


Oof. Tell me about it.

The day of the Challenger disaster, I would have been 10 years old, and I ran home from my elementary school for lunch (our house was walking distance from my school), and there was normally a noon-hour cartoon (EST) on a local network affiliate I would watch while I ate lunch. They broke in with the news a few minutes in to report that the Challenger had "crashed." Then they showed the footage of the explosion.

I remember going back to school pretty stunned.

A little later, my dad would buy me a copy of Discover magazine that analyzed the cause of the explosion. I distinctly remember this artist's rendering of the last moments of Challenger. Try as I might, I can't find the cover of the issue - that image may have been on it, but it was definitely somewhere in that issue. I've also read some comments about it that say the initial coverage Discover had wasn't quite accurate in terms of the cause, but it was early going in the investigation, I gather. Some discussion about that Discover issue here. It just occurred to me that it was my dad's attempt to help me understand what happened with figures and facts. So, thanks, dad.

I watched the first launch of the Columbia live with my mom when I was six, and I distinctly remember it.

After that point, I was pretty fascinated with the shuttle program. My parents had a National Geographic subscription, and I remember poring over this issue, Vol. 160, No. 4, October 1981. Later, I would build a scale model of the Enterprise.

In 2003, I was at the gym, and there was this "Breaking news" footage on the TVs of things dropping out of the sky. I stopped and looked - it was the Columbia breaking up on reentry.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 4:03 PM on January 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


That's a hell of an article, and I couldn't read it straight through. The only good thing was that I realized that Chuck Yeager is still alive.

I could never hear "go with throttle up" again without holding my breath till there was a response.

I'm in Little Tokyo every weekend and when I pass the Onizuka/Challenger memorial, I think of them all. I saw on Twitter that flowers were placed at the memorial today.
posted by mogget at 4:08 PM on January 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


I was at home, sick with the flu, and eagerly watched the whole thing unfold. I remember yelling at the TV when a reporter was saying something like "There appears to be a malfunction," or something like that. The thing just blew up, you idiot! That was no malfunction, they're all dead!

It was awful.
posted by Chuffy at 4:09 PM on January 28, 2016


mandolin conspiracy: I distinctly remember this artist's rendering of the last moments of Challenger. Try as I might, I can't find the cover of the issue - that image may have been on it, but it was definitely somewhere in that issue.

It seems that that painting was the middle of a series of paintings. You can see the rest of them here.
posted by brundlefly at 4:10 PM on January 28, 2016 [8 favorites]


The Teacher in Space Project (TISP) was one of Reagan's flashier and more cynical election promises during the 1984 Presidential campaign, and the glorious fulfillment of that promise with the inclusion of teacher Christa McAuliffe among the crew of the Challenger was meant to be the emotional high point of Reagan's 1986 State of the Union Address, originally scheduled for that night of Jan. 28.

I doubt concern over a cold-stiffened O-ring ever had much of a chance of derailing that particular launch.
posted by jamjam at 4:14 PM on January 28, 2016 [9 favorites]


In his book Visual Explanations, Edward Tufte makes a convincing argument that the Morton Thiokol engineers, who recommended against the launch because of the cold weather, had the evidence to show that launching at that temperature was risky, but didn't visually present the information clearly. Tufte's visual redesign of the information shows a clear correlation between cold temperatures and O-ring problems, and that the launch temperatures expected for the morning of the launch were so much lower than the lowest previous launch temperatures that the launch would be too risky.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:18 PM on January 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


In this essay one (or more?) of the engineers who recommended against the launch makes a case against Tufte's argument.
posted by glhaynes at 4:25 PM on January 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


I was in elementary school. We didn't watch the launch in class. I recall one kid went home for lunch. He returned and told us the Space Shuttle blew up. We thought he was lying.

I went to Space Camp a couple years later. Each team of kids were named according to Shuttle contractors. We made wise cracks at the Morton Thiokol team. In poor taste, but hey I was 14.
posted by Fleebnork at 4:26 PM on January 28, 2016


I was okay until
Scobee Rodgers: After we were back home we could not turn our TV on without seeing it. We'd go to the grocery store and see the front page of newspapers, magazines—everything was a reminder. I'll never forget the first time I went to the grocery store. In my mind I wasn't a widow yet. I was still Dick Scobee's wife. He loved peanut butter, and I went over and picked up a jar of peanut butter like I always did. And I sat down in the store and cried, because I didn't have anyone to take that peanut butter home to. There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about him.
posted by Zephyrial at 4:33 PM on January 28, 2016 [30 favorites]


I found out from John Craven (at least that's how I remember it). Wow, how great was it that there was a tv news show for kids?
posted by Elmore at 4:36 PM on January 28, 2016


I wasn't watching it; I was at work. But one of our new salesmen was, and I think I was the first person he told. I ran into him and he looked at me with eyes like he had seen a ghost and he just said, kindof vacantly, "The Space Shuttle blew up." And it was such a strange thing to hear I said something like "What, really?" and he just said it again, "The Space Shuttle blew up." That was when I found a radio and tuned in to listen.

I have been working for the same company for more than 30 years and I have found out about Challenger, 9/11, and Columbia all while at work. I was even at work for Columbia on Saturday because I was out of town doing an installation. Maybe I shouldn't go to work so often.
posted by Bringer Tom at 4:37 PM on January 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


President Reagan delivered a nationally televised address from the Oval Office at 5:00 p.m. . . . included the invocation of a sonnet by early twentieth-century British-American poet and aviator John Gillespie Magee, Jr. "We will never forget them," Reagan said, "nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God."

I was seeping a little bit but this is where I lost it. I remember coming home from school and crying, thinking that the Challenger meant that we weren't going to go into space ever again. But the most vivid memory of the event is my grandfather crying. It was the first time I'd ever seen a man cry, let alone my grandfather, and somehow that was even worse than the explosion itself. My granddad was just the right age that if he had the ability to choose a different path he could have been an astronaut, but he didn't even have a high school diploma. The oldest of 8 kids, he had to drop out of school to support his brothers and sisters. He had been a cowboy and a coal miner his whole life. But he loved space, he loved the space program - he subscribed to all these space/aviation oriented magazines - and he loved space movies. He talked about astronauts all the time; I think in his secret dreams he would have been an astronaut had he been able. One of his most regretted dreams was that he never had the money to go see a shuttle launch. Granddad was in his 50s at the time of Challenger but he was so excited about there being a teacher on board because of what she represented as an "ordinary" person going into space. So he cried for days and days about the Challenger.

But what I really remember is the local paper had an editorial cartoon about it, with some kind of hand of God or heavenly scene springing from the shuttle, I don't remember quite what, but it had scrawled on it the quote "slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God." Granddad cut that out and framed it - it hung in their kitchen for years.

When my grandfather died, they discovered that he had bought another paper, cut out that cartoon, and carried it in his wallet for almost ten years. It was worn to shreds - he must have unfolded it hundreds of times. And to this day, picturing him unfolding that cartoon, looking at it, and sticking it back into his wallet makes me want to cry. It's so symbolic of how the dreams of others can inspire us, how the dreams of others can have meaning, how we can share that together. But what makes me weep is how it's also so very symbolic of the tragedy of dreams unrealized - and how we can share that together too.
posted by barchan at 4:51 PM on January 28, 2016 [118 favorites]


NASA Day of Remembrance

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..

...

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.

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.......

.......

And * for all lost en route to the stars.
posted by metaquarry at 4:53 PM on January 28, 2016 [5 favorites]


Okay barchan, now I'm crying again. But thank you for sharing that.
posted by corb at 5:06 PM on January 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


Thanks for posting this and thanks to everyone who shared their memories.
posted by A Bad Catholic at 5:15 PM on January 28, 2016


I keep hoping the dreams will start again, but other than sending robot friends out to explore, it doesn't seem like they will in my lifetime.

The dreams have already started again. That's part of why Space-X landing their booster the other week was such a big deal to so many people - they're aiming to get people to Mars on a jaw-droppingly ambitious timetable (almost certainly within your lifetime if they manage something approaching their (admittedly eyebrow-raising) aims and you're not a habitual smoker... :) ), and achieving re-useable boosters is one of the critical steps needed to get enough infrastructure into space to get people to Mars.
posted by anonymisc at 5:16 PM on January 28, 2016 [5 favorites]


My aunt was on the team that trained the astronauts for this mission. I asked her about it years after the fact and all she would tell me is that she and her colleagues watched the explosion on TV in conference room. I've never been able to get her to say anything more.
posted by bendy at 5:34 PM on January 28, 2016 [5 favorites]


the local paper had an editorial cartoon about it, with some kind of hand of God or heavenly scene springing from the shuttle, I don't remember quite what, but it had scrawled on it the quote "slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God."

I remember this cartoon or one like it too. That quote is really moving.
posted by bendy at 5:35 PM on January 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


I was driving to work in the Valley, north on the 405. I must have just passed Mulholland, because I remember hearing the news on the radio and seeing the Valley spread out ahead of me. This was right around the time I hit rock bottom with my drug use. Much of that time period is fuzzy, but not fuzzy enough to obscure this memory.

barchan, I flagged your comment as fantastic. I've noticed that a lot of great comments lately end with "posted by barchan."
posted by Room 641-A at 5:42 PM on January 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


*blushes, kicks ground* Aw, thanks, Room 641-A; I'm also lucky to have some neat people in my life too.
posted by barchan at 5:48 PM on January 28, 2016


I was working in the VTR department of a TV station that day, we were recording the CBS live feed for use later in the news. Just as the launch began, a reporter friend of mine happened to pass through the area and we all stopped to watch. As soon as it exploded, the room went quite except for the high pitched whine of the 2" VTR machines and the audio from CBS.

In the silence my friend said "I bet they've got good pictures", and headed up to the newsroom.
posted by Zedcaster at 5:55 PM on January 28, 2016


30 years. Time sure does pass. I was living in Orlando Florida at the time and we had all gathered out on the balcony to watch. I recall a picture-perfect blue sky and a line of white cloud that split. Unnaturally.
posted by pipoquinha at 6:19 PM on January 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


> I remember yelling at the TV when a reporter was saying something like "There appears to be a malfunction," or something like that. The thing just blew up, you idiot! That was no malfunction, they're all dead!

That was Steve Nesbitt, the NASA public affairs officer at Mission Control whose job it was to narrate the launch for the media, LISATS, and radio WMMB & 442.6 MHz. Nesbitt is interviewed in the article, and he talks about about this exact thing:
Nesbitt: I kind of paused to gather my thoughts, hoping to hear something on the flight director loop. There was nothing for several seconds, and I felt an urgent need to say something, to plant a flag here that acknowledges something terrible or unusual has happened. But I didn't actually know what was going on. I didn't want to say, "The spacecraft has exploded," because I didn't know that for sure. I wanted to be correct. So I said, "Flight controllers looking very carefully at the situation. Obviously a major malfunction." Some people criticized my delivery, criticized that as being an understatement when clearly the crew had just died. But in those immediate seconds right afterward, that information was not available, and my own sense of professionalism would not let me make that kind of statement, that the crew was lost, without having that confirmed.
I have no idea what I would have done in Nesbitt's place. No idea.
posted by Westringia F. at 6:23 PM on January 28, 2016 [20 favorites]


My father was one of the teachers nominated to go on that mission, but a heart condition stopped his possibility in the first round of cuts. He also died in 1986, not that much later than McAuliffe. I can't help but wonder if he'd rather have gone in a mission for science (he was a science teacher) than a few months later due to a massive heart attack.
posted by xingcat at 6:33 PM on January 28, 2016 [7 favorites]


One of my earliest memories—perhaps the earliest memory I have—is of my mother coming in to my bedroom, sobbing, and telling me we needed to pray, right then, because something awful had happened. I was four years old, and I very clearly remember the texture of my pink afghan on my face as I smooshed my face into it while my mom prayed for the astronauts and their families through her tears.

Years later, when I was a senior in high school, my AP calculus teacher led our class through an exercise that involved—as he revealed at the end—working with the data set that showed O-ring failure as a function of temperature. The specifics of the exercise are lost to time (I went on to be an English major, and that math class ended up being the last one I took). I do know I left class that day in tears, horrified that we, as high schoolers, had seen what the "grownups in charge" had not.
posted by timestep at 6:42 PM on January 28, 2016 [11 favorites]


Imagine if instead of Christa McAuliffe it had been Big Bird.
posted by Bugbread at 6:48 PM on January 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


I was four as well, and at the grocery store with my mother when the grocery store made an announcement over the PA.

At the time, being so young, I thought "huh, I guess grocery stores have the news just like TV. That's weird." As an adult, I have often wondered whether that was the work of a particularly space-loving store manager, sharing his devastation as best he knew how.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 6:49 PM on January 28, 2016 [4 favorites]


...the Challenger was meant to be the emotional high point of Reagan's 1986 State of the Union Address... I doubt concern over a cold-stiffened O-ring ever had much of a chance of derailing that particular launch.
Call me cynic, but this seems perfectly plausible, and it would sure cast the whole "bonds of Earth" bit in a new light.

Is there any evidence of White House pressure in this matter?
posted by Western Infidels at 7:16 PM on January 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


I don't think it's been properly credited yet in this thread, but the "surly bonds of earth" line is from a poem found on many tombstones, and in fact on an award given to me by the Air Force when I was in high school.
Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds -
and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of -
wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence.
Hovering there I've chased the shouting wind along
and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long delirious burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,
where never lark, or even eagle, flew;
and, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
the high untrespassed sanctity of space,
put out my hand and touched the face of God.
-- High Flight by John Gillespie
posted by Bringer Tom at 7:39 PM on January 28, 2016 [10 favorites]


Is there any evidence of White House pressure in this matter?

Nothing legit that I've heard, but i doubt there would be anything really concrete. The pressure to launch would be obvious, especially with 15 flights planned for the year.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:59 PM on January 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


Great oral history of a preventable tragedy. I'm pleased to read yet another story confirming that Sally Ride was an all-around excellent person.
posted by sallybrown at 8:04 PM on January 28, 2016 [8 favorites]


Is there any evidence of White House pressure in this matter?

Feynman went into quite a bit of detail on this in one of his books. The conclusion was that no, there was no evidence of official pressure, but yeah they were in a super big hurry.
posted by miyabo at 8:21 PM on January 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


I posted in the 20 year memorial thread...I suppose if Sally Ride had been the one to publicly report about the effects of cold on rubber instead of Feynman she would have been vilified.
posted by brujita at 8:36 PM on January 28, 2016 [5 favorites]


I remember watching this live, before school (we were in Las Vegas). My older brother was a big space program fan.

I was 5; I remember just being very confused about what happened. It took a while to realize that what I just saw on TV was a tragedy.

And then we went to school. I don't remember much else about the day, except people were confused and sad. And it was shown on a lot of TVs throughout the day.

I was probably too young to fully realize what it all meant, but it was my first lesson in "the world is too often a confusing and complicated place."
posted by darksong at 8:38 PM on January 28, 2016


I was in seventh grade, and my science class watched the live launch on TV. Shortly after the explosion, the principal announced what had happened over the PA system. (There were only a few televisions available in the school, so not everyone got to watch live. My class and the other seventh grade honors class watched it together.)

I can't believe it's been thirty years. And this year it really struck me how young they all were. I'm older now than all of them except Dick Scobee were then.
posted by SisterHavana at 9:31 PM on January 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'm like you, SisterHavana: I can't believe it's been 30 years. And I, too, can't help but think that I am now older than Christa McAuliffe was. She was so young.

Just a couple of months ago I was listening to the Freakonomics podcast episode where they interview Allan McDonald, the Morton-Thiokol engineer who refused to sign off on permission for the shuttle launch, because he was worried about the flight conditions. All I could think about was, what must it be like to be him: to know you were right all along, and you could have prevented these people's deaths if those in charge had listened to you:

DUBNER: According to McDonald, his boss, back at Morton-Thiokol headquarters in Utah, got off the NASA conference call for about thirty minutes to talk about the situation with other Thiokol executives. When he got back on the line, McDonald says, the recommendation to postpone the launch had been reversed. McDonald was angry, but he had been overruled. The launch was back on. Now NASA requested that the “responsible Morton-Thiokol official” sign off on the decision to launch.

McDONALD: I knew who that responsible Thiokol official was. That was me, that was my job, that was my responsibility. That’s where I was at. I did the smartest thing I ever did in my entire lifetime – and that was I refused to sign the launch recommendation. As a result of that my boss had to sign it and send it down to me.

DUBNER: Which he did — by fax machine. As the engineers were waiting for the fax, McDonald spoke up again:

MCDONALD: So then I got more frustrated. I says, well let me tell you something. I certainly hope nothing happens tomorrow but if it does I’m not going to be the person to stand before a board of inquiry and explain why I gave you permission to fly these solid-rocket motors in a condition that I knew they were never qualified to do....

[the next morning, going to the launch site] Carrying my briefcase in one hand and my headset in the other. And it was like 22 degrees. And I saw all these icicles hanging all over the place – and I said to myself they obviously aren’t going to launch this thing today. And I was amazed they finally came on and said they were gonna send a team — an ice team out — to see if they could knock the ice down as much as possible to reduce the debris risk. And they did that. They ended up doing that actually twice before they finally went into internal count. and launched the Challenger.

[after the explosion] I was in shock, I said: it blew up. My heart sank just like everybody in that control room and I could hear people sobbing in the background.

posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:39 PM on January 28, 2016 [14 favorites]


Kids process and deal with bad shit in fucking weird ways. I can't remember if my first grade class watched the shuttle launch live or not, but I do remember that we watched coverage for what seemed like forever. At the end of the school day, the principal called for a moment of silence--the first time I'd ever heard that term.

My best friend at the time reminded me of what happened later that day, and the memories flowed easily, but it's like they were the memories of someone else. School was let out early after the moment of silence, and he came home with me because his parents were working and couldn't pick him up. We spent the afternoon playacting the launch, the explosion, and the media coverage. Obviously a major malfunction.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:39 PM on January 28, 2016


"Go at throttle up." Yo.
posted by rmmcclay at 4:35 AM on January 29, 2016


Was a childhood space buff, it happened at about 16:45 GMT I think, so I watched it happen while doing my homework in the west of Ireland. Still chokes me up.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 5:22 AM on January 29, 2016


i used to work in product management for a software company, where i was the "middle-man" between the developers on one side and the sales folk on the other.

and the sales folk would push for more and more in less and less time; and the developers would push back, asking for more time to do less and less, but to do it flawlessly.

and the sales folk would say - don't you know that we need this feature to sell the product, to make money, that will pay your salaries?
and the developers would say - don't you want to sell a good product that's as flawless as we can make it?

and i'd be in the middle, trying to find a compromise.
and I would understand the sales folk - we need to make money - that's how businesses survive and its employees get paid.

but then I would think about the Challenger disaster - about how if people listened to the engineers, and didn't push them to sign off on faulty equipment - we wouldn't be talking about this tragedy.

and ninety-nine times out of a hundred, i would side with the developers.
posted by bitteroldman at 6:14 AM on January 29, 2016 [6 favorites]


I was 12, in Mrs K-W's class, watching the launch through the huge windows of my sixth grade classroom. Being from New Smyrna Beach, a scant 30 minutes north of Cape Canaveral, made shuttle launches de rigeur; we might not have even paused to acknowledge the launch but for the fact that this one had Christa McAuliffe aboard. We had followed the entire situation closely because a local teacher had been in the running, as I remember. The class TV was tuned to the ABC coverage but everyone was glued to the windows. As we watched the shuttle rise into the sky, there was a puff of smoke that we knew was not normal. I remember looking worriedly at the student next to me, a fellow science geek named Kris, and the alarm on his face matched what must have been plastered across mine. We speculated for some moments, trying to comfort ourselves as the boosters spiraled through the sky. Peter Jennings was as shocked as we and no one wanted to acknowledge what had probably happened until word came down that the mission was lost. It was the first time I had really been faced with death, and I remember the rush of tangential subjects and concepts, like survivors, how long they had been alive, if they were in pain/knew what was happening, then the jokes. The jokes were terrible.
posted by dozo at 6:43 AM on January 29, 2016


I was in 1st grade, attending Neil Armstrong elementary school in Northern Virginia when this happened. I remember the TV that had been wheeled into our classroom--it was a big old CRT, much bigger than the one we had at home--perched on one of those black, metal-frame utility carts. I remember I was seated only two rows back from the TV, so I had a great view. My father was a private sector IT consultant for NASA at the time and was also a huge space nerd--and I was, too (as much as a first grader can be). I remember it was so cold that day. That's actually the clearest thing I remember, how cold it was, even in the classroom. The only thing I really remember from the moment things went wrong was something to the effect of "that's not how it's supposed to go," and then I remember being alarmed at how strange I thought our teachers were behaving (which, in retrospect they were clearly disturbed and upset and trying to keep it together in front a room full of concerned students).
posted by tehjoel at 6:43 AM on January 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


I was in second grade. My teacher started crying. That, at the time - seeing my teacher cry - was far more traumatizing than watching a space shuttle explode.
posted by Elly Vortex at 7:07 AM on January 29, 2016


It's interesting how different y'all's experiences were from mine. I was in 6th grade when it happened, and I don't think anyone at school watched the launch in class. All of a sudden between classes the word was being passed from one kid to another, "The Challenger blew up!" At first I just thought it was a random rumor, like one of those "Pass it on, the world's going to end on January 16 at 11:38" things, but enough people were talking about it that it became apparent that it really happened.

What I remember after that was that a few people were making jokes, and a lot of kids were like "That's not funny". And then there was an announcement that if anyone wanted to talk about it they could talk to their teachers or to the school counselor. And we were all like "what?" We realized that it was a Big Deal, but nobody felt emotionally tied to the event. I didn't see anyone crying or emotional, just really surprised, because things like that just don't happen. I kinda figured that was how all kids around that age were everywhere, so I am really surprised (not in a bad way, just surprised) that there were so many people with memories of getting really saddened or shaken up by it.
posted by Bugbread at 7:54 AM on January 29, 2016


30 years, wow. We've never recovered, really.

.
posted by RedOrGreen at 8:16 AM on January 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


Reading all these memories about the shared experience people had when they learned about the tragedy makes me think that my experience was so typical of LA: in my car, alone, and isolated from other humans. Kinda sad.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:27 AM on January 29, 2016


I've talked elsewhere about my father being an astrophysicist involved in various space exploration missions; he was very attuned to the danger involved in every launch and thought sending Christa McAuliffe up on a shuttle was a ridiculous stunt by that Hollywood idiot, Ronald Reagan. He thought the PR/inspirational benefits could be achieved without sacrificing the science that would have been conducted on that mission had she not been taking up a seat. After the Challenger tragedy, he was really worried that her death would shift public opinion about the space program. As the details emerged about the causes, he despaired. And he was furious.

My experience was weird. I was a young foundation professional heading to a very difficult "Come to Jesus" meeting with a grant recipient. My boss and I were listening to NPR en route; I think we heard it live, but my memory may be false on that point. In any case, we knew within minutes. When we arrived at the meeting--everyone was already assembled, probably planning their response to the coming bad news--it was obvious that no one in the room knew about Challenger. My boss passed me a note that said "Say nothing about the shuttle." And so we didn't because, as my boss later explained, we really needed this organization to step up its game and he didn't think they would hear us if distracted by the Challenger story.

But I was very distracted, in part because I knew my father would be agonizing about it and would probably have interesting inside information. The denial of feelings in the face of tragedy just seemed so cruel, such business bluster bullshit. Years later, on 9/11, a potential client insisted on holding a meeting that afternoon, even as all of the government offices were closing all over that city (Springfield, IL). At the time my brother, who was flying from Boston to LA that morning, could not be reached; it turned out his plane had never taken off and he spent much of the day sitting on the runway, but no one in my family knew his flight plan specifics and we were very worried. We consultants had all gone through heroic efforts to get to the interview as our flights were cancelled or diverted. During the interview, I told them about my brother and that I was going to take any call from my family. And then they asked how we would manage their project when we were all based in other cities, vs the local bunch competing for the job. My colleague snapped, "Well, we all got here today, didn't we?" It was downhill from there. I got the call that my brother was OK and some of them were visibly annoyed at the disruption, my relief, etc. On the way out, we all decided we didn't want to work for them. It didn't matter; they chose the locals.

TL;DR - Now that I'm older and wiser, I do not accept ignoring national tragedies in the name of business.
posted by carmicha at 9:42 AM on January 29, 2016 [12 favorites]


I was in junior high science. My science teacher from the year before came in with tears in his eyes and told us what happened. I was particularly struck for two reasons. First, that guy was a total dick, and something could make him cry. Second, we followed the development of the shuttle program closely as grade school kids. It was a big deal. Though we weren't watching the flight in that science class, they were watching it next door. I was aware that a flight was going up that morning. And that a teacher was on it. Awful.
posted by persona au gratin at 10:21 AM on January 29, 2016


I was just arriving to service some equipment at one of the Lockheed buildings in Burbank. I walked into a room with a group of somber faced people around a portable radio. After hearing the news I went back out to my car, sat in the driver's seat and wept for a solid half hour.
posted by Standeck at 10:36 AM on January 29, 2016


I was working 2nd shift, and turned on the TV to watch the launch (being a space nerd). I remember hot really grokking what had happened for what felt like 30 seconds or so.

I don't remember anything else about that day. I'm sure I went to work, but that's all I could say.
posted by lodurr at 11:58 AM on January 29, 2016


Not a mention in the article of Larry Mulloy?

If you believe his detractors, then his was one of the most damning quotes of the whole affair: "My God, Thiokol, when do you want me to launch, next April?", where he tries to pressure them into signing off on the below-freezing launch.

If you believe his own testimony, though, the context he gives spares his ethics but utterly damns his intelligence. He waived weather constraints on six shuttle missions because he thought, "...is it logical, is it truly logical that we really have a system that has to be 53 degrees to fly?" He knows what he wants, and he thinks that logic means that reality is required to assist him.
posted by roystgnr at 12:10 PM on January 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


I was in a junior high school math class when it was announced over the PA system. One jackass in the class jumped up and yelled "I did it!" to the utter fury of the teacher. A few kids laughed, but most were shocked and those of us who were science enthusiasts quickly understood what a terrible thing had happened. One of the other teachers was a friend of Christa McAuliffe, and she was totally devastated. I think her reaction brought the reality of it home for those who hadn't grasped the tragedy yet.
posted by homunculus at 5:53 PM on January 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


a convincing argument that the Morton Thiokol engineers, who recommended against the launch because of the cold weather, had the evidence to show that launching at that temperature was risky, but didn't visually present the information clearly.
There's always a way to make it the engineers' fault.
posted by vsync at 7:15 PM on January 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


There's always a way to make it the engineers' fault.

The frustratingly infuriating part of all this is that mission rules exist for a reason, one usually based in science and engineering. If the mission say that you shouldn't launch the billion dollar roman candle when its below X degrees and it's been a record cold night, then don't fucking launch. Because if you're in a position to the team that determines whether to launch, then you should know how easy it is for your complex as hell roman candle to go all sorts of sideways. Such as record cold temperatures.

One could weep for all the narrow-minded idiocy that creeps into human minds at exactly the wrong time.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:30 PM on January 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


One could weep for all the narrow-minded idiocy that creeps into human minds at exactly the wrong time.

Since the start of the shuttle program there's been a strong political/PR thread running through the history of the space program that's often been at odds with the engineers who generally know better. At the time I liked to think that the Challenger disaster gave some of the apparatchiks a wake-up call, but the Columbia fuckup 17 years later increased my cynicism by a significant degree.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:45 PM on January 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


When I was doing a master's in tech management, one Saturday my class went through a role-playing scenario based on Columbia's final mission to better understand what organizational and institutional forces had made the tragedy more likely. I recommend it.
posted by brainwane at 11:19 AM on February 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


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