Friday, January 27, 2006

Challenger: 20 years

Twenty years ago seven amazing people died when the space shuttle Challenger "exploded" (it didn't). James Oberg was a senior NASA insider at that time. He critiques some myths that have grown up around the tragedy.

I was not surprised by his critiques, in each case they matched what I remember reading during and after the investigation of the disaster. It's true that most commentators didn't dwell on the fact that the cabin was intact when it hit the water, but even that wasn't a secret.

I was surpised by the myths, especially the one that "environmental regulations" had led to a sealant problem. I guess 20 years is long enough for legends to start.

I was in the Mojave desert when the first shuttle flight landed. I remember worrying about the damned tiles -- they'd broken loose in orbit (shades of later tragedy). In those days I dreamt about becoming a mission specialist and flying, but really I knew the competition was too stiff. Everyone who has flown, and many who just waited for a slot, are among the most exceptional human beings one can know.
7 myths about the Challenger shuttle disaster - Space News -

Twenty years ago, millions of television viewers were horrified to witness the live broadcast of the space shuttle Challenger exploding 73 seconds into flight, ending the lives of the seven astronauts on board...

...spaceflight historians believe that each element of the opening paragraph is factually untrue or at best extremely dubious. They are myths, undeserving of popular belief and unworthy of being repeated at every anniversary of the disaster.

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