The Challenger

I remember that day. I remember January 28, 1986 because it was one of those moments in time that you can’t forget. I was a junior at Birmingham High School in Van Nuys, California. I was sitting in my AP History class when a student burst in and said that the Challenger had exploded. We thought that he was kidding but soon learned that he was not.

The networks ran the video footage of the explosion all day long. It was a moment that showed glimpses of a future when instant information would flood all sources of news and information with endless amounts of noise. That is one of the challenges of today, finding an effective way to sift through the noise so that we can determine what is significant and what is not.

Past posts:
The Challenger- Astronauts May have Lived Longer Than We Thought

The Challenger- Astronauts May have Lived Longer Than We Thought

I was a junior in high school when the Challenger exploded. I was sitting my A.P. History class when we got the news. I remember it well. I remember President Reagan’s address:

The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, 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 remember being told that the astronauts probably died immediately. Tonight I read an article that suggests otherwise.

“But they were wrong.

NASA’s intensive, meticulous studies of every facet of that explosion, comparing what happened to other blowups of aircraft and spacecraft, and the knowledge of the forces of the blast and the excellent shape and construction of the crew cabin, finally led some investigators to a mind-numbing conclusion.

They were alive all the way down.

The explosive release of fuel that dismembered the wings and other parts of the shuttle were not that great to cause immediate death, or even serious injury to the crew. Challenger was designed to withstand a wing-loading force of 3 G’s (three times gravity), with another 1.5 G safety factor built in. When the external tank exploded and separated the two solid boosters, rapid-fire events, so swift they all seemed of the same instant, took place. In a moment, all fuel was gone from the big tank.

The computers still functioned and, right on design plan, dutifully noted the lack of fuel and shut down the engines. It was a supreme exercise in futility, because by then Challenger was no longer a spacecraft.

One solid booster broke free, its huge flame a cutting torch across Challenger, separating a wing. Enormous G-loads snapped free the other wing. Challenger came apart — but the crew cabin remained essentially intact, able to sustain its occupants.

The explosive force sheared metal assemblies, but was almost precisely the force needed to separate the still-intact crew compartment from the expanding cloud of flaming debris and smoke. What the best data tell the experts is that the Challenger broke up 48,000 feet above the Atlantic. The undamaged crew compartment, impelled by the speed already achieved, soared to a peak altitude of 65,000 feet before beginning its curve earthward.

The crew cabin, reinforced aluminum, stayed solid, riding its own velocity in a great curving ballistic arc, reached the top of its curve, and then began the dive toward the ocean.

It was only when the compartment smashed, like a speeding bullet, into the sea’s surface, drilling a hollow from the surface down to the ocean floor, that it crumpled into a tangled mass.

Mercifully unconscious?

But even if the crew cabin had survived intact, wouldn’t the violent pitching and yawing of the cabin as it descended toward the ocean created G-forces so strong as to render the astronauts unconscious?

That may have once been believed. But that was before the investigation turned up the key piece of evidence that led to the inescapable conclusion that they were alive: On the trip down, the commander and pilot’s reserved oxygen packs had been turned on by astronaut Judy Resnik, seated directly behind them. Furthermore, the pictures, which showed the cabin riding its own velocity in a ballistic arc, did not support an erratic, spinning motion. And even if there were G-forces, commander Dick Scobee was an experienced test pilot, habituated to them.

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.

That is when they died — after an eternity of descent.”

I don’t have words for this. Almost three minutes. That is easily long enough to understand that the Shuttle has suffered a catastrophic injury. Long enough to begin contemplating the consequences. Horrifying.

If this is how it went then I hope that they were able to get lost in their training. That somehow it kept them occupied on the task at hand and that they didn’t suffer. I guess that we’ll never know for certain.

Forty Years Ago Man Reached The Moon

Forty years ago man reached the moon. My parents propped me up in front of the television so that I could watch this historical event with them. I can’t say that I remember that day, but space has always fascinated me.

I have spent more than a few hours learning about what exists outside of the earth and countless hours staring out into the night sky. Some times it has been through a telescope and sometimes via the naked eye. I have vivid memories of watching Halley’s Comet and the Northern Lights, but the moon has always held a special place for me.

Some of that intrigue and mystique comes from learning about the space program and stories I have heard. Some of that comes from the awe I feel looking at stars, but it also comes from other things as well.

I have been fortunate enough to travel across the US and to various countries around the world. Every time I go I make a point of looking up at the moon. It is a celestial landmark that I know can be seen from home and by the people I love and care about. No matter where we are or whether we are in contact or not I know that it is something we can share.

Anyway, I found links about this that I thought were interesting so I wanted to pass them along to you.

To The Moon…– Toner Mishap
How Did Moon Travel Change Astronauts?– ABC News
Google flies you to the moon– CNET

Space Shuttle Atlantis

Atlantis’ Window on the World
Solar panels on the Hubble Space Telescope make for unique window shades in this scene photographed from the flight deck of the Earth-orbiting space shuttle Atlantis. This image was taken on flight day 5 of the 11-day mission to repair and upgrade Hubble.Image Credit: NASA

The Speech Nixon Never Had to Give

This July marks the 40th anniversary of the moon landing. Had tragedy struck President Nixon would have had to address the nation. This article discusses the speech that he would have given. It was entitled In the event of Moon disaster.

If Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin had been stranded on the Moon, unable to return to Michael Collins’s orbiting Apollo 11 command ship, Nixon would have called their widows then addressed a horror-struck nation.

“Fate has ordained that the men who went to the Moon to explore in peace will stay on the Moon to rest in peace,” he would have told the watching millions.

These brave men know there is no hope for their recovery but they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

“These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.

“They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.

“In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.”

The President would have added: “In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood. Others will follow and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied but these men were the first and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.”

And in an allusion to Rupert Brooke’s First World War poem The Soldier, his concluding lines were to be: “For every human being who looks up at the Moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.”