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Challenger Tragedy - In Depth, and Deeply Felt

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the /salute dept.

Space 351

Patchw0rk F0g writes "On this, the anniversary of the Challenger disaster, Jay Barbree has a moving and in-depth piece on this international disaster." From the article: "During several earlier shuttle missions, disaster did everything it could to crawl into the shuttle launch system and turn it into tumbling flaming wreckage. The primary O-rings on those flights suffered severe erosion from superheated gases, sometimes accompanied by lesser erosion. And the erosion had occurred after launch temperatures much higher than on this freezing Florida day -- 53 degrees was the lowest launch-time temperature up to that time. The booster engineers felt helpless. For months, they had been studying the O-ring seal problem. They knew a disaster was coming, but no one stepped forward and said, 'Stop this train until it's fixed.'"

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"international disaster" (5, Insightful)

orangeguru (411012) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591044)

Aha. Very international.

Re:"international disaster" (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591095)

Space ship blows up with schoolteacher and first civilian on board, I'd call it pretty international even if it's an American ship.

I like the ever-so-impartial wording implying that they should have been able to see it coming. It's easy to talk like that afterwards but obviously they did not know or it wouldn't have happened. People who write this kind of journalistic sensationalism by exploiting human tragedy disgust me.

Re:"international disaster" (1, Informative)

WIAKywbfatw (307557) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591169)

How? Because she was a civilian? Sorry, but you need to look up the definition of "international".

An American space shuttle, with an all-American crew, including an American civilian blowing up is a tragedy, but it's not an "international" tragedy.

Just because something is a first, that doesn't make it international in its scope.

Re:"international disaster" (3, Funny)

pallmall1 (882819) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591237)

An American space shuttle, with an all-American crew, including an American civilian blowing up is a tragedy, but it's not an "international" tragedy.
Does that mean the US gets to keep the moon?

Re:"international disaster" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591356)

Yes.

Re:"international disaster" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591462)

If the US can, yes! Isn't it the way it works in international politics?

Re:"international disaster" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591520)

Does that mean the US gets to keep the moon?

I think the moon was actually discovered before the US landed there.

Re:"international disaster" (0, Troll)

jo7hs2 (884069) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591135)

Aha. Very snide.

Kind of like the "World Series". (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591140)

You know, where it's the USA versus...uh...Japan, maybe? Hmmm...I guess that makes it a "World" event, right?

Re:Kind of like the "World Series". (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591174)

It's a World Series because the world's best baseball players play in the USA. That's what makes it a world event.

Some people don't like to hear it, but it's true the world basically revolves around the USA. Financial, social, political events here matter more than anywhere else.

Ha. Ha. Ha. Funny little troll! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591254)

Of course, the World's only baseball players play in the USA. Oh, and Japan of course. So there you have it, a true "World" sport...

Re:Ha. Ha. Ha. Funny little troll! (1, Offtopic)

MORTAR_COMBAT! (589963) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591524)

you might want to expand your horizons a bit. the toronto blue jays won the world series in recent memory, and they are not in the usa.

in latin america, also not the usa, baseball is played quite a bit as well.

Re:Ha. Ha. Ha. Funny little troll! (1, Offtopic)

cammoblammo (774120) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591676)

Let's not forget that the US didn't even make the semis in the baseball at the Athens Olympics. The four top teams there were Cuba, Australia, Japan and Canada.

Re:"international disaster" (1)

mattjb0010 (724744) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591178)

Robbie Ferrier: What is it? Is it terrorists?
Ray Ferrier: These came from some place else.
Robbie Ferrier: What do you mean, like, Europe?
Ray Ferrier: No, Robbie, not like Europe!

Hey did you know that the astronauts had dandruff? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591299)

Ya.

They found their head and shoulders on the beach.

boooo. I know I know. I'll be here all week!

Train? (0, Troll)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591053)

They knew a disaster was coming, but no one stepped forward and said, 'Stop this train until it's fixed.'"

Are you saying NASA is managed like Amtrack? I think you might be right there...

Re:Train? (1)

HangingChad (677530) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591519)

And just why is that flamebait? Because you dared compare one institution with its glory days behind it to another?

This is one of the problems..... (4, Insightful)

ezratrumpet (937206) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591088)

in making purchases based on the lowest possible price. Sooner or later, it all catches up at once. I'm reminded of the phrase, "Pay now, or pay later. Either way, sooner or later, payment is necessary."

wrong (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591119)

its one of the problems with cowardly engineers being worried about their way-above-average paycheck.

Re:This is one of the problems..... (5, Insightful)

darklordyoda (899383) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591450)

So when NASA tries to keep costs down, people say they're cutting too many corners and endangering lives, and when they spend extra for the quality, people say they're too bloated and need to run things more like a business.

People will complain no matter how NASA runs things, I say give them a bigger budget than the measly amount they get now and see what they can do with it.

And yes, 16 billion is measly when you consider that it seems sometimes like they're our NIH for everything not health-related; that is, they have a finger in every stewing "pot" of research.

Re:This is one of the problems..... (3, Funny)

Sebby (238625) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591560)

in making purchases based on the lowest possible price.

Exactly. That reminds me of the joke in Armegeddon:

Rockhound: "You know we're sitting on four million pounds of fuel, one nuclear weapon and a thing that has 270,000 moving parts built by the lowest bidder. Makes you feel good, doesn't it?"

 

Re:This is one of the problems..... (1)

eclectro (227083) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591576)

in making purchases based on the lowest possible price. Sooner or later, it all catches up at once.

I agree. When you buy junk off ebay [sfgate.com] , you're bound to get ripped off sooner or later.

Motivation (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591107)

What was the motivation of the engineers to tell everyone that their design was broken?

The answer is: to keep astronauts alive. Obviously this wasn't a big enough motivation and it should be a wake up call for anyone who trusts that a contractor or engineer will tell you that there is something wrong with a product on their own. If they won't do it spontaneously with people's lives on the line, they aren't going to do it for anything less. It is the management's job to find the problems then, by probing each and every engineer and every contractor. If you don't think there is something wrong with a product because noone has told you of issues; then you are wrong.

Re:Motivation (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591198)

Are you forgetting that NASA, and Morton Thiokol management is solely responsible for the disaster, the engineers protested [onlineethics.org] the launch.

Re:Motivation (5, Informative)

pallmall1 (882819) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591232)

Obviously this wasn't a big enough motivation and it should be a wake up call for anyone who trusts that a contractor or engineer will tell you that there is something wrong with a product on their own.
Spoken like a true non-engineer. It was at the urging of Nasa officials that the launch was approved to take place. Here's a quote [nasa.gov] from the Nasa website relating the facts that you have conveniently overlooked in your rush to condemn engineers and manufacturers:
However, in a closed meeting at the Kennedy Space Center on February 14, Commission members were "visibly disturbed" to learn that engineers from the firm that manufactured the SRM, Morton Thiokol Inc., had the night before recommended against launching Challenger in the cold temperatures predicted for the next morning; that their managers, at the apparent urging of NASA officials from the Marshall Space Flight Center, had overruled their recommendation; and that more senior NASA managers responsible for the launch commit decision were unaware of this contentious interaction. --bold added
There's nothing insightful about the parent post, except for the insight gained into the readiness of some to unfairly accuse an entire profession they know nothing about of what basically amounts to murder. I'd like to know what the parent poster's motivations are, other than to try to sound cool on slashdot.

Re:Motivation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591272)

Oh, those engineers were so motivated to cancel the launch that they built a defective solid rocket booster. They never intended to use it, right? They were so motivated to cancel the launch that they never performed the engineering analysis that would have given the launch controllers the safe parameters for launches (i.e. do not lauch if colder than 20 F). Oh, and their protests surely got lots of attention to stop the launch. I would assume that if they really cared that much, one of them would have found the phone number of a Congressman or even the NASA Administrator.

No, they didn't call either. They just protested in their offices. And had sad faces. And the information was never transmitted to the people who were in charge of the program.

This is a basic rule of the chain of command. If you think that the step directly above you is doing something foolish, you have the right to call that person's boss. This never occured. They acted like the level of management directly above them was God. They were too cowardly in their convictions to go out of their way to save the astronauts. They just decided to let the responsibility rest on their management's shoulders. I hope it lets them sleep well at night.

Re:Motivation (1)

Nuclear Therapist (887219) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591503)

Ah so easy preaching from the Anon C. pulpit. "THEY" as you so adroitly put it fits in with 99+% of "US". You are aware of something called the "Miller Experiments"? No? Try looking it up.... "They were so motivated to cancel the launch that they never performed the engineering analysis that would have given the launch controllers the safe parameters for launches (i.e. do not lauch if colder than 20 F)." I don't know where your 20 degree F figure comes from, but Roger Boisjoly had been pratically begging his management to fund fully an engineering analysis on the O-Rings and the Joint seals MONTHS before Challenger. "And the information was never transmitted to the people who were in charge of the program." Untrue. The people in charge were at the telecon. The NASA Administrators in charge of launch decisions were there, present and accounted for. The process is called delegation. Launch commit decisions were their responsibility, no one elses. You really think someone calling the White House at 2am insisting they are God Almighty Engineer trying to prevent a murder would have gotten/achieved what, exactly?

Re:Motivation (3, Insightful)

pallmall1 (882819) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591602)

If you think that the step directly above you is doing something foolish, you have the right to call that person's boss.

Hmm, you mean like notifying the NASA officials from the Marshall Space Flight Center who were higher in the chain of command than the engineers' direct managers? Furthermore, there was no way for the engineers to know that "more senior NASA managers responsible for the launch commit decision" weren't told of their objections to the launch after the objections had been raised with the previously mentioned NASA Marshall Space Flight Center officials.

The "more senior" managers would have been informed if the chain of command had been properly followed -- the breakdown did not occur at the engineers' level. Again, the engineers had no reason to believe their objections had not been sent further up the chain of command after NASA officials higher in authority than their direct managers had been informed. In other words, the boss was called.

It's obvious that some Anonymous Cowards not only don't understand engineering, they don't understand a chain of command either. Further comment on this issue would just feed the shrill comments of the ignorant.

Re:Motivation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591475)

You mean like Microsoft! ... oh wait.

I remember exactly where I was... (5, Insightful)

voss (52565) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591115)

I was in class, when they announced it over the intercom. For the Generation X'ers this was our 9/11. The moment that replayed in our minds for years to come.

I suppose I'll remember those last words

"Go at throttle up"

I remember exactly where I was-after the election. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591144)

And Generation Y's is "GWB has won the election".

Re:I remember exactly where I was... (2, Interesting)

secolactico (519805) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591209)

According to the book The Black Box, the last words were "Uh oh".

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0688158927/sr=1-6 /qid=1138500617/ref=pd_bbs_6/102-7018650-9828142?_ encoding=UTF8 [amazon.com]

Re:I remember exactly where I was... (3, Funny)

Usquebaugh (230216) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591250)

I thought it was "OK we'll let her drive..."

I am running, I am running and dodging, I am runnning, dodging and ducking... it ain't easy in this nomex suit.

Re:I remember exactly where I was... (5, Insightful)

mtaht (603670) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591311)

I was sitting at the top of a flight of stairs when I saw Challenger explode. I slowly slid down the stairs, and then watched the video again and again, again, until every frame was burned into my memory.

And although the last words on the black box might have been "uh, oh", the last words heard over the air were: "Go for 104 percent".

Then there was this horrible "Snick!" as the radio went dead.

There's a sample of the last sounds from the shuttle on this song [ackley.net] .

I saw Richard Feynman's eloquent demonstration of why the boosters failed, and watched him be ignored by the other members of the commission. I learned of the group of engineers at Thiokol that were overrulled by their management to give the "Go" to this mission...

I visualize these moments in time every time I am given management directives that attempt to contravene physical law, and to this day I stay true to my profession as an engineer, and do the right thing by the physics. It's the only way I can sleep at night.

Still, I remain haunted.

Re:I remember exactly where I was... (1)

_randy_64 (457225) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591342)

I was a senior in college when it happened, and I came home from class and watched the news coverage on TV. While that was happening, the phone rang. I didn't want to answer it, but I did. It was a recruiter from the company that I most wanted to work for, telling me that they weren't going to offer me a job. A bit later the phone rang again. This time it was my Mom, telling me that my Aunt and Uncle's house had burned to the ground the night before. Thank God noone was injured there. All around, not one of the best days of my life.

I got very drunk that night.

Re:I remember exactly where I was... (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591500)

For the Generation X'ers this was our 9/11.

That is asinine.

-Gen X

thankyou (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591116)

Hopefully, one day, we'll look back at this tragedy and say:

"Those pioneers sure had courage! I can't believe the things they did with such primitive technology."

Then we'll ask the space attendant for another coffee as we head off for a holiday to the moon.

Re:thankyou (1, Insightful)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591437)

I used to think that when I was a young fartknocker. Now I'm a mid 30's fartknocker who is jaded. I figured by now, we'd all be able to buy a ticket to the moon. Now I think we are doomed to spend forever on this planet until we've used up the resources we'd need to make it a reality.

I hope I'm wrong.

NASA... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591117)

Need Another Seven Astronauts.

Really...

I went to space camp after Challenger, and the discussions there were focused on ejection methods, however, NASA counters every good idea by stating "it costs too much money". Understand, space travel is dangerous and rightfully so, but their "safety" stance is only politics. They recognized that the shuttle needed a new design 25 years ago, and have done nothing. They have recognized that all onboard systems need updates, and have done nothing. They have recognized that the shuttle needs some form of ejection, and have done nothing. NASA has become the very thing they despised 40 years ago... and for what? My respect for NASA is in the toilet, and will be until the agency finally dies. A good idea is nothing without the ability to make it reality.

Re:NASA... (3, Insightful)

pcutt (674209) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591139)

Feh! Let's drill right down to the basics. Remember that old engineering chestnut, Pick any two: - Good - Fast - Cheap You certainly don't understand anything about reality: Discovery has risk.

Re:NASA... (1)

Moofie (22272) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591228)

You are remarkably bad at punctuation.

You might also note that it was Columbia and Challenger that were destroyed. Discovery is just fine.

Maybe (2, Insightful)

Xymor (943922) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591120)

"They knew a disaster was coming, but no one stepped forward and said, 'Stop this train until it's fixed." Oh I'm sure someone tried, and probably was shut by the long arm of politcs like this guy http://politics.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=06/01/ 28/1816238 [slashdot.org]

20 years later (2, Informative)

saskboy (600063) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591130)

It's 20 years later, and the first Shuttle disaster is still making it into pop culture. There's a country song from just last year with the line, "The Space Shuttle fell out of the sky, and the whole world cried" - 19 Something.

I remember that someone made a movie a few years after called Challenger I think, and I begged my parents to let me stay up to watch it. It turned out to be a really lame movie though, I thought it would have stuff on what happened after the disaster, but the whole movie led up to the explosion and nothing after.

Re:20 years later (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591176)

Er... you DO remember there was another shuttle that "fell out of the sky," right? Columbia, was it? Not too long ago, either.

Re:20 years later (1)

saskboy (600063) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591230)

Yes of course I remember that. The song is singing about the 1980s, and Columbia fell out of the sky in 2003[?] February. I remember waking up and hearing about it. Not quite as traumatic as 9/11, but shocking and sad none the less.

Did it explode or didn't it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591150)

According to another article on MSNBC [msn.com] , it didn't explode, as it was just a "myth." Yet TFA say's it did. Which was is it, did it or did it not explode?

Re:Did it explode or didn't it? (3, Informative)

eclectro (227083) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591391)

Generally large fireballs are associated with explosions, which this seemed to be. More specifically, the shuttle was wrenched off course suddenly by the disintegrating and burning fuel tank (i.e. the exploding (or as others will be sure to point out to me-rapidly burning) part). While the crew cabin survived and plummeted to the ocean at more than 200 mph. It has been heavily rumored that buried in a secret safe in NASA is a tape recording from one of the astronauts (who had a recorder running during takeoff in his pocket) muttering the Lord's prayer during the descent.

There is sufficent evidence that the bodies of the astronauts were put in barrels on the back of a flatbed when brought ashore as to not raise any suspicion

Pieces of Challenger still occasionally wash up on the beach, with a large wing portion showing up on the beach in the late nineties. Pieces of the wreckage of the shuttle are "entombed" in a missile silo on Cape Canaveral.

There is this very prescient article [washingtonmonthly.com] written while the shuttles were being built. He also wrote an excellent followup [earthisland.org] after Columbia. Personally, I thought Challenger was a "one-off" and that things had been fixed, but I lost all faith in the space agency (and its subsequent funding for the expensive shuttles).

There never been an exact cost released by NASA for what it takes to launch a shuttle, but I'm quite sure that it is very much more than the 500 million they said before the Columbia disaster. Some say more than a billion dollars.

Which I believe would be the cost to build a decent Hubble replacement and launch on an unmanned rocket. Food for thought.

Re:Did it explode or didn't it? (4, Informative)

MurphyZero (717692) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591570)

The Shuttle is expensive to launch. When we lost the Titan IV in 1998, the rocket itself was valued at 400 million (by far the most expensive expendable rocket) and the satellite was estimated at around 800 million. Shuttle costs probably would exceed 1 billion per ignoring all the return to flight issues.

This is why whenever I hear space advocates and astronomers whining about trying to get the Hubble fixed using the shuttle, I want to grab them by the throat and throttle them. It would be much cheaper and would stop diverting valuable resources to focus their energies on getting the next generation Hubble replacement into space on an expendable rocket. With the savings they could get ITS replacement into space. An expendable launch on an Atlas V or Delta IV would run less than 200 million, possibly less than 100. Plus, now they would have a presumably better satellite in space. Also, the satellite would not have to be designed so that an astronaut could fix it.

Re:Did it explode or didn't it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591436)

It disintegrated.

Re:Did it explode or didn't it? (4, Informative)

Deadstick (535032) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591675)

Hot gas from the leaking O-ring burned through a structural member,which caused a partial structural collapse, which caused the spacecraft to yaw violently, which caused it to disintegrate under aerodynamic loads. The main fuel tank ruptured and the contents burned, while the solid rocket boosters continued to climb by themselves. The orbiter, with crew inside, fell to the surface mostly in one piece.

It was not an explosion in the literal sense of the word...it would have been merciful for the crew if it were.

rj

It was Bush's fault! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591162)

If Bush only cared more about the space program, this disaster never would have happened. He was more worried about running oil companies and thinking about becoming a governor to care about the astronauts. If anyone has blood on his hands, it is George W. Bush.

Re:It was Bush's fault! (0, Offtopic)

icepick72 (834363) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591170)

That's a lot of weight to place on one man's shoulders instead of the administration.

Re:It was Bush's fault! (1)

hplasm (576983) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591298)

..the buck stops here..- or has that been moved?

Thanks for the laugh, AC *NT (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591377)

Thanks for the laugh, AC *NT

Wow (1)

Life700MB (930032) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591185)


...this freezing Florida day -- 53 degrees was the lowest launch-time temperature...

Man, that's really cold! And we Europeans think -10 is a cold wave...


--
Superb hosting [tinyurl.com] 20GB Storage, 1_TB_ bandwidth, ssh, $7.95

Re:Wow (1)

ShaneThePain (929627) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591205)

53 degrees F is really cold in Florida.

Re:Wow (2, Informative)

ip_fired (730445) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591306)

The temperature was actually in the low 20's (-6.67 degrees celsius) that morning. I think they let it warm up a bit before the launch, but it was still much colder than any of the other launches. From what I remember, no testing had really been done at that temperature.

Feynman's account (3, Informative)

acidblood (247709) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591188)

An excellent account (and really, one should expect no less from Richard Feynman) of the Challenger disaster was given in the book `What do you care what other people think?' It highlights the political and managerial problems at NASA. If you enjoy this book, I highly recommend grabbing the rest of Feynman's books as well, such as `Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman' and of course the Feynman Lectures on Physics.

Feynman was by far one of the greatest minds of our time. Too bad he died fairly young (70 years), he still had a good 10 or 20 years of time to contribute to human knowledge.

Re:Feynman's account (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591281)

70 is young for you? I'd be lucky to get past 60.

Re:Feynman's account (2, Interesting)

VaticDart (889055) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591335)

Hear hear!

Another great account of Feynman's involvement in the post-Challenger investigation is in James Gleick's biography of Feynman, Genius, which is a great book otherwise. Incredible mind, awesome person, that Feynman was, I wish I could have met him...

Re:Feynman's account (2, Interesting)

Squonk01 (635994) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591626)

And the problems at NASA continued in January 2003 with the Columbia explosion. Presentation-of-data guru, Edward Tufte, makes a good claim that clumsy PowerPoint inhibited decent analysis [edwardtufte.com] that could've prevented a disaster. (Tufte cites Feynman's work among others.)

The Launch Escape System. (4, Informative)

reality-bytes (119275) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591192)

A fact often missed by the popular media when dealing with the Challenger accident is emergency egress provision.

The 'big step' taken moving from the Saturn V launcher to the Shuttle for manned flight was not just moving from expendable to [partially] re-usable vehicles but the total reliance in the new vehicle for launch safety.

If practically *anything* were to go wrong during the launch of a Shuttle, it would be curtains for the vehicle and crew whereas the Saturn V had the 'option' of the Launch Escape Tower [wikipedia.org] which could (in theory) give the crew one last chance of getting clear of the failed vehicle using it's relatively small solid rockets.

I've often imagined what could go wrong with a shuttle launch, there are possibilities such as:

*Catastrophic multiple SME failure just after SRB ignition leading to an over-rotation heads-down
*A Mis-light of an SRB on the pad (prior to launch) - Apparently NASA takes huge precautions with their SRBs due to volatility of the solid fuel.
*A Mis-light of an SRB on launch causing over-rotation of the vehicle away from the lit SRB(NASA *says* this is of infinitely small chance tho)
*Failure of the SRB release system on the pad (the tie-downs which hold the vehicle in place prior to launch)
*A simple bird-strike causing damage to the orbiter's pressure hull.

And of course, there is the failure of components leading to rapid combustion of the LOX/Hydrogen fuels.

Perhaps none of the above could realistically happen, perhaps some could. (I'm no expert, just a fan of manned spaceflight).

What I do know is that I'll be happier about people sitting on top of massive potential energies when they give them a Launch Escape System again. It's not a certainty but it's nice to know that the Astronauts get one last chance if the rest of the vehicle falls to bits.


Disclaimer: I am not one of these people who thinks that spaceflight is, should be, or can be as safe as say civillian aviation.

Re:The Launch Escape System. (1)

Keebler71 (520908) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591274)

*A Mis-light of an SRB on the pad (prior to launch) - Apparently NASA takes huge precautions with their SRBs due to volatility of the solid fuel.
*A Mis-light of an SRB on launch causing over-rotation of the vehicle away from the lit SRB(NASA *says* this is of infinitely small chance tho)

Well duh... you just have your robotic friend ignite the other one.. just like in the movie [imdb.com] .

Re:The Launch Escape System. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591322)

I've fixed your comments so that the majority of slashdot can at least partially understand what you're saying:

*Catastrophic multiple XML failure just after AJAX ignition leading to an over-rotation heads-down
*A Mis-light of an AJAX on the pad (prior to launch) - Apparently MS takes huge precautions with their AJAXs due to volatility of the solid fuel.
*A Mis-light of an AJAX on launch causing over-rotation of the vehicle away from the lit AJAX (MS *says* this is of infinitely small chance tho)
*Failure of the AJAX release system on the pad (the tie-downs which hold the vehicle in place prior to launch)
*A simple bird-strike causing damage to the orbiter's pressure hull.

Re:The Launch Escape System. (4, Insightful)

darkmeridian (119044) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591441)

The entire problem with the Shuttle was that it abandoned the vertical stack design of previous spacecraft in favor of a "paralllel" stack. The Apollo program had the escape tower because the humans were on top. Ice and debris from the stack could not hit the heat shield and cause injury. The Shuttle is right next to the rocket and cryogenic fuel tank. No escape systems, no protection of the heat shield against debris strikes. The next generation of planned manned craft will revert to the entire vertical stack concept.

some of the SRB/SME issues are now fixed (3, Informative)

Trepidity (597) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591527)

First, multiple SME failure just after SRB ignition was problematic, but it has never been problematic due to over-rotation---there is sufficient steering ability even with just the SRBs. The problem is that multiple SME failure causes too much of a difference in thrust between the shuttle and the boosters, which would overstress the struts attaching the SRBs to the shuttle. In addition, a failure of two or more (of the three) SMEs would result in insufficient power to attain orbit.

Since Challenger, the struts were strengthened, so they can now survive even a three-out situation. A two-out failure can now be dealt with without loss of life throughout the launch (although it would require a ditch and loss of the vehicle through some portions). A three-out failure is still problematic, but should be survivable for the crew after 90 seconds, and might be survivable just after launch.

forgot one important point (2, Interesting)

Trepidity (597) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591543)

One of the reason more failure modes are now survivable for the crew is that post-Challenger a bailout ability was added: If the shuttle is stable and under control and still not too high, but has insufficient power to either attain orbit or reach an emergency-landing airstrip, the crew can put it on autopilot and bail out with parachutes, using an egress pole that allows them to clear the left shuttle wing.

another way to severely fail (1)

r00t (33219) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591541)

The SRB filling is very similar to a fertilizer bomb. Actually, the oxidizer is even more powerful than fertilizer. The fuel is unusually powerful too, though not unheard of for bomb making.

A fertilizer bomb is normally very difficult to detonate. To reliably set one off, you pretty much need a quarter stick of dynamite. Every now and then though, somebody gets unlucky. The largest non-nuclear explosion in the US was when a ship full of fertilizer exploded in a Texas harbor.

We don't normally put sticks of dynamite into the SRB filling, so we don't expect an explosion. If you launch enough space shuttles though, sooner or later you'll get unlucky like that ship did.

I have a feeling that the launch pad could dissappear, along with a good number of NASA buildings that aren't all that near by.

It bears repeating. (5, Insightful)

Corf (145778) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591201)

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. Hov'ring 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 nor 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
John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
June 9, 1922 - December 11, 1941 (age 19)

Fire in the sky (1)

mtaht (603670) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591464)

From "Fire in the Sky" by Jordin Kare (mp3 [prometheus-music.com] )

Prometheus, they say, brought God's fire down to Man,
And we've caught it, tamed it, trained it since our history began.
Now we're going back to Heaven just to look Him in the eye,
And there's a thunder 'crost the land, and a fire in the sky.

Gagarin was the first, back in 1961,
When like Icarus undaunted, he climbed to reach the Sun.
And he knew he might not make it, for it's never hard to die,
But he lifted off the pad and rode a fire in the sky.

Yet a higher goal was calling, and we vowed to reach it soon,
And we gave ourselves a decade to put fire on the Moon.
And Apollo told the world we can do it if we try,
And there was one small step and a fire in the sky.

Now two decades past Gagarin, 20 years to the day,
Came a shuttle named Columbia to open up the way.
And they said "She's just a truck", but she's a truck that's aiming high!
See her big jets burn. See her fire in the sky.

Yet the gods do not give lightly of the gifts that they have made
And with Challenger and seven, once again the price was paid.
Though a nation watched her falling, all the world could do was cry
As they passed from us to glory, riding fire in the sky.

The Green Hills of Earth (2, Insightful)

Corf (145778) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591474)

Thank you for posting that. I hadn't read it before.

entire poem located here [rice.edu] ...

The arching sky is calling
Spacemen back to their trade.
ALL HANDS! STAND BY! FREE FALLING!
And the lights below us fade.

Out ride the sons of Terra,
Far drives the thundering jet,
Up leaps a race of Earthmen,
Out, far, and onward yet --

We pray for one last landing
On the globe that gave us birth;
Let us rest our eyes on the friendly skies
And the cool, green hills of Earth.

-- Robert A. Heinlein

DUP! (0, Offtopic)

matth (22742) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591204)

ARG DUP! And linked to the same story too!

Re:DUP! (1)

novakreo (598689) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591392)

ARG DUP! And linked to the same story too!

Ah, no. They're two separate stories on MSNBC. Go back and have another look.

they did step forward (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591213)

actually, the engineers did step forward and let NASA know. the company they contracted the boosters to had a telecon with nasa at marshall the night before. NASA was a huge account for them, they didnt want to lose it, so the executives at the company ignored the engineers. not to mention the tremendous pressure from the media and goverment. they HAD to launch, it was worth the risk to alot of the high ranking people.

Engineering side would have been nice. (2, Insightful)

ashelton (826) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591229)


5 pages on the astronauts and one page on the actual engineering that led to the failure, and most of that writing was awfully emotional and fact free. It would have been nice to see that side of the story covered in some more detail. No surprise the human element grabs the attention, but there was probably a good human story on the ground too, and one that actually had a causual relationship to the event.

Feynman (4, Informative)

Errandboy of Doom (917941) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591235)

The Challenger disaster sparked a lot of insightful commentary [fotuva.org] about the shuttle program from Richard Feynman [wikipedia.org] .

The Rogers Commission [wikipedia.org] relegated the bulk of his thoughts to an "Appendix" because no one wanted to release a report that was too critical of the space program (even though that's exactly what they were appointed to do). It almost wasn't included at all, but for Feynman's dogged insistence.

He deals with his role in the Rogers commission in No Ordinary Genius [google.com] (that's a link to the beginning of the Chapter from Google Print).

That chapter is filled with funny anecdotes, and enraging stories about the bullheadedness of beaurocracy, told by one of the most charismatic geniuses of our time about one of the most important events from my childhood.

Highly recommended.

"tragedy" (5, Insightful)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591238)

"Tragedy" is one of those words that gets thrown around too lightly. These were people who knowingly took a risk in order to do something they believed in. They wound up losing the bet, and getting killed. That's not a tragedy. A tragedy is Romeo and Juliet, or a 10-year-old factory worker in Thailand getting killed while working to pay for medicine for his sick mother. A tragedy is not astronauts getting killed in an explosion, or mountain climbers getting killed by bad weather, or a volunteer soldier getting killed in a war he believed in.

Re:"tragedy" (1)

nagora (177841) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591257)

A tragedy is not astronauts getting killed in an explosion

It bloody well is for their family. "Oh, daddy got killed at work today. Oh, well - he knew the risks. What's on MTV?" I don't think so.

To say nothing of your assertion that a work of fiction is more of a tragedy than real people dying.

TWW

Re:"tragedy" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591551)

"What's on MTV?"

ERROR! ERROR! Back in 1996 the question was not, "What's on MTV?", but, "What video is on MTV?"! ERROR!

Re:"tragedy" (2, Insightful)

gilroy (155262) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591315)

Well, classically, tragedy dealt with the fall of a hero due to an innate flaw, usually that of hubris (excessive pride). Hmmm... seems like it pretty much nails NASA prior to Challenger.

Apologize, you hypociritcal dolt! (1)

Exatron (124633) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591393)

And do you really think that those seven astronauts weren't taking a risk for something they believed in and loved? They died while attempting to increase our knowledge and may have lived if the engineers' advice weren't ignored. That disaster was a tragedy by your own definition. They were real people, not just strings of words on a page, so show a little respect.

Re:"tragedy" (2, Interesting)

eumaeus (733945) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591506)

According to Aristotle, who may or may not have known what he was talking about, the "most tragic" stories are those that involve morally average people (not especially good or bad, morally), who are of great stature or who have enjoyed great fortune, who fall from a state of happiness to a low state due to some "mistake made in ignorance".

Note: this has nothing to do with hubris, which does not mean "pride" anyway..

So we have our social studies teacher, a woman of national stature, enjoying great good fortune (the one selected out of 1100), who is presumably neither extraordinarily virtuous nor vicious, who died as the result of a hamartia (to use Aristotle's term).

What was her hamartia, her "mistake made in ignorance"? It was boarding a vehicle, assuming that the guys responsible for the "go/no-go" decision were paying attention to the guys who actually built the vehicle.

The crew of STS-51L are tragic figures by any definition--the fact that there are countless millions of other such figures notwithstanding--but if you are going to be pedantic about "tragedy", you will find that they fit Aristotle's bill especially well.

Am I callous? (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591270)

I was in preschool or something when the disaster happened. I had no awareness of it until many years later.

But when I think of the disaster now, I have the somewhat odd reaction that I don't really feel that the real tragedy was the loss of Challenger and its crew.

When I think about the 20th anniversiary of Challenger, the tragedy I feel is that it seems like NASA has done almost nothing of note since then.

It seems like somewhere around the Challenger disaster, the pioneering attitude of NASA that had been its hallmark up until then took something of a backseat. Somewhere around 20 years ago, probably not at Challenger or because of it but certainly sometime around then, NASA changed from being a truly important thing of importance to the public to just being something the government does. 20 years later, the manned space program has not progressed one single step beyond where it was when Challenger blew up; we're still stuck using the exact same shuttle fleet, and the manned program has been entirely preoccupied with the maintenence of a couple of space stations that aren't really that far beyond SkyLab and whose crews are preoccupied just keeping the things in the sky. NASA has had a small handful of true triumphs with its unmanned probes since that time, but the successes have been far between and have tended to receive only a fraction of the attention given in the public eye to NASA's failures.

And when I think about this, and realize that it represents, essentially, the loss of the nation's manned space program sometime about 20 years ago, it tends to overshadow entirely in my mind the tragedy of the loss of Challenger's intrepid crew sometime about 20 years ago.

Is this a callous response, or a reasonable one?

Re:Am I callous? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591624)

I'd call it accurate. I remember Challenger, and I remember the damn near fetish we space fanatics had for the shuttle in the many years it took to build the thing - it seemed like once it got off the ground there'd be a god-dammed for-real spaceship fleet!

  We couldn't wait. Challenger was a nasty blow to us all because it instantly punctured not only the long term can-do image of NASA, but also the many hopes we'd built up over the long, dry, post-Apollo period that things were finally back on track again. Turned out they weren't, and NASA had turned old, cautious, and uninspiring.

  The manned space program fizzled, sadly, and there's nothing much on the horizon for most of the rest of my lifetime. At least the unmanned stuff is still doing great things!

Re:Am I callous? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591654)

I think you are correct in that little has progressed in manned space flight, however I think there has been an amazing amount of progress in unmanned missions. Its been said that there is only one thing that men and women can do in space that machines can't and thats a very expensive price to pay for the 100 mile high club.

Think of everything we have learned from the great observatories, and the planetary missions. We have learned more about the universe in the past 25 years than in the previous 250 years.

What a bunch of.... (4, Insightful)

mswope (242988) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591290)

Crap. This is still taught as an ethics lesson. An engineering manager (Roger Boisjoly) was told to think like a manager rather than an engineer (I believe the term was "take off your engineering hat and put on your manager hat") and the process was approved. I feel for the guy that had to make this decision, because it occurs on the knife-edge that most of us engineers are taught about, but never experience. However, he came to that point, and history will record that he MADE THE WRONG DECISION.

"The booster engineers felt helpless ...'No one stepped forward and said, "Stop this train until it's fixed,"'" IS CRAP. Someone said "Stop." Then, he said, "okay," after he switched hats and the world has never been the same since.

The reason I'm so harsh about this is that it could've been any one of us that call ourselves "engineers." We should NEVER forget the lesson from this. Someone went against his training AND his instincts and, as a result, PEOPLE DIED.

Re:What a bunch of.... (2, Informative)

MoeDrippins (769977) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591574)

Boisjoly was not told this; it was told to his manager, Lund, in the emergency meeting at Morton Thiokol the night before. Boisjoly, and his peers, were overruled by Lund and HIS management.

But your point that no one said "stop" being a falacy is correct; quite a few people did, and were simply overruled. To everyone's detriment.

no one stepped forward (4, Insightful)

llZENll (545605) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591341)

"but no one stepped forward and said, 'Stop this train until it's fixed.'"

And if anyone had, we would have never known about it, and they probably would have been fired.

Boy, the timing is perfect for me (4, Interesting)

StressGuy (472374) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591347)

First off, I actually read the article - all eight pages of it. I was also a college student attending Purdue the day of the crash studying, oddly enough, aeronautical engineering and taking a class in propulsion with a proffessor who was a consultant for Morton-Thiokol (just Thiokol soon after). I remember a few things about this in particular.

It seemed that, almost as soon as the camera crew realized what had happened, they zeroed in on McCauliff's family. It took a while for the cameraman to get his payoff though, she didn't really react for quite some time. No doubt not fully able to comprehend what just happened.

When I got to my class that morning (psychology), I found the professor had also just seen the footage, he cancelled the class. None of us were really into it at that point.

The local news was all over the propulsion professor asking him for theories/insight. At that point though, nobody really knew what had happened and speculation is foolish.

By the end of that day, I was hearing "Need Another Seven Astronauts". In contrast, I've yet to hear any such wise-assed remarks about the Columbia reentry disaster.

===

It's easy to second guess NASA's decision making but, when you are in that moment, it's a hard trigger to pull. I've no doubt that engineers were concerned about the integrity of the O-ring seal. However, when they launched, they were within published spec. Sadly, the spec was wrong. In that situation, it becomes your (expert) opinion vs. established data. You might be right, but it's hard to push through.

I say all of this because I'm right in the middle of something similar. I see a situation that management characterizes as "agressive" and I would call "reckless" - but it's just my opinion. I can't go to the appropriate regulating agencies with anything that would stick. All I can really do is what I've done, I resigned. On paper, I said the recent benefits change was not meeting my needs. Behind close doors, however, I went into very frank detail about how I felt their current philosophies could put people at risk, and how I could no longer represent them in good faith.

I looked for a way to compel the needed changes from my position, but was unsuccessful. I was well respected there, perhaps by resigning and making sure they understood why, they will be motivated to re-evalute. I don't really know.

Re:Boy, the timing is perfect for me (3, Insightful)

lord sibn (649162) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591487)

You do not hear jokes about Columbia's re-entry because the topic has faded from the limelight. People are not all up at arms (bad joke) about the space race. People generally do not care about the shuttles, about the stardust probe, or about anything space related any more. We are entering another dark age; people had been told of the great things the future could hold. And it didn't. So no, they do not care about the current shuttle program. Where is my flying car? Why don't I live on a moon base? Remember that geeks don't rule the world. Regular people do. As a direct result, nobody cares about nasa. Not any more. they bought the snake oil the first time, and lost 7 astronauts. They are not interested in another round of bus fare, as it were. I am seriously trying to not sound like a troll here, but honestly, normal people don't care about probes hovering over the north pole, collecting stardust, or another failed shuttle mission. They are used to being disappointed by nasa so much, that they no longer pay attention to nasa at all. You just have to remember, normal people don't care about nasa any more. They grew up with dreams of exploring space. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice... can't get fooled again.

As NASA goes, so goes the country (1, Insightful)

HangingChad (677530) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591348)

They knew a disaster was coming, but no one stepped forward and said, 'Stop this train until it's fixed.'

The didn't step forward and say anything because no one in management wanted to hear the bad news. If they complained, they might have lost their jobs.

Just got done watching a documentary about Enron. Same thing happened there. Many people saw potential problems and critics and anyone questioning them were fired or put down. One of the Merrill Lynch analysts who questioned Enron's earnings was fired after Enron pressured the company to get rid of him and they did. Then got 225 million in business from Enron.

As goes NASA and Enron, so goes the whole country right now. We've carried that philosophy into government and now it infects every level. Our government, the military, they're all telling everything is fine when we know there are serious problems. Anyone sounding the alarm is fired. What we know is scary enough.

Imagine what we don't know.

I don't think I'm being paranoid or alarmist when I say we may be in much deeper shit than we realize as a country.

Re:As NASA goes, so goes the country (1)

d0nu7 (941456) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591390)

Actually, my father worked with an engineer on the Shuttle, and he said that ALL of the engineers working on the O-rings repeatedly brought it up, and said the launch was too cold, but NASA management just wanted to launch, they had become complacent because there had been no previous shuttle disasters.

Break up the somber mood .. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591374)

Laugh a little. [duckshit.com] We're all going to die.

What about the other one? (5, Insightful)

EBFoxbat (897297) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591379)

Am I the only one that thinks that Columbia was the worse of the 2 shuttle crashes? I mean really, Challenger was catostrophic but was unsurvivable once the SRB ignited. Columbia was in orbit for weeks with its fatal problem in view of the entire planet had anbody thought to look. They say nothing could have been done had they found the damaged in orbit, but I have this funny feeling that we, as a planet, probabaly would have come up with something and not let them run out of O2.

International disaster (-1, Troll)

oob (131174) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591430)

"..this international disaster."

The world's foremost rouge state had a setback in their programme to militarise space, the aim of which is to establish another avenue to exert their tyranny over the rest of the planet. The spectacular failure in this instance is an international success, not an international disaster.

Re:International disaster (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591623)

"The world's foremost rouge state had a setback in their programme to militarise space, the aim of which is to establish another avenue to exert their tyranny over the rest of the planet. The spectacular failure in this instance is an international success, not an international disaster."

The death of 7 civilians as part of a program that has given the world GPS, near-instant telephone service worldwide, accurate weather predictions, is a tragedy. You, sir/madam, are a troll.

I remember that day vividly (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591469)

I was laughing so hard that I was rolling on the floor.

where i was (1)

MORTAR_COMBAT! (589963) | more than 8 years ago | (#14591511)

i was in 6th grade science class watching live. before and after, i still wanted to be an astronaut.

i've often wondered how different things would have been had the challenger been the success that was expected. more women in science? expanded exploration instead of a near shutdown of the entire agency?

i do know that an entire generation of school children went from being incredibly curious about space to being afraid of space to being uninterested in space. which is very sad; since the people who died lived their lives towards the opposite cause.

various reading:
http://www.geocities.com/jim_bowery/NssEthicsAward .html [geocities.com]
http://onlineethics.org/moral/boisjoly/MTImemo2.ht ml [onlineethics.org]

They did so step forward (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591640)

"They knew a disaster was coming, but no one stepped forward..."

This doesn't match my recollection at all. I recall that it came out that a number of rocket engineers had indeed objected to launching at the low outside temperature, but their superiors at the rocket manufacturer overruled them. It was against policy to launch at such a low temperature, but the launch had already been delayed repeatedly, and the folks in control wanted to make President Reagan happy. Wasn't there some kind of PR circumstance that made it desirable to launch at that time to show off American technology?

Rest of the world to US (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14591668)

We don't give a rat's ass.

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