Shuttle Challenger 30 years ago

Discussion in 'Current Events' started by obeygiant, Jan 27, 2016.

  1. obeygiant macrumors 68040


    Jan 14, 2002
    totally cool

    The only launch I've ever attended personally. I was 10 years old.

    I do have a series of about 25 pictures that were taken of the launch and explosion from across the lake.

    "Temperature alone wasn't the problem," she said. The engineers "had seen evidence of partial o ring failures before on launch days that were not as cold."

    Investigations later determined that the root cause of the accident was a leak in the SRB joint, which had allowed superheated gas to escape and burn through the booster and the external tank, causing structural collapse.

    "The post-flight analysis indicated that the cold temperature was certainly a contributing factor. But so was the [SRB] joint's design and [NASA's] decision-making process. It was like a perfect storm of combined circumstances."



    Ron Reagan's address to the nation
  2. bradl macrumors 68040


    Jun 16, 2008
    I was in 6th grade, and actually looking forward to our science class that day, after playing with my friends and talking about what happened on the episode of The A-Team the night before (1/28/86 was a Tuesday). Our teacher came in and looking very somber, rolled the portable TV up to the front of the classroom, and did her best to explain the situation to all of us.

    Needless to say, I had never seen our entire class well up in tears like that since our teacher a year prior reading us the entire book of Where The Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. None of us could believe it.

    I will say that the episode of Punky Brewster that came on that week was probably the most heartwrenching moment of any 80s child's lives at that time. Hard to believe that it was 30 years ago. :(

  3. JamesMike macrumors demi-god


    Nov 3, 2014
    I remember watching the launch live on TV, was just stunned!
  4. jabbott macrumors 6502

    Nov 23, 2009
    I watched the launch in person from Orlando, FL when I was in Kindergarten. I keep the mission patch on display at my house now. The crew of Challenger may be gone, but they will never be forgotten. @obeygiant, thank you for the reminder.
  5. rhett7660 macrumors G5


    Jan 9, 2008
    Sunny, Southern California
    Like others, I was in fifth grade, watching this in the library with a bunch of other students. Seeing this happen live was a kick in the gut. Even at that age.
  6. Strider64 macrumors 6502a


    Dec 1, 2015
    Suburb of Detroit
    I've been a big space fan my entire life and the night before the Challenger explosion I was talking to my manager where I used to work saying that I'll be surprised if they launched the shuttle tomorrow because of cold weather they were having. I had a bad feeling in my gut the whole night about the launch. The next day while in a college accounting class (I think) I heard about the shuttle explosion, I can say that has to be only time I was wasn't shocked. I was shocked when 9/11 happen but not this. I was more stunned for what I was feeling the night before.
  7. obeygiant thread starter macrumors 68040


    Jan 14, 2002
    totally cool
  8. quagmire macrumors 603


    Apr 19, 2004
    Yep... They had evidence of the issue from the previous launch of Discovery which came close to having the O-Rings burn through as well.

    Challenger and Columbia piss me off to no end. The Shuttles got a bad rep when it is on management 100%.....
  9. ardent73 macrumors regular


    Jan 14, 2010
    Found out in 7th grade Earth Science by our teacher who had applied to be the 'first teacher in space'. Coincidentally, it's also the anniversary of the Blizzard of 1977 which killed almost 30 people over 3.5 days.
  10. blkjedi954 macrumors member


    Feb 15, 2012
    I too was in 6th grade. Our class went outside to watch the launch but was ushered back in quickly when that terrible tragedy happened. As kids we weren't sure what happened but staff was in tears. The classroom tv was rolled front and center and we watched the news and our little eyes filled with tears. Worst day in my life as a child. Still tugs at my heart today.
  11. Scepticalscribe macrumors Westmere


    Jul 29, 2008
    The Far Horizon
    I remember seeing this on TV on the news - I was an undergrad at the time. Watching it, I came to the realisation that this was a salutary reminder that space travel still carried considerable risks. In fact, at the time I was struck by how - until that accident - we had almost begin to take the marvels of space travel for granted, and shrug at another announcement of a successful shuttle launch.
  12. Tomorrow macrumors 604


    Mar 2, 2008
    Always a day away
    I was in 11th grade taking a chemistry exam. I was a bit preoccupied already, so the gravity of what had happened didn't really register with me until I got home that evening.

    True story: back in '92-'93 or so when I was doing my undergraduate work in mechanical engineering, I was signed up for a seminar on engineering ethics, and this fellow who blew the whistle on the faulty O-rings was scheduled to speak at the seminar. He withdrew shortly before the event, we were later told there were threats to his safety. Nuts.
  13. SandboxGeneral Moderator emeritus


    Sep 8, 2010
    I remember that day too; I was 7 years old. The teachers in the grade school gathered all the classes to a common room and rolled out a TV for us to watch the launch live. It was a very sad day..
  14. ucfgrad93 macrumors P6


    Aug 17, 2007
    I was 20 years old when the Challenger disaster happened. What a shame in that it was a very preventable catastrophe.
  15. caoimhin macrumors member


    May 11, 2006
    This is entirely correct, and it's absolutely heartbreaking. I didn't know the administrative background to the Columbia story until very recently. I was home from high school for about a month that year. I remember laying in bed, sick with mono, delirious with a fever, watching that beautiful piece of engineering disintegrate.

    Over ten years later, I stumbled across Wayne Hale's blog--at the time, I think he was deputy program manager of the STS program. With a heavy heart, he discussed the managerial failures of some of the operations staff. Inexcusable decision-making. I remember reading his account and thinking how far from "Failure is not an option" that particular operations team had strayed.

    He has a series of entries on the topic I'll link here.
  16. bradl macrumors 68040


    Jun 16, 2008
    One of those engineers at Thiokol is now finally getting some (internal, personal) peace, thanks to we common folk writing him letters.

    Note: I'm going to leave this inline instead of quoting it, because while it is long, it's definitely worth the read.

    Your Letters Helped Challenger Shuttle Engineer Shed 30 Years Of Guilt
    Updated February 25, 201610:22 AM ET
    Published February 25, 20169:07 AM ET
    By Howard Berkes

    When NPR reported Bob Ebeling's story on the 30th anniversary of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, hundreds of listeners and readers expressed distress and sympathy in letters and emails.

    On Jan. 27, 1986, the former engineer for shuttle contractor Morton Thiokol had joined four colleagues in trying to keep Challenger grounded. They argued for hours that the launch the next morning would be the coldest ever. Freezing temperatures, their data showed, stiffened rubber O-rings that keep burning rocket fuel from leaking out of the joints in the shuttle's boosters.

    But NASA officials rejected that data, and Thiokol executives overruled Ebeling and the other engineers.

    "It's going to blow up," a distraught and defeated Ebeling told his wife, Darlene, when he arrived home that night.

    And it did, 73 seconds after liftoff. Seven astronauts died. Cold weather and an O-ring failure were blamed, and Ebeling carried three decades of guilt.

    "That was one of the mistakes God made," Ebeling, now 89, told me three weeks ago at his home in Brigham City, Utah. "He shouldn't have picked me for that job. But next time I talk to him, I'm gonna ask him, 'Why me? You picked a loser.' "

    Jim Sides listened to the NPR story in his car in Jacksonville, N.C.

    "When I heard he carried a burden of guilt for 30 years, it broke my heart," Sides, an engineer, says. "And I just sat there in the car in the parking lot and cried."

    Like many engineers who responded to Ebeling's story, Sides knows what it's like to present data and face resistance. He's also certain about who bears responsibility for the decisions that result.

    "He and his colleagues stated it very plainly. It was a dangerous day for the launch," Sides says. "But [Ebeling] was not the decision-maker. He did his job as an engineer. He should not have to carry any guilt."

    Sides wrote Ebeling a letter that mentioned Roger Boisjoly, a former Thiokol colleague who died in 2012 and rallied the engineers opposing the Challenger launch. Boisjoly addressed his own depression and guilt by making the Challenger experience a case study in ethical decision-making.

    Many of the engineers who also wrote Ebeling credited him and Boisjoly for engineering school discussions that focused on the Challenger decision.

    "Your efforts show that your care for people comes first for you," Sides wrote to Ebeling. "I agree with your friend Roger Boisjoly. You and he and your colleagues did all that you could do."

    Sides describes himself as a religious man and says Ebeling was wrong about God.

    "God didn't pick a loser," he says. "He picked Bob Ebeling."

    Ebeling's eyesight is so poor he can't read the letters himself. So his daughter Kathy read them aloud, including the note from Sides.

    "That's easy to say," Ebeling responded. "But after hearing that, I still have that guilt right here," he said pointing to his heart.

    This was a week after the Challenger anniversary story, and Ebeling sat in a wheelchair at his kitchen table, wearing a flannel shirt and pajamas. Letters and printed emails were stacked in front of him. Kathy picked another letter from the pile and tried again.

    "You presented the correct data and blew the whistle," another listener wrote. "You are not a loser. You are a challenger."

    Again, Ebeling wasn't moved. So I asked him if there's something more he wanted to hear.

    "You aren't NASA. You aren't Thiokol," he said. "I hadn't heard any of those people."

    Kathy noted that neither Thiokol nor NASA had contacted her dad since deep depression prompted his retirement shortly after the Challenger disaster.

    "He's never gotten confirmation that he did do his job and he was a good worker and he told the truth," Kathy said.

    Thiokol has since been absorbed by another company. There isn't anyone there or at NASA today who was likely involved in the launch decision.

    But some retired participants in that decision are still alive, including 78-year-old Allan McDonald, who was Ebeling's boss at the time and a leader of the effort to postpone the launch. He called Ebeling right away.

    McDonald told Ebeling that his definition of a loser is "somebody that really doesn't do anything. But worse yet, they don't care. I said, 'You did something and you really cared. That's the definition of a winner.' "

    McDonald also reminded Ebeling that he first raised the alarm by calling the Kennedy Space Center, where McDonald was Thiokol's launch representative. That call prompted the 11th-hour teleconference in which the engineers told NASA it was too risky to launch.

    "If you hadn't have called me," McDonald told Ebeling, "they were in such a go mode, we'd have never even had a chance to try to stop it."

    McDonald also responded to some NPR listeners who were not sympathetic to Ebeling and the other Thiokol engineers. They said the engineers should have done more, including last-ditch calls to NASA's launch director or even the White House.

    "You just don't do that," McDonald said. "They'd probably send a van out with some white coats and picked you up. ... The launch director doesn't take those outside calls either."

    Another key participant in the launch decision was Robert Lund, who was Thiokol's vice president for engineering at the time. He was one of the company executives who approved the Challenger launch despite objections from Ebeling, Boisjoly, McDonald and others.

    Lund wouldn't agree to a recorded interview, saying, "I don't want to relive it." He was reassigned by Thiokol and so "shamed by the neighbors" that his family was forced to move, he said. "It was a bad dream."

    But Lund said he phoned Ebeling and told him, "You did all that you could do."

    A former NASA official involved in the Challenger launch also declined to be interviewed. George Hardy was a deputy director of engineering at the Marshall Spaceflight Center, which supervised Thiokol's production of the shuttle's booster rockets. He famously said he was "appalled" when Ebeling and the other engineers argued that Challenger shouldn't fly in temperatures so cold.

    Hardy now says he's gone over that night many times.

    "I've concluded that's of no great value to me or anyone else," he said.

    But he did see value in writing to Ebeling.

    "You and your colleagues did everything that was expected of you," Hardy wrote. "The decision was a collective decision made by several NASA and Thiokol individuals. You should not torture yourself with any assumed blame."

    Hardy closed with a promise to pray for Ebeling's physical and emotional health. "God bless you," he wrote.

    The note from Hardy and the phone call from McDonald seemed to be a turning point. It was two weeks now after the Challenger story, and Kathy had been reading letter after letter every day. Sitting in his big easy chair in his living room, Ebeling's eyes and mood seemed brighter.

    "I've seen a real change," his daughter explained. "He doesn't have a heavy heart like he did."

    Ebeling then jumped in.

    "I know that is the truth that my burden has been reduced," he said. "I can't say it's totally gone, but I can certainly say it's reduced."

    The night before, NASA had sent a statement and Ebeling hadn't heard it yet. The statement was emailed by a spokeswoman for NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, a former astronaut. He flew on the shuttle flight just before Challenger, and later led the effort to resume shuttle flights safely.

    "We honor [the Challenger astronauts] not through bearing the burden of their loss, but by constantly reminding each other to remain vigilant," the statement read. "And to listen to those like Mr. Ebeling who have the courage to speak up so that our astronauts can safely carry out their missions."

    After hearing that, Ebeling clapped long and hard, and shouted, "Bravo!"

    "I've had that thought many, many times," he said.

    Ebeling is now more buoyant than at any time I've seen or talked to him in the past 30 years. It's been a rough three decades, and it hasn't gotten any easier. He's near the end of his predicted life expectancy for prostate cancer and has hospice care at home. He said he'll pray for God's assessment once our interview ends.

    I asked him one more question. "What would you like to say to all the people who have written you?"

    "Thank you," he said. "You helped bring my worrisome mind to ease. You have to have an end to everything."

    Ebeling then smiled, raised his hands above his head and clapped again. Kathy Ebeling called that a miracle.

    Ebeling definitely deserves the inner peace he is now having, and I hope he continues to find more.

  17. bradl macrumors 68040


    Jun 16, 2008
    Bob Ebeling passed away this morning.

    I'm definitely glad he found the inner peace he was looking for. He definitely did deserve it, and to have that type of courage and integrity to stand up say what he has against political pressure, he definitely was a winner. His family should be proud of the life he lived.

  18. obeygiant thread starter macrumors 68040


    Jan 14, 2002
    totally cool
  19. JamesMike macrumors demi-god


    Nov 3, 2014
  20. mastermix macrumors member


    Jun 24, 2003
    Asbury Park, NJ

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19 January 27, 2016