I was just telling Sabra that it seems one journalist or another writes this same damn story on every major anniversary (5, 10, 15, 20, 25 years, etc.) of the Challenger disaster. And it’s always so damn shallow. “Ohhhh, the pain, most diverse space crew ever goes poof!” It’s always about how everyone left behind feels about the loss of the Challenger astronauts and never about the callous disregard Morton Thiokol management showed that ultimately led to the shuttle blowing up, specifically, “Take off your engineering hat and put on your management hat.” Many of you probably know the full extent of what that led to, but if you don’t…
For a few subsequent anniversaries to the 1986 catastrophe, on the appropriate day and at the appropriate hour, NASA workers were invited to gather for a period of silence. In Houston where I worked, it was at the center’s main flagpole.
According to the official NASA description of the ceremony, this was to last 73 seconds, “the duration of Challenger’s flight”. That’s what press accounts said, too — look it up on the Internet, where references almost always say something like “The space shuttle Challenger explodes 73 seconds after launch, killing all seven astronauts aboard”.
But we were engineers and operators, not managers and media flacks, and we knew better. Challenger had been in flight for 73 seconds when it broke apart, and the cabin — with its crew still alive but presumably (and mercifully) soon unconscious from anoxia — continued its upwards, then downwards arc for another 134 seconds. This was more than two whole minutes of additional flight before the cabin hit the water, killing the astronauts.
And if you click the link in the above-quoted text, you’ll see this:
Analysis of crew cabin wreckage indicates the shuttle’s windows may have survived the explosion. It is thus possible the crew did not experience high-altitude cabin decompression. If so, some or all of the astronauts may have been alive and conscious all the way to impact in the Atlantic…
No one ever talks about any of that in those stories. Why? Don’t those things merit more than the oh-so-fleeting mention that they get at best?