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Thread: Space shuttle Challenger tragedy

  1. #1
    Elite Member celeb_2006's Avatar
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    Unhappy Space shuttle Challenger tragedy

    (I'm not sure where to put this. I recently watched a National Geographic special about the untold story of the Space Shuttle Challenger. It was very sad and very upsetting knowing that they deliberately overlooked warnings about not launching during cold weather. I always assumed that the astronauts were killed instantly but during the program they discussed the crew cabin separating and the possibility they were still alive. I found this older article about the heroic effort to locate the astronauts)

    Chapter 5: An eternity of descent - Space History-

    Inside the Associated Press trailer at the press site, veteran aerospace reporter Howard Benedict worked furiously to get out the story to the world as quickly as possible. He was dictating over the phone to the AP’s New York desk. His first paragraph was already available as a news bulletin on every wire and he was into his second paragraph:

    “There was no immediate indication on the fate of the crew, but it appeared that nobody could have survived that fireball in the sky.”
    He paused momentarily, felt the air freezing about him. “Mother of God,” he whispered.

    Howard Benedict was wrong.

    A decade after the accident, the best evidence tells experts that Challenger’s seven astronauts did not die in the blast.
    What a Presidential Commission failed to learn, what NASA’s own investigations studiously ignored, what the contractors who built the shuttle knew, what no one wanted to even mention, what was too horrifying to acknowledge, was that the seven astronauts of Challenger lived from the moment of the explosion until they smashed at great speed into the sea.

    Theirs was truly the longest ride down.

    The water was murky, swirling from surface winds, keeping divers Terry Bailey and Mike McAllister from seeing more than an arm’s reach in front of them. They had been diving for days, recovering Challenger’s debris, and, now, on this dive, they had only six minutes left in their tanks.

    They were about 100 feet down, moving across the seafloor, when they almost bumped into what at first appeared to be a tangle of wire and metal. Nothing that unusual, nothing they hadn’t seen on many dives before.
    Then, they saw it. A spacesuit, full of air, legs floating toward the surface. There’s someone in it, Terry Bailey thought.

    No, that’s not right, he admonished himself. Shuttle astronauts do not wear pressurized spacesuits during powered flight. They wear jumpsuits. They carry along two pressure suits if they should be needed for a repair spacewalk.

    He turned to his partner, Mike McAllister. They just looked at each other and thought, “Jackpot.” This is what we’ve been looking for. The crew cabin.

    Low on air, the two divers made a quick inspection, marked the location with a buoy and returned to their boat to report the find.

    A cabin intact
    Early the next morning, the USS Preserver recovery ship put to sea. The divers began their grim task of recovering the slashed and twisted remains of Challenger’s crew cabin and the remains of its seven occupants.
    On first inspection, it was obvious that the shuttle Challenger’s crew vessel had survived the explosion during ascent. A 2-year-long investigation into how the crew cabin, and possibly its occupants, had survived was begun.
    Veteran astronauts Robert Crippen and Bob Overmyer, along with other top experts, sifted through every bit of tracking data. They studied all the crew cabin’s systems — even the smallest, most insignificant piece of wreckage. They learned that at the instant of ignition of the main fuel tank, when a sheet of flame swept up past the window of pilot Mike Smith, there could be no question Smith knew — even in that single moment — that disaster had engulfed them. Something awful, something that had never before happened to a shuttle, was upon them like a great beast.

    Mike Smith uttered his final words for history, preserved on a crew cabin recorder.

    An ultimate epitaph.

    Immediately after, all communications between the shuttle and the ground were lost. At first, many people watching the blast, and others in mission control, believed the astronauts had died instantly — a blessing in its own right.

    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.

    Weighing the mystery
    Some dispute this conclusion, and the truth is, there is no way of knowing absolutely at what moment the Challenger Seven lost their lives. But a common-sense, rational review of the evidence tell those with extensive backgrounds in flight that the seven astronauts lived all the way down.

    In the face of such expert beliefs, NASA finally made this official admission: “The forces on the Orbiter (shuttle) at breakup were probably too low to cause death or serious injury to the crew but were sufficient to separate the crew compartment from the forward fuselage, cargo bay, nose cone, and forward reaction control compartment.”

    The official report concluded, “The cause of death of the Challenger astronauts cannot be positively determined.”
    “We’ll probably never know,” says a NASA spokesman.

    But in the mind of one of the lead investigators, we do know. Three-time space shuttle commander Robert Overmyer, who died himself in a 1996 plane crash, was closest to Scobee. There no question the astronauts survived the explosion, he says.

    “I not only flew with Dick Scobee, we owned a plane together, and I know Scob did everything he could to save his crew,” he said after the investigation.

    At first, Overmyer admitted, he thought the blast had killed his friends instantly. But, he said sadly, “It didn’t.”

    One could see how difficult it had been for him to search through his colleagues’ remains, how this soul-numbing duty had brought him the sleepless nights, the “death knell” for this tough Marine’s membership in the astronaut corps.

    “Scob fought for any and every edge to survive. He flew that ship without wings all the way down.”

    Standing in his oceanside condominium, Overmyer turned away to stare at where his friends had crashed with great speed into the sea. “They were alive,” he said softly. “They were alive.”

    Recovery of the heroes was a long, difficult ordeal for all involved.The bulkhead that secured the internal air pressure of the crew decks, separate from the airlock to the cargo bay, faced the divers as a dangerous skew of wreckage that had to be removed before they could reach what remained of the bodies inside.

    First to be retrieved from the watery tomb were the remains of Judy Resnik. The divers worked slowly but steadily. More and more parts of bodies went to the surface. Then, from the middeck, the remains of First-Teacher-in-Space Christa McAuliffe were carried slowly to the surface vessel. For the moment, that was all the divers could do.

    The cabin wreckage was so twisted and tangled, sharp edges jutting everywhere like knife points, that the divers demanded the wreckage itself be hauled to the surface and the operation continued on deck.
    The crew, the NASA teams and the astronauts overseeing the operation stood silently on the USS Preserver recovery ship as a crane lifted the wreckage from the sea. Every step possible to render respect and honor to the human remains was taken.

    The salvage operations proceeded normally until the steel cables on the ocean bottom tugged at another section of Challenger’s middeck. At first the weight and mass seemed too great for the hoisting system. Slowly, painfully, the cables pulled the unseen wreckage from the bottom. Then the cables drew the load to the surface. Divers in the water, and everyone on deck, froze where they were.

    A blue astronaut jumpsuit bobbed to the surface, turned slowly and then disappeared again within the sea.

    What seemed liked minutes passed, in reality only seconds of time. Divers and sailors stood stunned as they realized what had happened. They had found — and just as quickly lost — astronaut Gregory Jarvis. Immediately the divers went deep again, beginning a frantic search for the last astronaut of Challenger, a frustrating search that would not end for another five weeks.

    Reuniting the heroes
    In the days following, armed forces pathologists made positive identifications of six astronauts from Challenger. The underwater search continued for the body of Gregory Jarvis.

    The frustrations of failure day after day began to tell on everyone involved. No one wanted to declare “missing” someone so close to his own group, when they knew the body had every chance of being nearby.

    Veteran shuttle pilots Robert Crippen and Bob Overmyer had been put in charge of the recovery of their fellow astronauts, and they would brook no interference from anyone, no matter how high they might be in the NASA hierarchy. Or from any other source. Crippen and Overmyer had decided that when the remains were turned over to the families, there would be seven coffins beneath the American flags. There would not be six. So desperate was Crippen to bring Jarvis home with the rest of his crew that he used his own credit card to hire a local scallop boat to drag its nets across the ocean bottom. Crippen’s move was a last-ditch effort in a search all but abandoned by the exhausted recovery forces.

    On April 15, when the recovery teams were planning to cease the search they had carried out for months, divers were making what was scheduled to be their last attempts to gather wreckage from the ocean floor. Two hundred yards from where they had lost the blue suit, they swam within view of the lost astronaut.

    The seventh crew member of Challenger was brought carefully to the surface. Ashore, finally, the Challenger Seven were reunited.

  2. #2
    Elite Member nana55's Avatar
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    Oct 2005
    dreaming about being on a lake in Ontario


    So so sad. I wondered if it was possible for them to eject? I guess not or they would have. How hard this must be for the famlies.
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  3. #3
    Elite Member Laurent's Avatar
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    Oct 2005
    Out There


    I watched something on The Weather Channel that explored the idea that the crew lived until impact with the ocean. The idea that they knew what was happening and were conscious for that 2 minute trip down is too much for me to even want to comprehend.

    If I were their families, I'd want to know what went wrong, but I think I'd want to be spared the gory, gruesome details of how horrific their last moments were.

  4. #4
    Elite Member cupcake's Avatar
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    I remember it like yesterday. I always get a bit anxious when it goes up. We are able to watch out our front porch. Watched tonight, went off perfectly. Never want to see another tragedy like that ever
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  5. #5
    Elite Member msdeb's Avatar
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    in a van down by the river


    how horrible for them, and the families.
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  6. #6
    Elite Member Quazar's Avatar
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    Unbearable to think that they may have been alive during the descent. I hope they were unconscious.

  7. #7
    Elite Member McJag's Avatar
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    Sounds like they were too busy fighting to think of what was coming.
    I didn't start out to collect diamonds, but somehow they just kept piling up.-Mae West

  8. #8
    Elite Member kingcap72's Avatar
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    I remember the Challenger explosion. I always thought they died in the explosion. Had no idea that they survived it and died on impact when they came back to earth.

  9. #9
    A*O is offline
    Friend of Gossip Rocks! A*O's Avatar
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    Some people involved in other mid-air explosions live all the way down too, eg Lockerbie. We aren't told because it's too horrible to think about.
    If all the women in this place were laid end to end, I wouldn’t be surprised - Dorothy Parker

  10. #10
    Elite Member McJag's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by A*O View Post
    Some people involved in other mid-air explosions live all the way down too, eg Lockerbie. We aren't told because it's too horrible to think about.
    Really,it serves no purpose and must drive their families mad with the thought. RIP.
    I didn't start out to collect diamonds, but somehow they just kept piling up.-Mae West

  11. #11
    Elite Member Mel1973's Avatar
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    that's terrible. to be alive for almost 3 minutes as you plumet to your death. how awful for your family to know that's how you lived your last moments - dreading the impact of the crash. i wish i didn't know that.
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  12. #12
    Elite Member chartreuse's Avatar
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    the salad bowl


    i remember watching the challenger explode on television. i was in my first-grade class & we were all excited about christa mcauliffe, the first teacher in space. i still remember some of us crying, too.

    that was a sad day.
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  13. #13
    Hit By Ban Bus! AliceInWonderland's Avatar
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    you already know.



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