Today's Highlight in History:
On Jan. 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center, killing all seven of its crew members: flight commander Francis R. "Dick" Scobee; pilot Michael Smith; Ronald McNair; Ellison Onizuka; Judith Resnik; Gregory Jarvis; and schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe.
From Charter News
A BBC News report was typical of most news broadcasts, claiming that, “The explosion was witnessed by millions on live TV.”
Nothing can take away from the tragedy of the fiery breakup of the shuttle and the death of the entire crew. These men and women are to be honored for their dedication and courage, and for the very real contributions they made to the Space Program. The seven would be better honored, however, if the information repeated, rehearsed, and rebroadcast for the past 22 years was a little more accurate.
An interesting article by James Oberg, NBC News space analyst, brings together several myths concerning the Challenger disaster and at least partially debunks them. This is no conspiracy theorist spreading wild eyed allegations of sinister plots. It is rather a tale of bureaucracy run rampant, to the cost of the truth. It is a sad fact that in the wake of every tragedy in which there was governmental involvement, there is an immediate scurrying about, putting a bit better spin on the matter, all in the spirit of covering one's ass, and full disclosure be damned.
Mr. Oberg's article confronts seven myths surrounding the Challenger disaster, and seeks to set the record straight. He tells us - - :
1. The shuttle launch was NOT being broadcast as it happened, except for a satellite feed available only to those with the properly configured dishes. Christa McAuliffe, being the “First Teacher in Space,” a live feed from CNN was made available to and viewed at many public schools. The various news sources WERE video recording the launch, and tapes were broadcast within minutes, and perhaps seconds, after the breakup.
2. There was no actual explosion in the sense of a detonation. The disastrous fuel leak led to an immediate fire and huge fireball, causing separation of boosters from the shuttle, and the breakup and destruction of the entire vehicle. A large part of the shuttle itself was virtually intact, though certainly not airworthy.
3. The breakup, a minute 13 seconds after launch, at 48,000 feet altitude, was certainly NOT when the crew died. The crew compartment peaked at 65,000 feet and only then started downward. It impacted on the ocean's surface some two minutes 45 seconds after the fuel tank ignited.
The cockpit voice recordings have never been released, so the general public cannot know exactly how long any of the shuttle crew remained conscious once the breakup began. It IS known that of the four emergency Personal Egress Air Packs recovered, three had been manually activated. At least some of the crew were alive, conscious, and were doing what they could to survive.
The point is moot for the Challenger personnel, for there were no ejection seats and indeed, no personal parachutes aboard. Modified SR-71 Blackbird ejection seats and full pressure suits were used on the first four shuttle orbital missions, which were considered test flights, but they were removed for the operational missions that followed. It was over two years later that the design of a crew bailout system was approved for use on subsequent missions.
Again, these points, and the four others, are not the ravings of some paranoid writer, trying to drum up interest for a new “exposé” book. The sources are NOT super secret and ultra confidential; the data are all available to anyone with Internet access. If you can read this, you can access Google, Yahoo!, Ask.com or other search engines, and research the allegations made in Mr. Oberg's article.
My purpose is not to attack the shuttle program nor the space program in general. I feel it is beneficial to humankind that we continue our questing into space. With such massive sums of our tax money being spent, though, it is not unreasonable to expect open and honest disclosures about the program. Those who die in the service of our country and of mankind deserve no less.