- Challenger launching Spacelab in 1985
- The Challenger crew was Christa McAuliffe (Teacher in
Space), Dick Scobee (Commander), Mike Smith (Pilot), Ron McNair (Mission
Specialist), Judy Resnik (Mission Specialist), Ellison Onizuka (Mission
Specialist), and Gregory Jarvis (Payload Specialist).
- It happened on Jan. 28, 1986. It was another "11"
day (Jan. + 2 + 8 = 11) event. Richard Feynman led the commission
technically to investigate the accident. A show on the History Channel
titled "Challenger: The Untold Story" aired just five days
before 20th anniversary of the "accident."
- Is the above date is just another coincidence
- Note the following Commission hearing date:
- Feb. 11th 1986
- PRESENT AT THE COMMISSION HEARING:
- WILLIAM P. ROGERS, Chairman, Presiding
- NEIL A. ARMSTRONG, Vice Chairman
- DR. SALLY RIDE
- DR. ARTHUR WALKER
- DAVID C. ACHESON
- DR. RICHARD FEYNMAN
- MAJOR GENERAL DONALD KUTYNA
- ROBERT HOTZ
- DR. EUGENE COVERT
- ALSO PRESENT:
- AL KEEL, Commission Executive Director 
- DEFINITION OF AN ACCIDENT
- But we must first clarify what an "accident"
is. An accident is something that no one planned for or intended to happen.
If you are driving your car, see a pedestrian step off a curb, step
on the gas and run them over - is that an "Accident?" If you
point a gun at someone and pull the trigger, is that an "Accident?"
If you launch a spacecraft at temperatures you KNOW will result in death
and disaster, is that also an "Accident?"
- Christa McAuliffe was the first civilian to fly aboard
the shuttle. NASA wanted her to show that space travel will be routine,
and had a competition for her position on the vehicle she didn't know about.
Christa heard on a car radio one night that Reagan was conducting a search
of primary and secondary schools for an American to fly aboard the vehicle.
She delayed sending in her application until the last minute. Challenger
will take it's last flight one year later.
- RUBBER WITH SUPER-HEATED GASES?
- Engineers knew the shuttle wasn't a perfect machine and
has had numerous mechanical problems. It was the most complex machine ever
built, and was to be the successor vehicle to the Apollo program. Morton
Thiokol, a company who's name was almost unknown to the public before the
"accident" manufactured the segmented solid rocket boosters.
Each one uses two rubber O-ring seals. (This begs the question to be asked
- why use rubber when the temperature to burn the rubber is exceeded by
more than 1,000 degrees? This was not discussed.)
- Leaking gas was already known to occur by at least one Thiokol
engineer, Roger Boisjoly (pronounced "boy-shzo-lay.") His
analysis of photos from earlier launches proved that the hot gases went
past the primary and secondary O-rings to the outside. Together NASA and
Morton Thiokol discussed launching that fateful morning, against Thiokol's
advice. It would turn out later, that NASA launched in spite of Thiokol's
engineers strongly advising not to. We shall see how this came about later.
- Flight 51C is the first of 5 planned launches with a
tight schedule. (This author was told by a NASA engineer in 1985 that NASA
was planning on TWO launches EVERY month. I laughed at the time already
aware of seemingly endless technical problems the program had. I also received
some ugly silent looks in return for that.) The commander Dick Scobee had
extensive experience as a pilot. A senator and a sultan prince were also
scheduled to fly aboard Challenger later in 1986. But Dick Scobee had reservations
about vehicle safety. Christa won the space competition, and it was
generating national interest. She only had one chance to get it right,
and with her husband as cameraman she made a video tape to send to NASA.
Christa made it through to the next round of just 100 contestants, and
was eventually selected from more than 11,500 applicants.
- The vehicle was designed to be large enough to carry
military satellites, which was far larger than what NASA originally wanted.
An original design called for the boosters to be mounted below the shuttle
for safety reasons, and not on the sides.
- William Rogers chaired the commission, which was also
staffed with military officers. Richard Feynman was involved in the development
of the A-bomb with a Nobel Prize for physics. Noted for being a bit
eccentric and also brilliant, he was also undergoing treatment for cancer.
He didn't want the job in his condition when he received the phone call.
He told his wife he didn't want any part of Washington politics. (What
better way to do a cover-up, than to pick someone to chair the commission
who will die soon and take the secrets with him?) His wife encouraged
him to do it, and he gave in.
- RISK - FAR HIGHER THAN MOST REALIZE
- Two days later the press was swarming everywhere around
Feynman at the hearing, looking for answers from anyone. When a reporter
asked Feynman about a cover-up, he responded, "the other day I heard
engineers talking about a pressure-induced vorticity oscillation."
Early on in the hearing, the commission turned its attention to the boosters.
Roger Boisjoly's lawyers told him not to offer any information other than
what was asked for, but he decided to talk freely anyway. He was high
up in Thiokol's "Structures section." He told the commission
that "Both primary and secondary O-rings can fail, causing a catastrophic
failure." The booster segments were transported in many segments to
Kennedy Space Center from Utah on a number of railroad cars.
They were assembled before flight into two boosters. Roger became concerned
that competitors would solve their problem for them, causing them to lose the
- EVERYONE KNEW the joint that failed was defective according
one engineer's on-camera testimony. But there would be no stopping that
launch on that cold day. It was the cold which was blamed on the disaster.
The shuttle design has more than 700 components that are rated "Criticality
1" - meaning that any one of them failing will most certainly kill
the crew. Jud Lovingood, a NASA engineer stated "Everyone knew about
engine cracks and numerous other problems for years... but we didn't think
a disaster would happen."
- Reagan made jokes about the launch in a press conference,
saying "t Take notes, there will be a quiz..."
Dick Methia was also a competitor for Christa's seat in the final 10 candidates.
He spoke highly of her saying "she laughed often, even to a group
not ready to laugh." The physical testing was extensive. He also
stated "It was the flight of a lifetime and we both knew it."
- In spite of all the levity and over-confidence, Dick
Scobee feared that civilians did not understand the risk. Scobee spoke
to the final 10 candidates and told them "When you're strapped in,
you are sitting on a ton of fireworks." This wiped the smiles off
the astronauts faces. NASA claimed the risk was 1 in 100,000 - but Roger
put it closer to 1 in 100. The commission found that the night before the
launch there was a desperate struggle to stop Challenger from taking off,
between Thiokol and NASA.
- Despite O-ring problems and damage, launches continued.
Roger Boisjoly requested a task force in numerous memos to investigate
it, and he became more outspoken about it. He stated that if a team was
not formed to solve the problem, that a flight would be lost. He stated
his management was being alienated by his tactics. He was told to be more
patient with those he worked with. Finally he was told a task force would
be formed, on the VERY SAME DAY that Christa was told she won the competition
for the seat on the vehicle. The race was on...
- The O-ring problem was still not resolved. "After
just one month, the task force realized they had no power, no resources
and no authority to get anything done" according to Roger. The
launch was to proceed as planned.
- The first launch attempt was to be on Jan. 26th, 1986.
Weather was cool at the traditional pre-launch picnic at the beach house.
Everyone played in the water just like children according to his widow.
It was a great hour they had together. The night before the Sunday launch,
thunderstorms hit the area. On the 27th, the crew boarded the shuttle.
But a problem with the access hatch handle jammed delayed the launch.
A hacksaw was used to cut away the handle, but the wind had increased.
NASA scrubbed the launch later that day. Reporters lambasted NASA for the
delays on not launching on time.
- Temperatures down in the low 20's were forecast for that
day, but that didn't stop NASA from forging ahead on launch plans.
Roger questioned the feasibility of launching at these low temperatures.
NASA could cancel anytime, and the next day was predicted to be colder.
Roger tried to stop the launch, because he knew the effects of the extreme
cold on the rubber O-rings. NASA was running out of time in the launch
window to reach orbit safely. They must launch by 12:38PM. Record low temperatures
were forecast. NASA calls Thiokol and reaches Roger's colleague, Arnold
Thompson. Temperatures were forecast to be 18F. Roger and Arnold alert
the management. Thiokol recommends against launching, and will not stop
the count-down without hard evidence. They want hard data, and a conference
call is planned for that morning at 8:15PM.
- No company in the history of NASA has ever tried to stop
a launch before.
- After a year of memos and calls, Roger was joyously happy
to have a chance to be heard. They come to the conference armed with data.
At 8:45PM the conference call begins. The Marshall Space Flight Center
in Alabama is responsible for all rocket and propulsion systems. Several
engineers and managers were present at the table in Thiokol's Utah corporate
headquarters. They try to tell NASA the grease and the O-rings will not
handle the low temperatures, and that both the primary and secondary seals
will not function. They advise that no launches should take place below
53F. Roger was elated that he made his point. According to Roger, his elation
and joy "Lasted for about 10 seconds" .
- Thiokol was severely chastised by NASA for demanding
a launch delay. Marshall mentioned that "We have been flying for 5
years, with all of us knowing the condition of the joints at cold temperatures."
Things became heated between Thiokol and NASA. With a pending NASA contract,
Thiokol was under intense pressure. Roger re-iterated the problem of launching
at the low temperatures on the phone call. The managers ignore Roger and
his colleagues, and instead have a private closed discussion with NASA
without the engineers.
- Fourteen charts Thiokol had at the phone conference proved
their reason not to launch. But it was to no avail. The VP of engineering
was pressured to change his mind and "Take off his engineering hat,
and put on his management hat." He then told NASA that "The data
predicting blow by (of super-hot gases) was inconclusive." NASA heard
silence on the phone after that, which was interpreted by them
to be a go ahead to launch. (That silence was the sound of impending death.)
- Arnold Thompson said that "I said what I had to
say to my management, and that's where it ended. But maybe I should have
gotten up and screamed about it."
- Roger saw his wife when he got home later that same day.
While he was in the garage coming into the house with his hand on the door
knob, she asked, "What's wrong?" Roger responded, "Oh nothing
honey. I had a great day. We're going to launch tomorrow and kill the astronauts.
- BACK AT THE HEARING
- Feynman is shocked that NASA already knew about cold
problems with O-ring seals. Feynman learns about the conference call the
night before and focuses in on them. He questions the Thiokol chief engineer
and asks who their top seal expert is. Roger Boisjoly is named. The chief
engineer and most of his staff all state that Challenger should not fly.
Now it was stated that some engineers "didn't know" and
others were "not sure" about the launch. (Apparently
minds are changed when taken out into the light of day.) Feynman had a
field day with that. What was clear was that it was NASA management which
made the decision to launch. The NY Times breaks the story and it becomes
- Now Feynman comes up with a plan to put NASA on trial - Larry
Mulloy, manager of solid rocket boosters. In a basic demonstration of physics,
Feynman shows a small piece of an actual O-ring held in a small C
clamp. It is quite soft and pliable. He then plunges it into
a drinking glass filled with icewater while he talks to Malloy. Pulling
it out of the icewater a few minutes later, he reveals how the rubber O-ring
won't stretch back when the clamp is removed for some period of time.
- JANUARY 28th, 1986
- On the morning of the launch the astronauts said goodbye
to their families, not knowing it would be the last time they would ever
see them. At the launch pad, the temperature was dropping fast as predicted
by the weathermen. Icesicles 18" long were forming on the shuttle,
but still the launch will go ahead as planned. As day breaks, the temperature
rises to 30 degrees. A two hour launch hold was inserted to allow
the temperature to rise higher. The close-out crew handed Christa (the
elementary school teacher) an apple as a symbolic gesture just before
closing the crew cabin hatch. The temperature rose to 36F, but it was still
30 degrees colder than any other shuttle launch. Roger and his colleagues
also were watching the launch from four miles away.
- [Author's note: It's not explained in the television
documentary how he managed to get from his home in Utah where he was the
night before, to the observation stands at Kennedy early the next morning.
There is no mention of him taking a red-eye flight from Utah to Florida.
In fact, he came home to his wife at the end of the work day after he had
the conference call with NASA, according to his testimony shown above.
After one receives a pass at the gate, it takes about 30 minutes driving
at 50MPH to reach the Pad B area. Now imagine flying all night to get there,
and the vehicle traffic one encounters going to the observation stands...]
- THE LAUNCH
- At T-6 seconds, the shuttle engines were ignited, followed
by the vehicle's solid rocket boosters (SRBs.) [Author's note: They always
ignite the SRBs last. The shuttle's main engine can be shutdown, but the
SRBs cannot.] Challenger rose majestically even though a puff of black
smoke was caught by film cameras, which no one noticed from four miles
away. Roger thought they "Dodged the bullet." The right hand
booster hot gases blow by both O-rings. At 56 seconds the super-hot
flame is now is burning a bigger and bigger hole. At 64 seconds, the hydrogen
tank is punctured and the hydrogen begins to burn. At 72.3 seconds, it
burned through the booster support. At 72.5 seconds the booster swings
out from lack of support. At 73.6 seconds, everything ignites as the hydrogen
and oxygen mix and explode. The explosion blasts the shuttle skyward at
more than 1,000 MPH, but the sudden stress tears it apart. The crew
cabin continues upwards for a short timer but begins slowing down, then
descending to earth.
- Scobee's widow explained how "We were numb, there
were no words... then they were put on a bus. There was crying everywhere,
and everyone knew they would not be coming back." At least three crew
members were able to turn on their emergency oxygen. [This author learned
directly from a Kennedy Space Center engineer who was also a customer
for this author at the time, that "about all that recovery operations
at sea could find was one boot, with part of a leg still in it. It
was inside what was left of the crew cabin ." NASA employees
were instructed to tell the public nothing about what was found.]
- President Reagan addressed the nation three days later,
in an attempt to comfort everyone. He ended his speech with "we bid
you goodbye, may we never forget you."
- The commission concluded that "No one person was
to blame." Roger insisted his comments be added to the official report.
Feynman blamed the disaster on "engineers and managers who were not
- Feynman died two years later from his fight with cancer,
and no one at NASA was ever held accountable.
- Roger leaves Thiokol just a few months after the hearings,
and never returns. His testimony had damaged his relationship with his
managers. He stated in the television special, "I still
can't understand it because I did everything right." Roger just didn't
understand how the game is played with NASA. This author did, and that's
why I left the DoD industry. No movie or television special has ever told
the real truth of what it's like to deal with the government or NASA.
- Now Roger knows, too.
- NASA made marginal improvements to the design. The O-rings
now have a heated layer for cold temperatures, and a third ring has been
added. [But it's still made of rubber!]
- After the disaster, the astronaut's families set up the
Challenger Learning Centers for children.
- And now let's look at what was left out of
the television special. This author sent an email to the History Channel more
than two years ago, offering to help them with a TV special.
No answer was ever received. The information you never heard about below
will tell you why they are silent - the real truth is even uglier.
Hence, the name of this article "Challenger 20 Years Later - The
Rest Of The Story."
- TAMPERING WITH DATA COLLECTION SYSTEMS
- The tampering of equipment inside the blockhouse just
before launch on that terrible morning is not shown in the Rogers Commission
Report. With regard to espionage or sabotage, only one line was present
in the report on this subject - No evidence of sabotage was found. You
will also not find the name of the aerospace contract civilian employee
who logged in at Challenger's Launch Pad B guardhouse in the report.
His covert visit was discovered when ALL the data from the Pad Measurement
System was missing. The PMS (not my choice for the system's name) was a
new monitoring system for which this author was the project manager. NASA
wrote the detailed technical spec. for it. I supervised the installation
and testing of it in August 1985. A unnamed employee entered
the blockhouse below the shuttle on the morning of 1/28/86, disabling that
system along with many others. He did this all by himself, and
then left the facility.
- At the time this took place, the pad was already cleared
of all personnel except for the guard in the Pad B guardhouse, who
leaves after the pad is secured. If he didn't leave he would die. Sound
pressure levels are so high that your eardrums would rupture. Deadly, toxic
fumes from the solid rocket boosters flood the area. This is one of the
main reasons no one is allowed within 4 miles of the pad before the
launch, AND for some hours afterward. The covert tinkering
by the aerospace engineer prevented Mission Control four miles away from
logging ANY launch pad pressure, strain or temperature data. The fact
this happened was communicated to this author via telephone, the very
next morning at 8:10AM from Kennedy.
- PRE-LAUNCH OPERATIONS YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO READ
- Pre-launch operations are of great interest to everyone
- especially those "other activities" cited above. You will note
in the table of contents (shown in their entirety below) that "Pre-launch
Operations" are among the details not available online. No explanation
was ever given for this. This is inexcusable. Without doubt, this
is not an oversight. This author first saw this report online more
than 10 years ago, long before appearing on Coast to Coast in 1998.
In 1996, NASA still had not yet characterized the explosive hold-down bolts
for the boosters. This was 10 full years after Challenger. Any delay or
uneveness in releasing a solid rocket booster generating 1.2 MILLION pounds
of thrust would be damaging. In fact, the boosters recovered from Challenger
were found to have their circular shape distorted more than usual. This
could also be attributed to the explosion.
- See Volume II, Appendix I in the table of contents below
for the inaccessible pre-launch operations.
- Report of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle
- (In compliance with Executive Order 12546 of February
- Table of Contents
- Volume I
- Chapter I - Introduction......................................2
- Chapter II - Events Leading Up to the Challenger
- Chapter III - The Accident.....................................19
- Chapter IV - The Cause of the Accident........................40
- Chapter V - The Contributing Cause of the Accident...........82
- Chapter VI - An accident Rooted in History...................120
- Chapter VII - The Silent Safety Program.......................152
- Chapter VIII - Pressures on the System.........................164
- Chapter IX - Other Safety Considerations.....................178
- The Commission..................................202
- The Staff.......................................204
- Appendix A - Commission Activities...........................206
- Appendix B - Commission Documentation System.................214
- Appendix C - Observations Concerning the Processing
- Assembly of Flight 51-l.........................219
- Appendix D - Supporting Charts and Documents.................225
- Volume II
- Appendix E - Independent Test Team Report to the
- Appendix F - Personal Observations on Reliability
- Appendix G - Human Factors Analysis
- Appendix H - Flight Readiness Review Treatment of
- Appendix I - NASA Pre-Launch Activities Team Report
- Appendix J - NASA Mission Planning and Operations
- Appendix K - NASA Development and Production Team
- Appendix L - NASA Accident Analysis Team Report
- Appendix M - Comments by Morton Thiokol on NASA Report
- Volume III
- Appendix N - NASA Photo and TV Support Team Report
- Appendix O - NASA Search, Recovery and Reconstruction
- Team Report
- Volume IV
- Hearings of the Presidential Commission on the Space
- Challenger Accident: February 6, 1986 to February
- Volume V
- Hearings of the Presidential Commission on the Space
- Challenger Accident: February 26, 1986 to May 2,
- Note: Currently only parts of each section are online
- Ted Twietmeyer was a DoD contractor for more than 20
years, holds an optical backplane patent and is a frequent contributor
to rense.com. He has also written the revealing E-book "What
NASA Isn't Telling You About Mars" and has been a guest on Jeff Rense's
show. The E-book is also available in CD-ROM format.
-  Two hour History Channel special - aired Jan. 23rd
-  Commission hearings -
-  Challenger report -