What were you doing when you heard about the Challenger explosion?

  • #1
Ivan Seeking
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Twenty years ago... it's hard to believe.

I clearly remember the moment that the news report was heard on the radio. I was working in the Cat Scan bone yard checking on equipment. When the report aired it was like the whole world changed; having been a huge shuttle fan since long before it even existed. The rest of the day was a complete waste.
 
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  • #2
Evo
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I was at home and turned on the tv and they were replaying the explosion. Seeing it was the first I heard of it.
 
  • #3
Astronuc
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I had watched the liftoff at home, and as soon as it cleared the tower, I walked out the door to go to the office (university).

I got to the office and I asked a fellow grad student if he had seen the launch, expecting to get some positive feedback. He then said, something like, "You didn't see it?". I was puzzled. He then said "they lost it." I thought he was joking!

I responded, what do mean lost, and I started explaining the tracking system and radar.

He stopped me, and and told me, "No, it blew up". I was stunned!

The rest of the day was a complete waste. :frown:


At the time, we were doing some work with NASA on Nuclear Power and Nuclear Rocket Propulsion Systems. :frown:

I had just started a PhD program, and my research area was nuclear electric propulsion. My colleagues and I had done some scoping analyses on different kinds of nuclear propulsion systems for missions to Mars during my MS program, and I had just returned from a conference where I presented some results. Challenger was a big set back in many ways, not to mention the unnecessary and the very avoidable loss of 7 crew members. :frown:
 
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  • #4
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Well, I don't know. I was in utero until two weeks after it happened, so I probably heard about it at the same time my mother.
 
  • #5
Integral
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OH man, the weeks before and for some months after the Challenger disaster remain the worst time of my life. I was just attempting to start life as a Math Grad student when my wife filed for divorce I was emotionally drained. I did not have a TV, my only access to a news paper was library or the Math Dept Office. I walked into the office that evening and flipped over a newspaper to a large picture of the exploding shuttle. I flipped the paper back over and left the room. At that point in my life I did not have emotions left to deal with it.
 
  • #6
Moonbear
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I was home from school because I was sick, so got to watch the whole thing as it was broadcast live. And then just sat there with nobody to tell or talk about it or anything until my sister got home from school and I could tell her...it's not the sort of thing you just watch and then want to roll over and go back to sleep, no matter how sick you are...plus, it's the sort of thing you want to ask, "Did I really see that?"
 
  • #7
Evo
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Moonbear said:
I was home from school because I was sick, so got to watch the whole thing as it was broadcast live. And then just sat there with nobody to tell or talk about it or anything until my sister got home from school and I could tell her...it's not the sort of thing you just watch and then want to roll over and go back to sleep, no matter how sick you are...plus, it's the sort of thing you want to ask, "Did I really see that?"
Not to mention they replayed the explosion on every station all day every few minutes, over and over and over. That's what got to me the most. I can still see it.
 
  • #8
Moonbear
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Evo said:
Not to mention they replayed the explosion on every station all day every few minutes, over and over and over. That's what got to me the most. I can still see it.
I have strange reactions to things like that...it didn't get to me, it got me annoyed. Nothing worse than being stuck home feeling sick, seeing some big news you can't tell anyone about because all your friends are at school, and then there's NOTHING to watch all day long except the same footage looped over and over and over again. What do you do when you're stuck home sick from school other than lie in bed feeling miserable and watching TV? :cry:
 
  • #9
Evo
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When the shuttle exploded, everyone "ooohed" and "awwwed" and applauded until those that knew that wasn't supposed to happen made the others aware that something had gone terribly wrong. It was so surreal.
 
  • #10
Mk
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It wasn't that bad? Can I say that in here? I felt sorry for the people who died, and the money lost, and technology lost, but it had no more meaning for me.
 
  • #11
Evo
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Mk said:
It wasn't that bad? Can I say that in here? I felt sorry for the people who died, and the money lost, and technology lost, but it had no more meaning for me.
It was the first loss of it's kind, it was totally unexpected. This particular trip was important because it had a school teacher on board due to a poorly worded comment President Reagan had made and tried to rectify by showing he thought teachers were important by sending one up on the shuttle. It shut down the shuttle program for several years.
 
  • #12
Moonbear
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Mk said:
It wasn't that bad? Can I say that in here? I felt sorry for the people who died, and the money lost, and technology lost, but it had no more meaning for me.
You feel how you feel. That's the thing about emotions, we don't think about them, they just happen...or not. My own reaction was weird too...it was more of an excitement about seeing something on live TV that I just knew was big news and wanting to share it, and certainly surprise, but it was a time in my life when things like that didn't make me feel bad; I had a very dispassionate view of things then. More of what ran through my mind was, "Wow! This is the sort of thing that'll be like JFK being assassinated...people will always be asking, 'What were you doing when the Challenger exploded?' and I'll remember being sick at home watching it all on TV." I doubt that was a very normal thing to think at that moment, but I had enough emotional stuff that directly affected me at the time that I didn't get emotional about people I didn't know personally.
 
  • #13
Monique
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What I was doing when I heard about it, I must have been watching a Discovery channel documentary on it :wink:
 
  • #14
Ivan Seeking
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I would imagine that many younger people don't have a frame of reference for this. It wasn't just the loss of life or the value of the spacecraft that upset people. With an planned flight schedule of one launch per week, the space shuttle was intended to usher in a new age of humans in space and to serve as the conduit to a permanently manned space station. Just when we thought that we were nearly there, and when space flight was starting to seem common place and even safe, the shuttle blew up, and everyone was reminded not only of the dangers of space flight - that it probably would never be common in our lifetimes - but also that the dream of life in space, something that was nearly taken for granted at this point, suddenly slipped away without any warning. So it was the sudden and unexpected death of a dream for many of us.

Of course, slowly we learned that we had been sold a song and dance, that the original promises were completely unrealistic, and that NASA knew it.
 
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  • #15
Mk
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Well, the dream didn't completely vanish just because one shuttle was destroyed. I think people overreacted about how dangerous it was too.
 
  • #16
Ivan Seeking
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It was expected, we later found out, that something like 1:100 flights would end in disaster.

And speak for yourself. I'm probably too old now to ever have a chance to experience space flight.
 
  • #17
Mk
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That's a nice prospect.

How did whoever figure out that 1 in 100 flights would end in disaster?
 
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  • #18
Math Is Hard
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I don't remember exactly what I was doing when I heard the news, but I was living in Houston (Clear Lake) at the time, just down the road from NASA. Those were very sad days for the community.
 
  • #19
Ivan Seeking
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Mk said:
That's a nice prospect.

How whoever figure out that 1 in 100 flights would end in disaster?
I'm not sure of the exact number, in fact it could even be a little worse than 1:100, but this is the likelyhood of a catastophic failure on any mission based on statistical analysis of the many shuttle systems and how likely each of these is to fail.
 
  • #20
Mk
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Sorry, Ivan, I was dead when I posted that post Ivan.
 
  • #21
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I was in 11th grade and walking down the hall heading to my next class when I ran into a friend of mine who told me the shuttle had exploded. At first I thought he was bullsh*tting me, and then it turned into one of those 'holee crap' moments. It wasn't until I got home from school that afternoon when I saw the footage all over the TV
 
  • #22
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Being two years old at the time, I obviously have no recollection of the fact.

But I remember how I felt when the Columbia blew up. It was weird. I MSN'd some friends about it at once, telling to turn on the tv. I suppose it's a bit different for our family, as we have always been air&space freaks. Both my parents worked or work in the aviation bussiness. Just imagine how I felt during 9/11 :frown:
 
  • #23
russ_watters
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Mk said:
Well, the dream didn't completely vanish just because one shuttle was destroyed. I think people overreacted about how dangerous it was too.
But that's just it - such overreactions do cause the dream to vanish. And at the same time complacency leads to carelessness - both shuttle losses were relatively easily preventable because people knew about the problems in advance.

I was in elementary school when this happened - I heard it over the loudspeaker.
 
  • #24
Astronuc
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Mk said:
That's a nice prospect.

How did whoever figure out that 1 in 100 flights would end in disaster?
Such number come from statistical and engineering analysis - probabilistic risk assessment (PRA) - which is commonly used in aerospace and nuclear industries.

The aerospace and nuclear industries have legal requirements for QA/QC, which are based on the military's program. The objective is to obtain high reliability so that system, e.g. artillery and weapons, do not fail, or rather, that they succeed with a high reliability.

It wasn't that bad?
Wait until you lose someone you love, then you will know how bad it can be/feel! And it's made worse because it was absolutely avoidable and unnecessary!
 
  • #25
Moonbear
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russ_watters said:
But that's just it - such overreactions do cause the dream to vanish. And at the same time complacency leads to carelessness - both shuttle losses were relatively easily preventable because people knew about the problems in advance.

I was in elementary school when this happened - I heard it over the loudspeaker.
Maybe there is a difference in how we viewed it depending on age. I thought the whole, "it's the end of any chance of building a space station" reaction was an over-reaction too. It was a setback, sure, but there is always something to learn from the mistakes. I think it's better that we were reminded of the dangers and the need to be extremely cautious early on. They were already getting cavalier about putting a civilian on board. It never registered in my mind as "the end of shuttle missions" or "the end of space station plans." From that side of things, it was just a mechanical problem they needed to identify and find a solution for. To me, at the time, it was not any more significant than an airline crash, where you temporarily are cautious about flying similar planes while the investigation takes place, but once the cause is identified, and the other planes inspected, and the part replaced if necessary, you go right back to flying them.

The tragic part was just recognizing the personal tragedies for the families of the crew, it never occurred to me that it would put such a damper on progress in space flight. It was also sad that the loss of the other crew members was downplayed or pushed aside with all the spotlight focus being on Christa McAuliffe, so the stories turned quickly from being about the loss of the Challenger to the loss of Christa and the tragedy her family experienced. I really remember great annoyance that the rest of the crew, who from the perspective of a shuttle mission were all more important to its success, were overshadowed in the media by a teacher who was along for a ride as a PR stunt. (Yes, I was one of those people who, while thinking it was cool that a civilian was allowed on the mission, didn't really think she had any business being on that crew.)
 

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