Challenger Didn't Explode!



I like to consider myself fairly well read on the Challenger disaster, yet tonight I’ve just had my world view rocked…!

The rocking comes from 2 facts.

Firstly, Challenger did NOT explode. Yes, I know - what has everyone been saying for the past 3 decades?! The truth is, the booster rocket imploded, the fuel ignited, and STS Challenger ripped apart, with the tail and engine coming off the body, and payload ripping off the crew compartment. They did not however “explode” - it was a physical reaction to the stresses involved. Now, that’s the good news.

Secondly, and pretty horrifically… I’d always thought that it was believed that the crew died “instantly”. That was in part revised after the Captain was confirmed to have said “Uh oh” about 3 seconds into the incident. The theory thus remained - the crew were likely dead moments after the booster’s fuel rapidly ignited and tore the craft apart. However, when the crew compartment was recovered (also news to me) with the crew’s bodies on board, 4 of them had activated their emergency air supply units. This suggests that at least some of the crew survived the initial disaster, and were conscious long enough to follow emergency protocols.

In all likelihood they would have apparently passed out before the crew compartment hit the Atlantic Ocean, but ultimately autopsies could not verify when death occurred.

Anyways, just had to share this shocking multiple decade long non secret.




When I saw the thread title I thought you might be going to tell us it was all a conspiracy perpetrated by the same people who ran the child sex trafficking ring under the pizza parlour. Feynman would not have been pleased!

Re the manner of death, it’s worth remembering that when you’re in a full on situation like that you just react, hopefully doing what your training prepared you for. There would have been no time for panic and whatever they went through would have been over very quickly in relative terms.

Not that I knew it either, but why is this news to you BTW? Did you just read the report or has something else come out?

On a related note…


The tag line may possibly have been deliberately worded for those reasons… :wink:

The inspiration for the above came from my viewing of a (6 year old) doco last night which contained “never before seen” footage surrounding the disaster - or more accurately - surrounding Christa McAuliffe, the school teacher who was to be the first “civilian” in space.

It painted a time line showing the build up to the launch, the disaster, and a lil bit after. One thing that surprised me was footage of a parachuting object descending to the earth (Atlantic). There was some thought initially it may be a “survivor”, but was in fact one of the rockets. When I googled this, having never heard it before, I came across a quite detailed thread on a non-official NASA forum with heaps of pics and so forth, including the above information. A bit of cross referencing confirmed the air supply story.

One thing related to the above that I’d also never considered - the astronauts continued on their basic trajectory for around 15,000m before momentum finally saw them fall into the water below.


I remember reading at the time that it was thought Hawaiian Mission Specialist Ellison Onizuka was alive after the incident, as he’d activated the Pilot’s rescue pack, the switch for it being located directly in from of him in the Challenger’s cabin.

Just looked him up on google and found this wikipedia entry.

Maybe Columbia’s crew could have been saved if NASA had seriously looked for damage from the foam insulation breaking off the tank.

Three decades earlier they got the Apollo 13 crew back through ingenuity and hard work. - What was that that line form the movie. “we’ve never lost an american in space, and it sure as hell isn’t going to happen on my shift !” - stirring stuff


Hey @JimWOz - yep, looking at Wiki, there’s confirmation at least 3 of the emergency air supplies had been turned on… though it also notes that the devices would only have sustained life/consciousness for a matter of seconds because they were not pressurised. Consensus does seem to be that some may have been alive when hitting the Atlantic, but most certainly unconscious.

I think it’s pretty woeful that both Challenger and Columbia had people saying “No!!!” before the disasters, yet they were ignored. The low temperature issue for Challenger, putting the O rings beyond their acceptable tolerance, was brought to management’s attention the day before the launch… And engineers discussed the possibility of Columbia burning up on re-entry via emails leading up to its demise, though they didn’t include management in the discussions (and, I get the feeling these were just “nightmare scenarios” than actual expectations).

Honestly though, when you consider what they do, it’s amazing we’ve only had those 2 in-flight fatal incidents in the entire space era.

I still lament not seeing a Shuttle take off… It’s the only reason I actually want to visit USA… to go see one of the Shuttles.


I remember being so shocked when this happened as a kid. I also seem to remember that at the time there wasn’t much information being released into exactly what happened, and if anyone survived beyond the initial incident. Of course 30 years later it’s all public knowledge pretty much.

And agreed Cosmic. It would have been awesome to see a Shuttle Launch. I guess the closest thing we have now is SpaceX, that would be pretty cool to see live, especially the landing. Probably the closest I’ve seen in real life is an F1/11 fire it’s Afterburners at night time during the Avalon Airshow. Simply Awesome.


I know ultimately the Shuttles didn’t deliver on a lot of their promises, but their demise just felt like a real kick to the gut for space exploration.

In 87 for a brief period I lived basically at the end of the runway in Darwin, which is owned by the RAAF… so - used to hear plenty of fighters flying around, including doing sonic booms that would put you on your ass… (well, my 9yo ass.)


Yeah, my school was near the end of the Darwin runway. Wednesday morning assembly was pretty funny in the midst of Pitch Black.


Ludmilla? I lived in Tudawalli St while my folks looked for a house to buy after we moved up there. Left that school with a rep! :slight_smile:


Other end of the runway. Marrara Christian School. So we mostly got the takeoffs.


I haven’t read the report, but I’ve listened to what Feynman said about it - there was some ‘controversy’ at the time that his views were dissenting, but he said that wasn’t the case. What he did highlight though was how pervasive pseudo science was within NASA, which is a bit scary, and used a particular analogy which well describes the way many of us (wrongly) think: If you run out onto a busy road 10 times and don’t get hit, it is foolish to assume what you’re doing is safe. Yet that’s exactly what they seem to have done with the O-rings.

It takes quite a while to work out what’s happened in these sorts of situations so there actually isn’t much that can be said at first. Same with plane crashes. It’s often years before the investigations conclude and to say anything substantive before that is rarely helpful.


Whatever happened the death would have been fairly quick and painless. The more sinister thing is that both of these accidents could have been averted, in the first instance by not flying on that day with the Challenger. In the second instance NASA having the temerity not to use the Soyuz escape pod on the ISS. The later one is going to bake your noodle about the Endeavor for many years to come.