When Challenger blew up, because I am very interested in this topic, about two months after this disaster I read that some of the emergency air bottles had been activated, indicating that a few astronauts survived the initial fireball and were alive as the capsule fell into the ocean.
That just makes a horror story even more horrific.
An excellent reason not to put your rear end on a ship bound for Mars. You might not even get out of earth’s atmosphere before the bean counters kill you. They knew there could be a catastrophic failure with the O rings at low temperatures, but waiting a day for warmer weather would have cost money and kept the teachers highly publicized lesson/experiment from being done on a school day. Did they learn anything? Nooooooooooo, they knew foam insulation falling onto the shuttle had caused at least one close call before, but there was no easy or cheap fixes, so they let it slide, crossed their fingers, and launched the Columbia. Maybe a private company can do better, but I wouldn’t bet my life on it.
Everyone who is loaded into a capsule is very aware they are sitting on top of a very huge bomb. And they also know that it takes a thousand things going correctly for a safe launch, and just one thing goes wrong … not a good day for anyone.
I’ve always wondered just how much Christa Mcauliffe understood about the danger, or how far along and caught up in the process she was before she really knew. Did all those teachers who submitted applications really know what they were signing up for?. A teacher in space would have been a great public relations coup if they’d pulled it off. It’s like NASA was full of gamblers willing to bet with other peoples lives.
That is how rocket science works. There is incredible risk, many of them unknown until they are revealed. Everything is done by the maths. For example, how do you test and select the switches? NASA will set up a huge test rig where switches are cycled thousands of times. After 100,000 ( I am not sure about that number) cycles, any switches that passed the test with zero faults was approved. The thinking is that if you cycle a switch 100,000 times, if it fails on the 100,001th time, those are the odds of failure.
If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend the film ‘Hidden Figures’. Apparently NASA had a very early IBM computer. It could not produce figures to the number of decimal places needed. Only people could do that the time.
Great movie. We need to be reminded of how bad it was, and how far we still need to go. As a black woman Katherine Johnson wasn’t allowed to pour a cup of coffee from the same coffee pot, and had to go way out of her way for a restroom she could use.
It reminds me how Condoleezza Rice, a black woman who was Secretary of State under George Bush, got admitted to Augusta National (private golf club in Georgia) just a few years back. Black and a woman, that must have stuck in their craw. I hope they choked .