Author Topic: Challenger STS-51L  (Read 88753 times)

Online Chris Bergin

Challenger STS-51L
« on: 11/30/2005 05:21 PM »
The main thread (edited to remove old dead links, etc) for STS-51L.

Main articles:
http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/?s=51L

Offline Space101

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Re: Challenger STS-51L
« Reply #1 on: 11/30/2005 08:18 PM »
Where was everyone when it happened? I was just a little kid, but I remember the newsflash as it interupted a kids show I was watching.
Let's go and explore space.

Online Chris Bergin

Re: Challenger STS-51L
« Reply #2 on: 11/30/2005 09:55 PM »
Quote
Space101 - 30/11/2005  9:18 PM

Where was everyone when it happened? I was just a little kid, but I remember the newsflash as it interupted a kids show I was watching.

I remember it really well, even though I didn't see the launch live.

I was doing a paper round (as a young kid, obviously) and after I got back to the newsagents at the end of the round I heard two people say in the shop, with one saying to the other "Shit! The Space Shuttle's just exploded" (the shop had a radio on all the time and I assume they heard it over that).

I got home five minutes later and my Mum had Channel 4 or ITV on (I know it was ITN News), which was showing the live pictures of the downrange over the Atlantic, with debris splashing into the sea. They then showed a parachute - which the TV commentator was raising false hopes it was one of the crew. Someone must have corrected him as he then said he was told it was a paramedic dropping in.

Anyway, my previous experiences of Shuttles was only from making an airfix model of Columbia with my Dad - a big Apollo fan - a few years before (sadly not flight worthy for long after my younger brother - then a toddler - decided to chew on it).

I was glued to the TV throughout the coverage of the disaster and the next day went to the Library to get some books on the Shuttles. That's when I got hooked and that's actually how it all started for me.

Offline Spacely

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Re: Challenger STS-51L
« Reply #3 on: 11/30/2005 10:00 PM »
I saw it live, at home with my mom, as my school started later in the day that week.

It's weird, but before all the current, feverish 'net discussions about NASA's long-term viability and problems with the Shuttle, I remember America being really into the program. The whole 81-86 time was a sort of NASA silver age. Anyway, I saw the "event" live. I don't recall being particularly devastated; just sort of numbed and thinking "this is big." My parents took it pretty hard.

To this day I still have the Challenge toy set that I had gotten sometime around 1984.

Offline Flightstar

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Re: Challenger STS-51L
« Reply #4 on: 11/30/2005 10:14 PM »
There was a feeling it was coming. We were under more and more pressure and people were starting to feel like machines. This was 84, 85 and then they were looking to launch around 11 missions in 86. I didn't watch the launch for the first time. I went home the day before as the next day I wasn't in. I didn't have the TV on or the radio on but it wasn't long before a neighbor came over and I knew right away from the look on his face. I remember feeling furious, rather than sad. I don't want to say too much.

Offline SRBseparama

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Re: Challenger STS-51L
« Reply #5 on: 12/01/2005 01:42 AM »
I was too young, but I can only imagine how people must have felt at KSC watching. I also think we should never forget and talk about it because in years to come when it becomes safer, those seven people helped make it so.

Offline JamesSpaceFlight

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Re: Challenger STS-51L
« Reply #6 on: 12/01/2005 12:58 PM »
I watched all the launches on TV and this was no different. I remember some concerns about the icing on the pad, but as she lifted of the cheer you could hear reassured me. Then the plume, I remember gasping for a second, then she was gone. Terrible. RIP.

Offline Dobbins

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Re: Challenger STS-51L
« Reply #7 on: 12/01/2005 03:55 PM »
I was on a US Navy Cruiser at the San Diego Naval Base. We didn't have cable TV service to the ship, all we had was broadcast TV and the networks weren't covering the launch. As soon as word spread I headed over to the Radio equipment room. The Electronics division was in charge of the Ship's entertainment system and had a set in there so we could monitor the system's operation while standing watch. (at least that was our excuse to have a TV in a work space).

My first reaction was shock. Then white hot anger because I was sure the launch had been pushed under unfavorable conditions so President Reagan could brag about the Teacher in Space during his State of the Union address that was scheduled for that night.

John B. Dobbins

Offline t walker

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Re: Challenger STS-51L
« Reply #8 on: 12/01/2005 05:24 PM »
Quote
Chris Bergin - 30/11/2005  10:55 PM

I was glued to the TV throughout the coverage of the disaster and the next day went to the Library to get some books on the Shuttles. That's when I got hooked and that's actually how it all started for me.

I wasn't born when Challenger went, but I have a similar story to the above with STS-107. I was interested in space since the late 90s but when I ran downstairs and saw the Columbia news on ceefax I checked through all of the news channels for many days after and looked it up on the internet. It was then I got hooked on Shuttles specificly as a vehicle.

Offline Dana

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Re: Challenger STS-51L
« Reply #9 on: 12/03/2005 09:54 AM »
I was in 8th grade. The school was just a little rural junior-high school called Pleasant View, which isn't in operation anymore. It was right across my grandfather's carrot  field from my house. My homeroom teacher was Mr. Beck, who had taught almost every member of my immediate family except my grandparents. He was a really cool teacher-everybody liked him. (I'll always remember the time a substitute teacher sat down at his desk during homeroom and started looking for a stapler, opened the desk drawer, and found a HUGE bag of gummi worms in there.) He had a great sense of humor and he was also the aerospace teacher and a private pilot. He was the one who insisted that our library have books and magazines about airplanes and spaceflight. Having a lifelong fascination with flying and spaceflight even then, I was glad I was in his class.

It was his birthday.

Our class had a birthday party for him in homeroom period that morning. We had cake and cookies and kool-aid. We had a cassette player playing tunes. Everybody was having fun.

After a while, Mr. Beck happened to look out and spot a group of teachers gathered at the door of the principal's office down the hall, and excused himself to go see what was going on. He barely got to the door before some other teacher walked up and knocked on it, and off they went. The party went on.

A few minutes later, he walked in and leaned back on the front of his desk. He called for everyone's attention. "Everybody, I have some bad news, please listen. I was just over watching TV in Mr. Kaiser's office. The Space Shuttle just exploded."

We didn't believe it at first. Pleasant View had 2 7th grade classrooms and 2 8th grade classrooms, a grand total of about 60 or 70 kids, and we all crammed into the library, which was the biggest room where you could plug in a TV. The first thing we saw was footage of pieces splashing into the Atlantic ocean, obviously taken with a powerful zoom lense. It didn't hit home for us until CBS showed the explosion itself. An audible gasp went through us, and we just sat there, staring. I was sitting next to a girl named Melissa Ashby, a 7th-grader who kind of liked me and who I kind of liked back, and she grabbed my hand.

I think we were just barely old enough to really get it. Most of us were 13 or 14, and had the most vague childhood memories of Skylab and ASTP; I can very vauguely remember my uncle Wade carrying me outside one cold night and pointing up at the Moon and telling me there were guys walking on it as we spoke, which in retrospect must have been Apollo 17. But I did remember Skylab, and ASTP, most of us were born in the era of capsules and splashdowns and knew how special and amazing a machine the Shuttle Orbiter was. Just as the kids who grew up in the '60s could follow the Gemini and Apollo missions, we had grown up with the Shuttle. We had been in 2nd or 3rd grade in 1981 when the first mission flew, and my 3rd grade class even had a writing assignment about it, which I still have someplace. The Shuttle was ours.

And it hurt.

I held Melissa's hand for a few minutes until a teacher spotted us and told us to stop, and we watched for about a half hour until the start of the next period. We had to go to the next class, which for me was english. But I didn't last 5 minutes. I became physically ill. I started crying. I just got up and left, put on my heavy blue coat and went home, walking across the field. (We didn't need to lock our doors way out there, at least not back then.) My mom, a single parent, worked for the Veteran's Administration hospital up in Walla Walla, WA, and somebody, probably Mr. Beck now that I think about it, called her. Apparently he didn't tell her anything about why I went home, except something like, "....which I guess is understandable today," thinking she knew. When she called home, I was sitting there in the dark with my big Calico cat, crying. She was pretty mad. "Why did you go home from school?" she wanted to know.

"What do you mean why? Don't you know what happened?"

"No, what?"

Then I told her. And she said, "Oh, honey, I'm sorry." She knew what it would mean to me-I was the only kid in the 8th grade who had his own copy of "The Right Stuff" and all-and just told me to get something to eat and maybe lay down for a while. It really got to me. It was one of those moments that I will always remember where I was, along with September 11th, 2001, and February 2, 2003. I wish my generation could have a memory like these, a date and event that you remember where you were and what you were doing when you heard about it, that was positive, inspiring, like V-J Day or Apollo 11 had been. But by and large, we really don't.

Challenger exploded in the middle of my 8th grade year. I was a junior in high school before we flew in space again.  
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Offline STS Tony

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Re: Challenger STS-51L
« Reply #10 on: 12/03/2005 08:46 PM »
I was going to go to one of the many launches they had planned for that year. I was really looking forward to it and followed the last few missions before Challenger closely. Could not believe what I was seeing when they showed the launch go wrong. Don't think it sunk in for many days later when they had the memorial service and we saw the familes. Very sad.

Offline GregM

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Re: Challenger STS-51L
« Reply #11 on: 12/04/2005 07:50 AM »
I wasn’t a kid when the 51-L accident occurred. Watched it happen with my college roommate on that January morning. Maybe I could add a few personal recollections.

I was an avid spaceflight researcher at that time. In the months leading up to January of 86, myself and others I knew who were following the shuttle program were getting a…  well… a vibe would be the best way to describe it. Although it would be impossible to verbalize, it was essentially a feeling of dread during launches. I think it came down to a vague  sensation that there wasn’t a firm grip on every aspect of the program - that things were moving too fast. I got so bothered by this intangible feeling that by November of 1985, just a few seconds after watching STS-23 leave the pad - I shut off the television.  I could not bear to watch the powered ascent; the sense of dread in me was so strong. I had viewed every other shuttle launch up to that point with great enthusiasm. For whatever reason, my whole demeanor changed in the autumn of ‘85 though. My main fear was not such a sudden catastrophic event as what happened in 51-L however, it  rather was the much feared RTLS abort generated by multiple SSME failures.

When 51-L did break up, I would describe it in one way – surreal. That type of sudden catastrophic failure was generally not considered very much at the time (at least publicly) in launch abort planning. To see a launch failure of that nature happen on a shuttle launch was simply very unexpected. At the time there was in the public the expectation that this sort of  scenario was just not very likely, especially when NASA gave odds of such an occurrence to be something like 4700 to one, or some such thing. In any event, when it did happen, it didn’t seem real at first. My second reaction after about 20 seconds of astonishment was wondering (and hoping) if they had ever attached a recovery parachute package to the crew cabin, which I knew would likely emerge intact from the disintegrating airframe of Challenger, and the fireball engulfing the melee. I had never heard of such a feature, but hoped that maybe I had missed something in my research on the shuttle system. I knew that the ESA was planning to install just such a system in their upcoming shuttle, Hermes. I knew in my heart that it was very unlikely however, as I knew the STS system fairly well.  Of course nobody was rescued from the ocean. The biggest impression that I got from the telephoto television cameras on top of the VAB scanning the Atlantic in vain for survivors was the force of impact that was generated by the larger pieces of debris. Huge splashes could be seen in the water from 20 or 30 miles away from shore.

Initially, nobody would even hazard a guess as to why the accident occurred. The video feed of the launch at the time gave very little evidence of any problem, and NASA was not releasing anything else – in fact pretty much everything had been impounded. About a week after the accident, NASA publicly released a 5 second or so clip of  film taken by a ground tracking camera from a viewpoint directly behind the ascending shuttle stack. They released the film with no comment. The now-legendary tongue of flame emerging from the side of one of  the SRB’s could clearly be seen lapping onto the SRB attach strut and external tank. Things came together pretty fast after that as to what happened in a superficial sense. Talk of heated teleconferences, cold weather, and o-rings would come much later however.

The basics of what happened came down to this publicly known information:

The o-rings that were intended to seat themselves in the SRB field joints with internal SRB ignition pressures did not seat properly because they were too cold and brittle. The air temperature on the eve of launch was well below freezing. Combustion gasses leaked through an improperly sealed field joint. Smoke from burning lubrication grease, o-ring, and SRB fuel can be seen spewing out of the side of the SRB at the field joint seconds after the vehicle left the pad. Challenger was doomed from that moment.

Very quickly, the leak allowed more and more combustion gas to leak out of the side of the SRB. By 30 or 40 seconds after launch, the leak of flame was huge - like a giant blowtorch against the SRB attach strut and the aft of the external tank. This was causing two things to happen: Firstly, the vehicle was trying to rotate because of was what was in essence a new sideways-pointed rocket engine. The Challenger gimbaled her SSME’s hard opposite to counter this new force trying to steer her off course and off attitude. Secondly, the huge tongue of flame lapping against the external tank was greatly increasing pressures inside the hydrogen tank portion of the module.

At the one minute point, several things happened near simultaneously. Firstly, the torched SRB rear attach strut finally broke apart, releasing the rear of the SRB. The rear of the SRB proceeded to rotate outward from the ascending vehicle, while still attached at the front attach point with the external tank. This essentially placed the errant SRB in a configuration to drive itself into the side of the external tank just above the still functioning forward attach point. This is also the intertank separation space between the oxygen and hydrogen tank on the SRB. The SRB proceeded to do just that, and drive itself into the side of the ET. Pilot Mike Smith probably saw this happening when he uttered “uh oh” – the last transmitted words received from Challenger. Because this was the intertank separation location, the SRB simultaneously ruptured both the bottom of the oxygen tank and the top of the hydrogen tank, as it was proceeding to tear the external tank in half. This was not the full story however. Remember that the hydrogen tank is now super pressurized and near the rupturing point due to the bottom portion being heated up by the blowtorch effect of the flame leaking out of the side SRB onto the bottom and side of the external tank. The bottom of the external tank, which is also the bottom of the hydrogen tank, is an inverted dome structure. This dome structure has also been significantly structurally weakened as well, as a result of being torched by the SRB flame leak. Now, the SRB comes crashing through the top of the hydrogen tank. The rear of the hydrogen tank can’t take it any more. The aft dome blows apart due to being structurally weakened, and the stresses from an already over pressurized tank. Now more pressure gets applied due to the SRB driving itself through the top portion of the tank. That’s it.  Superpressurized liquid hydrogen bursts out of the rear of the external tank and ignites, adding an estimated 3 to 4 million pounds of thrust to the vehicle’s intended 6.5 million pound thrust. For a few seconds, Challenger is riding 10 million pounds of thrust. But it does not last long. Nothing in the shuttle stack is designed for those acceleration loads. Everything falls apart under the sudden acceleration stress. The upper half of the external tank is already in shreds due to the errant SRB driving itself through it, but Challenger itself disintegrates  due to acceleration and aerodynamic loading from the sudden 60% increase in thrust and resultant acceleration to the launch stack. The disintrigating ET has its contents of liquid oxygen and hydrogen suddenly released into the atmosphere and ignited. There is a fuel-air ignition of the materials, but it is not really an explosion. The SRB’s ironically enough just fly away on their own, later shut down by range safety.

So, Challenger was not destroyed in an “explosion”, as much as the media claimed at the time (there were incorrect references to the “explosion” being equivalent to a small a atomic bomb at the time of the accident). There was a fuel-air ignition of the contents of the external tank, but “explosion” would be an improper description of the event. Fuel and oxidizer was released into the atmosphere, and then ignited – producing the fireball seen. Challenger herself however was however torn apart due to the stack suddenly accelerating to something over 10 million pounds of thrust. Turbopumps on the Orbiter’s SSMEs were still running at the time the simultaneous events of the external tank’s front end being torn apart by the errant SRB, the back of the external tank bursting open at its rear and adding 4 million pounds of thrust, and the orbiter itself breaking up. Other than the RCS and OMS modules exploding in the nose and aft of Challenger, the remainder of the Orbiter simply broke up due to acceleration as she flew through the fireball produced by the released contents of the external tank. The key to this reality is that the Orbiter was not blasted to bits, as was originally thought, but rather broke up into primary components.

At the time of the accident, it was originally thought and assumed that the orbiter and crew mercifully met their end at the time of the “explosion”. Much later however, it was learned that there was no real explosion. The Orbiter simply broke up under intolerable acceleration stresses as it hurled through the fireball. The crew cabin was released from Challenger’s disintegrating airframe and exited the fireball relatively intact. Public images show the cabin exiting the fireball, trailing wiring and plumbing from the rear lower portion of the cab. This is where the truly disturbing and tragic implications lie: the crew on the flight deck survived the initial event. What happened on the mid-deck is less certain. It is also common knowledge that Judy Resnik started Dick Scobee’s emergency oxygen pack following the event, and yes there was an onboard flight voice recorder. The very horrifying and tragic conclusion is that after the initial event, at least some of the crew knew what was going on to some degree, and likely grasped the gravity of their situation. It was several minutes of hurling violently but silently through the air before they met the Atlantic. What was said and done in that time that is a private matter. For those who care to, I think that you can imagine it in your minds, and that is enough.

A few parting comments: Astronauts and other folks with a technical background understand the risks of spaceflight, especially the launch phase. Nobody wants to die, but the crewmembers understand the risks and accept the odds. Casualties of this occupation are not victims in any conventional sense. Insurance companies do not sell life insurance to test pilots for a good reason. They could have accepted any number of vocations that have a much lower danger factor, but they did not, still knowing the risks of spaceflight. Space travelers who have lost their life in the line of duty are often referred to in popular media as heroes. This is unfair. Everyone who gets into a spacecraft and launches into the heavens is a hero, because they all know thew the risks and knowingly accept them in the cause of opening up the new frontier. We should have the greatest respect for all of them, whether alive or deceased. The important thing is that they assumed the risk knowingly.

Lives will be lost in this endeavor known as spaceflight, but it will be the unlucky ones who will be those who loose their lives in that endeavor – and we should forever honor them – but every space traveler is a hero in some sense, because all of them take the same risk in the first place,

Online Chris Bergin

Re: Challenger STS-51L
« Reply #12 on: 12/04/2005 02:54 PM »
Thank you for sharing, Greg. Very sobering. Welcome to the site.

Offline SimonShuttle

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Re: Challenger STS-51L
« Reply #13 on: 12/04/2005 03:59 PM »
You can tell on the "post a picture of yourself" thread that many on here are too young to have a clear memory of this at the time of the accident, but I would like to thank everyone for posting their experience. It's really appreciated and helps us all understand the brave people that are invovled with the dangers of space flight.

Offline STS Tony

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Re: Challenger STS-51L
« Reply #14 on: 12/04/2005 04:36 PM »
That's an amazing recolation Greg.

To the UK posters, does anyone have any clips of the UK news coverage of the aftermath?

Online Chris Bergin

Re: Challenger STS-51L
« Reply #15 on: 12/04/2005 04:51 PM »
I was kindly sent a VHS video of the ITN coverage with Alistair Stewart of the live news coverage, just a few years ago. I believe he was a new lead anchor at the time for ITN (Which is now main news broadcaster for ITV 1, 2, 3 and Channel 4, Channel 5 and ITN News Channel).

He was brilliant, to say there was so little information coming out.

He went on to become ITN's Washington correspondent for a short while before heading to the Gulf to cover Desert Storm.

I'll try and find that video and see if I can record some of it into a format I can add to the video section.

Offline UK Shuttle Clan

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Re: Challenger STS-51L
« Reply #16 on: 12/04/2005 07:02 PM »
Alistair Stewart is one of the best broadcaster in the UK. Him, Jon Snow and Sir Trevor McDonald are the top three I'd say. I was too young to remember the events live, and I didn't know he was the guy who got to do the newsflash special in the minutes after the loss of Challenger. I'd be very interested in any clips, to understand the gravity of how it was reported to the UK.

Maybe he would be interested in giving some comments on the events? We've got people involved with the Shuttle, people who remember hearing/seeing the news, so that would be very fitting to have all angles, given we're heading to the 20th anniversary next month.

Offline SimonShuttle

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Re: Challenger STS-51L
« Reply #17 on: 12/05/2005 07:24 AM »
I had no idea Alistair Stewart was the guy that broke the news over here. I know this is slightly off topic, but given the terrible way the UK TV networks (mainly BBC) inaccurately report NASA and Shuttle news, it would have been very important that Alistair Stewart reported the disaster as without seeing it I know he'd of the right man to give such bad news. He's one of the best.

Offline nethegauner

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Re: Challenger STS-51L
« Reply #18 on: 12/05/2005 08:50 AM »
Boy, this thread definitly brings back some memories ... :(

I was ten years old. It was a Tuesday and every Tuesday, ZDF of Germany aired an half hour of "Tom and Jerry" cartoons in the late afternoon. That was usually followed by a brief round-up of current news. While watching the cartoon, I was practicing EAFB approaches in my parents' living room, where a beige colored blanket doubled for the Mojave desert. My Challenger toy performed quite well that day. Must have been the umpteeth successful landing in a row that afternoon without a single hitch ...

But when "Tom and Jerry" was over, a full news program started. I was surprised. Why did they not just deliver the banner headlines? Why is there a presenter on screen? It was, of course, because of 51-L. My child's mind could not believe it. I looked at my Chalenger toy and just could not believe it. They showed the explosion, portraits of the crew, televised pre-launch events. We have a saying here: im falschen Film sitzen -- I'm watching the wrong movie here ...

That's how I felt.

Offline Justin Space

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Re: Challenger STS-51L
« Reply #19 on: 12/05/2005 12:29 PM »
It's amazing how something terrible can touch people in different parts of the world the same way.

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