New poignant amateur video of the Challenger launch explosion in 1986

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New poignant amateur video of the Challenger launch explosion in 1986

On a chilly morning in 1986, Jack Moss captured one of the darkest moments in space exploration. What he didn't know, was that the crew were alive, right until the Challenger cockpit hit the sea.

In the videotape, a stream of white smoke behind the climbing shuttle shoots into view but Moss, his wife and a neighbor noticed immediately that something was amiss when the channel separated into two streams.

"Thats trouble of some kind, Moss can be heard saying. That didn't look right."

We all know why it didn't look right, but you can hear the confusion and worry in their voices.


The explosive release of fuel that dismembered the wings and other parts of the shuttle were not that great to cause immediate death, or even serious injury to the crew. Challenger was designed to withstand a wing-loading force of 3 Gs (three times gravity), with another 1.5 G safety factor built in. When the external tank exploded and separated the two solid boosters, rapid-fire events, so swift they all seemed of the same instant, took place. In a moment, all fuel was gone from the big tank.

The computers still functioned and, right on design plan, dutifully noted the lack of fuel and shut down the engines. It was a supreme exercise in futility, because by then Challenger was no longer a spacecraft.

One solid booster broke free, its huge flame a cutting torch across Challenger, separating a wing. Enormous G-loads snapped free the other wing. Challenger came apart but the crew cabin remained essentially intact, able to sustain its occupants.

The explosive force sheared metal assemblies, but was almost precisely the force needed to separate the still-intact crew compartment from the expanding cloud of flaming debris and smoke. What the best data tell the experts is that the Challenger broke up 48,000 feet above the Atlantic. The undamaged crew compartment, impelled by the speed already achieved, soared to a peak altitude of 65,000 feet before beginning its curve earthward.

The crew cabin, reinforced aluminum, stayed solid, riding its own velocity in a great curving ballistic arc, reached the top of its curve, and then began the dive toward the ocean.

It was only when the compartment smashed, like a speeding bullet, into the seas surface, drilling a hollow from the surface down to the ocean floor, that it crumpled into a tangled mass.

By netchicken: posted on 12-2-2010

Just to clarify, that happened in 1986
By danno: posted on 14-2-2010

Oops.... thanks for that I have fixed those pesky typos.
By netchicken: posted on 14-2-2010

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