The Challenger Disaster

Synopsis: When Challenger disintegrated 73 seconds into its flight on the morning of 28 January 1986, it represented one of the most shocking events in the history of American spaceflight. A Presidential Commission was immediately convened to explore what had gone wrong, but with the vast complexity of the space shuttle and so many vested interests involved in the investigation, discovering the truth presented an almost impossible challenge. A truly independent member of the investigation was Richard Feynman. One of the most accomplished scientists of his generation, he worked on the Manhattan Project building the first atom bomb and won the Nobel Prize for his breakthroughs in quantum physics. Feynman deployed exceptional integrity, charm and relentless scientific logic to investigate the secrets of the Shuttle disaster and in doing so, helped make the US Space Programme safer.
Genre: Drama, History
Director(s): James Hawes
Production: The Science Channel
  1 win & 2 nominations.
Rotten Tomatoes:
90 min

Tonight's space shuttle Challenger on launch pad 39B,

as the mammoth spacecraft...

The countdown continues for tomorrow's launch

of the Space Shuttle Challenger, with its crew of seven

including New Hampshire schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe.

But a cloudy and...

As NASA ground crews prepare the ship...

...officials believe it will be a go...

The Challenger mission L51 has been...

The 51L mission, ready to go.

At seven o'clock, the Challenger crew met

for their traditional pre-flight breakfast...

Ladies and gentlemen of the faculty, students, quiet, please.

Please welcome our esteemed guest lecturer,

winner of the Einstein Award,

one of the ten most significant physicists of all time,

winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, Dr Richard Feynman.

I bribed him to say all that nice stuff,

clearly I just escaped from jail.

Energy, from potential to kinetic,

gives you...

You see that?

No, don't write it down.

Not till you know what it means.

This will not hurt you.

It might hurt me.

Why didn't I have you write down the equation?

You'd write it out.

La-di-la-di-la, you'd feel pretty smart, right?

But now you understand it.

Mom! Hurry Up! I'm coming.

...about three minutes, and they think they can do it.

They are counting, the ice is cleared away,

and Challenger should be going away very soon.

Let's go down to the Kennedy Space Center

and take a look at Challenger sitting on the pad

as they continue the countdown.

Challenger's launch will be the 25th space shuttle mission.

It's estimated over 30,000 people have been involved...

Dale, you want some coffee? Not now, Larry. a total cost of nearly 40 million...

There goes Christa McAuliffe, first teacher in space.

During the mission, McAuliffe will be conducting scientific experiments

which will be beamed live to children

in schoolrooms across America.

The New Hampshire teacher has described Challenger

as the ultimate field trip.

What is science?

Science is a way to teach how...

some thing gets to be known.

In as much as anything can be known.

Because nothing is known absolutely.

It's how to handle doubt

and uncertainty.

Ten, nine, eight, seven, six...

we have main engine start.

Four, three, two, one...

Lift-off of the 25th space shuttle mission,

and it has cleared the tower.


Roger roll, Challenger.

Challenger, go with throttle.

Science teaches us what the rules of evidence are.

We mess with that at our peril.

One minute, 15 seconds.

We'll report more as we have information available.

Checking with the recovery forces.

Obviously a major malfunction.

We have no downlink.

The space agency NASA has not yet confirmed the deaths

of the schoolteacher and six other astronauts

who were on board the shuttle Challenger when it exploded

on take-off this morning in Florida.

But there seems little doubt that there were any survivors.

NASA is conducting a news conference at this moment.

Challenger exploded into a fireball

and pieces came down in the Atlantic Ocean...

Never in 25 launches of the space shuttle had a life been lost.

Today, that record went down in flames.

Tonight the search for survivors turned up none.

The search for answers is just starting.

Bruce Hall begins our coverage

of a spaceship that became a fireball and a national tragedy.

Ready for launch.

And lift-off.

And listen to the cheers of the young students

of the first ever US teacher-astronaut.

Moments later, a massive explosion.

The cheering stops.

I'm sorry, I can't watch this stuff.

Seven Americans with the highest hopes.

A billion dollars worth of the highest technology.

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