Space Suit of the Week

the Challenger shuttle disintegrates

the Challenger shuttle disintegrates

the Challenger shuttle disintegrates

a sculpture of the cloud made by the Challenger explosion

Today is the 25th anniversary of the Challenger disaster.
There are no words.


Sculpture by Nicholas Lobo.

3 Comments Space Suit of the Week

  1. Rob Oakes January 28, 2011 at 9:39 AM

    Generally, I love the content published on this sight but … this was just weird.

    For those of us who remember the Challenger disaster, the photos you have posted are iconic. They evoke the moment when a generation’s hope for reliable and safe space travel evaporated and disintegrated.

    In a larger sense, they also represent the beginning of the end of manned space-flight and the death of a beautiful dream. For someone who didn’t live through Challenger, though, they may not be recognizable. In the memory of society, 25 years is a very long time.

    So while I understand that the sculpture and photos are meant to capture the shocking moment of loss, I’m not sure that they convey their intended effect.

    Rather than focus on shock and trauma of the loss, I think a much better memorial would be to encourage the spirit of discovery, exploration, and innovation that Challenger embodied. The astronauts bravely faced danger and death to explore space. They did this willingly in order to advance the limits of human knowlege
    Thus, any memorial should also include evidence of their lives, in addition to the moments of their demise.

    I think Reagan summarized it well:

    “I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them …

    “The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honoured us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.'”

  2. Rob Oakes January 28, 2011 at 11:09 AM

    @Bobby – Thanks for the context. My apologies if my words seem harsh, they’re not meant to be (or at least not completely).

    I also share Alex’s love of manned space flight. Perhaps not quite in the same way, but visiting Kennedy Space Center as a child and hearing about past exploits in space and dreaming of future accomplishments are what inspired me to become an engineer.

    I’m also old enough to remember watching the space shuttle explosion and cynical enough to see what it did to the future of manned space flight. (A discussion for another time.) Which is what bothered me enough to tactlessly express my thoughts.

    As someone who’s derived life-long inspiration from NASA and astronauts, I also feel a certain sense of dread and despair. But that moment, for me, didn’t come with Challenger. It was in February 2010, when Obama’s NASA budget was announced, and all manned space-flight programs had been killed.

    Despair is not a pretty place and a wholly unfitting memorial to the fallen. I suppose that is what I wished to convey.



  3. Alex Dent January 28, 2011 at 12:00 PM

    @Rob- Maybe I should have explained a bit more about the series of images and how I arrived at them. I was only half a year old when the disaster happened, so I don’t remember that day. Everything I know about the Challenger, I’ve learned by absorbing it from other sources- things like old newscasts, transcripts of communications between the shuttle and flight control, the Rogers Commission Report and images like these. I’m sure these pictures have different meanings to you than they do to me or to anyone else who sees them. The intent was not to focus on the shock and trauma embedded in these images, but how a disaster on this scale becomes abstracted. It’s just impossible to fully comprehend. That’s what I mean when I say that there are no words. There may be appropriate words but even appropriate words can not articulate the consequences of those 2 failed O-rings.

    The series of images starts with a blue sky and recognizable parts of the solid rocket booster. As the sequence progresses, the sky darkens and the mass of the explosion becomes increasingly disorganized; to my mind, each image becomes increasingly abstract. And the final image, a sculpture, is the event completely abstracted.

    I absolutely agree with what you said about Reagan’s speech. The most compelling parts of his speech are the parts lifted from the poem High Flight, written by a 19 year old pilot, John Gillespie Magee, in 1941. Here’s the first stanza:

    “Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
    And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
    Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
    Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
    You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
    High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
    I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
    My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .”

    Magee died in a mid-air collision three months after writing High Flight. The poem closes as Reagan closed his speech: with the words “to touch the face of God.” Originally, I thought to include the text of the poem, but decided the images said enough. I’m sorry if they say the wrong thing to you or to anyone else; it was not, and will never be, my intent to diminish or downplay their lives. Evidence of their lives is intertwined with the disaster as it precipitated in 1986 and as it has been abstracted ever since.

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