FEYNMAN AND THE CHALLENGER EXPLOSION

Arthur E. Sowers arthures at access5.digex.net
Fri Feb 2 02:51:16 EST 1996



On 29 Jan 1996, Scott Zasadil wrote:

> "Arthur E. Sowers" <arthures at access5.digex.net> wrote:
> 
> >Although it was a high profile techno-disaster, I would maintain that in 
> >terms of the propensity of human beings to do things that turn out bad 
> >instead of good that they should have been able to predict and avoid, the 
> >Challenger disaster was a drop in the bucket compared to many other 
> >"comparable" disasters. 
> >
> Several examples given.
> 
> >5. The use of pure oxygen atmospheres in the early 3-man space
> >   capsules (I don't remember the names & dates etc, but 3 guys were
> >   burned to a crisp in about 2-3 secs and there was a committee report
> >   recommending against the pure oxygen for safety reasons).
> 
> Apollo 1: Grissom, White, and Chaffee. I believe it was on January 25, 1966 
> - almost ten years exactly prior to the challenger explosion. BTW their
> spacesuits protected them from a lot of the fire. Their official cause of
> death was listed as suffocation from the toxic fumes.
> 

Thanks for the extra details. I was never good for a memory ... thats why 
I didn't go into history. Cant remember names and dates. 

I wanted to make a minor correction on a sentence I wrote. As I 
recall, the responsible committee made the recomendation against the pure 
oxygen atmosphere BEFORE they made a decision to go with that atmosphere. 
There were some complex rationalizations, but it did get coverage in an 
issue of our journal _Science_, which I have been reading continuously 
for over 30 years now. I have the feeling that safety considerations, as 
parts of various projects, are happily starting to be get at least a teeny 
bit more respect these days than they did when I was much younger. This 
"awareness" is good. I find it infuriating that after, not before, something 
bad happens, then people can find out why they shouldn't have done some 
particular something.

Art Sowers




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