FEYNMAN AND THE CHALLENGER EXPLOSION

Bert Gold bgold at itsa.ucsf.edu
Sun Jan 28 11:34:10 EST 1996


Richard Feynman knew, when he appeared on national television, in a press
conference disclosing the reasons for the Challenger explosion, that many
people would not like him very much.  He had already interviewed several
engineers at Morton Thiokol, the prime contractor for the rocket engines,
who had disclosed to him that they anticipated the explosion before it
occurred.  But what noone at the press conference expected was that
Feynman would be brazen enough, in front of the national media,
to carry out an experiment, which would implicate those who made the 
decision to launch, as the cause of the accident.

Feynman was a smart, jewish guy from New York, whom the generals did not
like.  This was a remnant of his days at Los Alamos, where Feynman
had made a hobby of picking the locks on Top Secret files and taunting
the General with their contents.  You see, in our terms today, Feynman
was just 'too' smart.  He saw through the 'management' efforts of the
General at Los Alamos as misbegotten and misdirected.  He realized that
the capital of politicians and soldiers, money and power, were not
shared by his scientific brethren at Los Alamos who honored art,
music, and elegant solution to difficult problems as their most sought
after currency.

So, when Feynman plopped a piece of rubber O-ring into a glass of
ice water on national television, verifying his theory that the hardening
of the otherwise viscoelastic properties of the rubber at low temperature
was reponsible for the lack of separation of the rocket stages:  Hence
the Challenger explosion.  Feynman upset many.  Because he had told
a great truth that America did not want to know.

America is filled with delusion now; and the generals have now had
their way, in that all the guys that are 'too smart' like Feynman
was then, are either keeping quiet, (I believe the term is Shvai in
Yiddish), have been silenced by intimidation, or have left this earth.

I miss Richard Feynman on the tenth anniversary of the Challenger explosion.

I think it would be a better world if his spirit could be kept alive today.

Bert Gold, Ph.D.
San Francisco



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