The accident that destroyed the now infamous Challenger space shuttle on the morning of January 28, 1986, forever changed the future of NASA’s space programs; however, the true extent of the tragedy spanned much further than anyone could have guessed. In the months following the disaster, after much of the wreckage had been recovered and analysis of the crew’s remains was completed, Dennis E. Powell of the Miami Herald’s Sunday magazine, Tropic, revealed that NASA had kept much of the story to themselves. They did this not out of respect for families but as a cruel PR move to help preserve their public opinion.
The shocking truth that NASA attempted to hide was that the crew of six astronauts and one schoolteacher aboard the Challenger that day had, in fact, survived the explosion and instead met their death after they plummeted 12 miles into the ocean. Likely embarrassed by their own lack of foresight when it came to preparing the crew for what may have been a survivable tragedy, NASA withheld information and forced people to lie on their behalf in an effort to keep the general public – which had watched the explosion live on their televisions – in the dark.
The Cabin Of The Challenger Actually Escaped The Explosion Mostly Intact
A mere 73 seconds after lift off, the space shuttle Challenger was suddenly engulfed in flames. On the ground, people watching were struck by a confused silence as the broadcast announcement of the status of the astronauts’ departure dramatically cut off; uncertainty flashed across their faces as they tried to figure out what was happening before their eyes.
What they had unknowingly witnessed was the explosion of one of the ship’s rocket boosters that had failed at lift off. As people watching from the ground saw a fiery cloud engulf the rocket, on board “a sheet of flame swept up past the window of pilot Mike Smith, [and] there could be no question Smith knew — even in that single moment — that disaster had engulfed them.” It is at this point that Smith can be heard uttering a final “uh-oh,” the last thing captured by the in-flight recorder.
The Explosion Propelled The Cabin Upward 3 Miles Before It Lost Momentum And Fell 12 Miles Into The Ocean
In the chaotic terror of watching the lives of seven brave, adventurous individuals being engulfed in flames, it is hard to even consider the possibility that they survived – but they did. In photographs like the ones above, you can even see the ship escaping the blaze, though it certainly didn’t get away unscathed.
Despite Losing Both Of Its Wings, The Cabin Was Largely Intact
The shuttle’s cabin, though intact, was severely damaged on the outside, having lost both of its wings, but still managed to be propelled nearly three miles up into the sky before nose-diving down into the ocean 12 miles below. However, upon recovering what remained of the shuttle, NASA scientists determined that the cabin had survived the blast, meaning that those aboard had survived too.
Their Descent Took Two And A Half Minutes – And The Crew Was Alive The Whole Time
After the Challenger slowly began to arch its way downward toward the ocean in a steady descent, it took an excruciating 2 minutes, 45 seconds, for them to make their way to the surface of the ocean below. Yet, because the cabin fell at such a controlled pace without spinning out of control, it suggests that the ship never depressurized and the astronauts were likely conscious the whole time. In fact, it was discovered that the astronauts had even engaged their reserve oxygen packs during the fall in an attempt to survive.
The Crew Was Highly Trained And Likely Could Have Survived If Properly Equipped
NASA’s attempted coverup of the initial survival of the flight’s crew has been linked to embarrassment from their lack of preparation. As Tom Scocca of Gawker put it:
“NASA had failed to take any precautions in the event of a catastrophic but possibly survivable accident. It was of a piece with the hubris and magical thinking that had led NASA to put a civilian social-studies teacher aboard a dangerous spacecraft, for a nation of students to watch live in class. There was no equipment to arrest the craft’s fall or to allow the astronauts to ditch it, nor even an emergency locating transmitter. The crew could do nothing but ride it down.”
The suggestion that a tragedy such as this could have been avoided with more forethought makes it all the more devastating.
NASA Claims The Crew’s Cause Of Death Cannot Be Officially Determined
Despite the substantial evidence that suggests the astronauts survived the initial explosion, NASA has taken a steadfast stance on their cause of death, declaring in their official report that “the cause of death of the Challenger astronauts cannot be positively determined.”
NASA Asked Members Of The Recovery Team To Lie For Them
After recover efforts were underway, one group came across a collection of debris that consisted of the notebooks, supplies, and “an astronaut’s helmet, largely intact, containing ears and scalp” – but NASA convinced the member of the coast guard not to broadcast his findings in his upcoming television interview under the guise that the families hadn’t yet been informed.
“I didn’t want them to hear about it on television. So I lied on television. I still feel bad about that,” Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander James Simpson remembered.
The Truth Was Finally Revealed By A Miami Herald Reporter Nearly Two Years Later
After spending two years uncovering evidence about the events the transpired around the tragedy, reporter Dennis E. Powell of the Miami Herald’s Tropic magazine was finally able to publish his findings. However, NASA went to great lengths to conceal this as well, as the reporter’s “investigation is nowhere to be found in the Miami Herald’s anniversary coverage, nor does the paper appear to have put a version online at all.”