The Challenger Disaster (2019) Script

I am an O-ring expert.

I worked on the Solid Rocket Boosters for the Space Shuttle Challenger.

So you work for NASA?


I worked for the company in Utah that was contracted to build rockets for NASA.

You work there now?


And your responsibilities were... what?

I was appointed to the Special Seals Integrity Unit.

And I would make inspections for the recovered rockets and the rockets that were ready for launch.

And on the night in question during the telecon, I made my findings clear.

Just a moment, please. We will get to that later.

During the presidential commission, my colleagues and I expressed our concern.

We will get to that later.

I'm here to bring a billion-dollar civil suit against my company, so what do you want to know right now?

I'm here to determine if you are a victim, or if you are the cause of the problem before we take your case.

I'm not the problem.

You were responsible for the O-rings, correct?


Did anyone work for you or with you?

What does that matter?

Because what you are proposing we do with your case won't be like the Presidential Commission hearings.

In the Court of Public Opinion, perception matters.

Now, was anyone working for you or with you?

I didn't have any employees working for me, so what?

I'm responsible?

Didn't take you long to us get there, did it?

I'm here to protect you.

Protect us from what?

Well, I heard about what you did, which was a great thing.

You saw something that concerned you and you spoke up about it.

I'm the one that tried to stop it.

The future of the space program was in our hands.

And seven lives.

And seven lives.

There are gonna be a lot of accusations, a lot of questions, but this is our chance, that...

I mean, our story, as a team, is heard.

Did you know that the Space Shuttle Challenger was set to launch the day before?

And had it launched, everything would have been perfectly fine.

If not for a jammed up door handle on the outer hull of the hatch.

Yes, sir.

No, sir.

Yes, sir, we're working on it.

Yes, sir.

There were a lot of factors that contributed to this.

In 1986, the space program was attempting to launch

24 shuttles a year.

We're really gonna work on a spaceship with a hacksaw?

Should we get the drill?

I don't know.

They weren't even getting close.

The most we got was ten.

I think they should send Mike up with the drill.

You guys sending Mike up?

It was embarrassing.

And only added pressure on us to launch.

What'd they say? Mike's coming up.

I'll do it.

Got it.

Yes, sir. We got it.



Okay. Well, I'll let them know, but I think...

Yes, sir, I'll let them know.

What's going on?

They're pushing launch to tomorrow.

Put it back on.


Five minutes to finish. Okay.


Five minutes to get ready.

Dad makes the rockets?

No, dummy, he seals them.

Don't say "dummy." Stop!

Stop. Mom!

Stop it. I'm trying to show her.

Stop! Stop! The rocket is broken up into pieces and he makes sure they are sealed when they go back together. Stop that. Come here.

I was trying to show her.

Name-calling and bullying accomplishes nothing.

But Dad says being right is what matters.

Dad, tell her you make the rockets.

I seal the rockets.


And that's part of making the rockets.

See? Come on, let's go.

We're gonna be late.

Let's go, let's go. Five, four, three, two...

Don't forget your lunch.

Emma, hey.

Dad? Yep?

Is the shuttle launching today?

Nope. You're good.

Wait. Why not?

Those idiots can't get anything right.

Don't say "idiots."

And just remember how you're right is important, too.

There's only one way to be right.



Does everybody work at the company you work for?


How many?

I don't know. Thousands of those doo-dahs.



Is Mom right or are you right?

Now that's the right question to be asking.

Don't you ever forget that.

In our family, we do what's right, okay?

What does that mean? What does that mean?

That means your mom is probably right.

But we'll see.

Many of you in the news media have asked to have an opportunity to, uh, to hear a little a bit more about the events that occurred, uh, this morning.

Okay, thank you. You know what?

Of course, it was just not our day.

Removed in the... the ground support assist handle.

And that handle could not be removed because a threaded fastener apparently was stripped.

And we had a little bit of problem with the... the frost and the ice on the external tank.

And then the wind picks up.

Uh, we we're really getting in the condition of no go from the standpoint of RTLS crosswind.

Today also, we used a hacksaw on the, uh, vault.

Well, if the, uh, they did use a hacksaw to... to cut away the... the cylinder on this... this particular handle.

What... At what point would you say, tomorrow the temperature's have caused, uh, a scrub in...

The outside temperature, the absolute outside temperature, we... we don't have...

No one seemed to care about the space program until that stunt with that teacher.

Why do you call it a stunt?

It was unnecessary.

But, suddenly everyone's interested in space again.

Everyone was glued to their TVs, which meant... all eyes were on us.

Adam. Adam!

When do you think they will reschedule the launch?

Not sure.

Why did they scrub the launch in the first place?

I don't know.

What about the...

Just getting to work like you, okay?

I'm sure we'll find out.

Okay. But, uh, they're expecting the temperatures to be below freezing in Florida.

Freezing in Florida?


The Challenger launch was postponed three times and scrubbed once from the planned date of January 22, 1986.


They have a way of twisting your words around and using them against you.

Would the other launches have resulted in O-ring failures had they taken place?

You say one thing a little bit different a year from now... you're on trial for perjury.

I guess the other launches would have been fine.

Do you do a lot of guessing in your line of work?

Florida may be experiencing record low temperatures, but the heat is still on.

School children from around the nation have gathered to watch their favorite teacher prepare to blast off into space.

Sadly, there will be no launch today as NASA has yet again scrubbed another shuttle launch.

This time, because of a jammed door handle.

Will NASA ever launch space shuttle Challenger?

I didn't find out until 1 p.m. that they planned to launch the next morning.

What was your main concern that day?

Temperature was a concern.

It was the concern.

And at around five o'clock, we began to realize we were in some serious trouble.

Listen to me, I don't think you realize how deadly important this is.

The shuttle is scheduled to launch in about 16 hours, so I need to know from you guys what exactly is the temperature going to be?

In Florida? Yes, in Florida!

The rockets are in Florida.

I'll check, uh, let me see...

Looks like 30 degrees.

And you're sure that's Cape Canaveral, not Orlando, right?

Carl, get out.

Whoa! It's 30 degrees right now.

So? In Florida.

Are you sure? Of course, I'm sure.

Why do you think I came storming in here?

You come storming in everywhere.

Is it going to get colder than 30 degrees?

What do you think? Does it get colder at night?

Fair point.

Carl. Mm?

What do you think?

That sounds serious. I think we should tell someone.

Okay, we'll get the guys together, and we'll, um, discuss it and then take it upstairs.

Will do.

Oh, um, where do you want us to meet?



Uh, where in the bullpen?

Oh, boy. Anywhere is fine, Carl.

On it.

This guy.

You have to take it down a notch.


That's why nobody listens to you, you know.

The storming in.

Kicking Carl out.

You know he agrees with you.

Oh, yeah, 'cause I'm right.


What do you want to do about it?

Well, what have I been talking about?

Okay. Okay. For months?

Dial it down.

You are right.

Correct. We believe you.

No one has ever been righter in the history of being right!

So, what should we do?

Who do you want me to call? You want me to call Reagan?

How do we convince them that you are right?

Convince? This isn't a convincing thing.

You show them the numbers, and that's the number.

I know, but have the numbers meant anything so far?


And you've been at this for about a year now?


So, how do we discuss and convince?

Do you want to run into every office hysterically?

Screaming that the sky is falling?

Again, I don't understand what you're saying right now.

These idiots... All right. Hold on. All right!

Let's just talk to the guys and see what they say.

That good? Well, it doesn't matter.

Once they see the facts, then they'll see.

Adam, I'm getting a headache just thinking about this stuff.

Come on, let's go.

What is it, Carl?

Oh, um, Adam has something to talk about.

Is it actually important?

He says it's 30 degrees in Florida.

Well, then, that is important.

I'll be there in a moment.

Uh, Carl?

Yes, Dean?

Where is "there"?

Oh, uh, the bullpen.

Uh, Carl, where in the bullpen?

Oh, I don't know. The middle?

Adam and Bill wanna see us.

Oh, come on. I was just about to leave.

I'm hungry. Where we going?

You really need to get a handle on this sort of stuff.

Get it? Handle?

Okay, are you gonna tell me what's going on or what?

Oh, we need to get Frank.


Adam's not gonna like us getting Frank.

Adam doesn't like anything. Come on.

We've been summoned.

Not me. I'm not here.

Adam says it's 30 degrees in Florida.


What is it with this guy, and what's his problem?

I don't know. Let's go find out.

I need you guys to back me up on this in there.

Maybe we should hear him out, you know, just in case.

He has been going on about this for a year, I'm sick of it.

The sooner this is over with, the sooner we can get some dinner.

Hey, guys, what's happening? Happy hour?

Can somebody tell me why I'm not at home having dinner right now?

What is the problem?

It's too cold to launch.


It's too cold to light up a million pounds of rocket fuel?

What's he doing here?

I thought we could use as many people as possible.

Let me ask you this, how does rocket fuel do when it's spewing out the side instead of the bottom, Von Braun?

All we have to do is take this memo, show 'em the facts, and then NASA will reschedule the launch till later in the day or when it warms up.

It's all in the memo.

The memo?

Yes, the memo.

Tell them what's on the memo?

I've been working on this for over a year.

It has all my findings.

And now you're gonna tell me that none of you read my memo?

I read it. I didn't read it.

I skimmed it. Okay.

It's on the memo. It's cold. What does it mean?

Do you have a problem?

Guys. You know something?

You're like this pebble that gets under the wheel of a shopping cart and makes it go...

Oh, yeah, that's right.

And you're like the guy that can't build a shopping cart that can go over a pebble.

What do you even do here?

I make sure guys like you don't torpedo our company.

Torpedo? Torpedo?

Can we just have the facts, gentlemen?

All of this bickering gets us nowhere.

What's the coldest temperature NASA has ever launched one of our Solid Rocket Boosters?


One year ago minus three days, third launch of Discovery, the temperature 53 degrees Fahrenheit.

Wow, good job, Dean.

Oh, yeah, cookies for everybody.

Hey, Frank, what's the coldest temperature we've ever tested one of our Solid Rocket Boosters?

Hey, Adam, do you get more or less erosion at a 73-degree launch?

Oh, so you did read it, and you know there was more erosion but less blowby.

You are trying to stop this launch, and I am not going to allow it.

And neither is Carl.

If there was a problem, why didn't you stop the launch?

Because it wasn't up to me.

I'm not the decision-maker.

There is a chain of command.

We are just a very small cog in a very big machine.

Seems pretty important.

The shuttle is made up of millions of parts.

It is the most complex piece of machinery in human history.

The O-rings are just one piece in a sea of pieces.

And no was listening.

We need to hear more before we decide either way.

Okay, shopping cart genius.

Uh... Don't take my pencil.

When we ship all the pieces of our four-story rockets, and they put them all back together at Kennedy, how do you think we keep a million pounds of rocket fuel from spewing out of the connection points?

With our seals.

And if our seals don't seal, then everyone blows up and dies!

The problem is you can't prove that the temperature is a problem!

I know, that's the problem!

Is this what you guys want?

You want this guy making decisions about your future?

Yeah, why are you making such a big deal about this tonight?


He's been on about this for about a year now.


And none of the other shuttle launches got stopped.

When we launched in 30 degrees?

You know, I think we should talk to the boss.

Run it up the chain.

Guys, Adam here knows that he cannot stop a launch unless everybody else here is on board.

And he also knows that management is not going to stop a billion-dollar launch without any proof.

And Adam also knows that he is just one guy.

I must say, I am unconvinced.

I think... we should run this up the chain however painful it might be.

Bad idea.

I may be unconvinced, but this discussion needs to happen.

To do nothing at this point would be a big mistake.

Let's say we do postpone the launch.

What's the worst that could happen?

Management might find a replacement company to build the Solid Rocket Boosters, that's what.

Oh, and also, our company, you know, the one we still work for, they might just start laying off people because we are the ones who delay launches at the 13th hour.

I think he has a point.

We all have jobs to think about.

And dinners.

Don't you have a kid in college?

Don't you have a mortgage?

And don't you have a wife and two kids who are depending on you?

Yeah, we have all these problems, but what's the solution here that's not killing another launching?

And what happens if we blow up the shuttle tomorrow?

What happens after that?

That is beyond ridicu... Come on now let's settle down.

I never thought of it like that.

How's that for job security? Ridiculous.

Adam, you can get back to them.

I really admire what you guys did.

You don't have the first clue about what we did, or what we do, or what we will do.

He's on our team.

It's time you two start acting like it.

Yeah, ever since this happened management has been trying to paint me as some kind of... malcontent employee, bent on causing problems.

Excuse us for just a minute.

No, no, it's completely all right.

You're right, I don't know you. Personally. I don't know...

But I know you're a person of conviction.

And I know that you care deeply about the space program, which is why we're all here trying to get this sorted out.

What do you make of him so far?

Well, if you press him, he falls apart.

He's defensive, rude, and difficult to deal with.


I would like to hear more, though.

Look, what we can't do is turn on each other.

I mean, yeah, let's get it all out in here where it's safe.

But out there, we have to stick together.

Are you asking us to lie?

No. Nobody is advocating lying.

Going back to our previous conversation, are you a malcontent employee, bent on causing problems?



Probably, but for good reason.

What reason?

Why can't you just talk to him like a normal person?

Be reasonable?

I don't have to, I'm right.

He's just afraid of losing his job. Hell, I am.

And you're never going to win anybody like this.

This needs to stay an engineering question, that's what.

If we go to the boss like this, we'll get nowhere.

Who? Kurt?

Why aren't we marching up to his office right now?

I thought we would have a brief, calm conversation, come up with an agreement together, and then walk up there with a proposal.

But I didn't anticipate this or Frank.

Why do we need to take a problem that has no solution to our boss?

There's at least two other engineers that think we have a problem.

As soon as we go, Frank is gonna follow us.

And as soon as we get up there, he's gonna throw around his credentials.

Problem Review Board this and problem assessment systems that, and nothing's gonna happen.


I'm getting Jim on the phone. Just hold on.

Let's just see how we're gonna grade and keep Frank away for a few minutes.

Get Jim on the phone, get him on our side.

Have him call Kurt.

And make it seem like Cape Canaveral is asking for a flight ready review meeting.

Jim can make everyone concerned about the temperature.

This is a farce.

We are engineers. We're not... No. We're not engineers.

We're people.

Dumb, emotional people.

Well, thanks for the psychology lesson, Professor.

Right now, I'm more interested in rockets exploding.

Did it ever occur to you that your interpersonal skills may have hindered your ability to convince your coworkers?

Yeah, if that isn't the understatement of a lifetime.

Is this guy the best you got?

I was right.

When you were in engineering school, did they make you show your work?

What does that have to do with anything?

Did they make you show them your work?

When you were solving problems and analyzing potatoes?

So what if they did?

Well, you're gonna show your work here.

Because it's not good enough to just say you were right.

Anyone can make a prediction.

It's gonna rain.

I wanna know how you knew.

And I want to know how you told them.

Because maybe the problem wasn't with their understanding.

Maybe the problem was with how it was communicated.

And that's on you.

So how exactly did you maneuver yourself through the chain of command to get the new information to the Cape.

How do we get the Cape on the phone without Frank knowing about it?

Hey, I thought you said Carl was on my side.

Why don't we just take Frank to the recovery facility?

Show him the soot. What?

Yeah, that'll work.

And then you just go ahead and think of a way to break off and go to your office and get some papers or something.

I'm not playing games.

Just think of a good reason to break off as soon as we get going, all right?

Bill had a way that he wanted to do things.

And did you agree with Bill?

Okay, fellas, we are going to the recovery facility.

Does fluorocarbon elastomer work better or worse in freezing temperatures?

What is fluoro... elastic?

It's the seal. And no, rubber-like substances do not work better in the freezing cold.

Exactly, cold rubber doesn't seal as well.

I want us to go.

What difference do a few degrees make about anything?

Dean does water freeze at 33 degrees?

No, it does not.

But it does at 32.

That's right. A single degree can make a difference.

And it can affect that fluorocarbon elastomer.

You guys are hopeless.

Help me understand why you weren't taking the advice of your problem assessment specialist.

Who? Frank? Are you kidding me?

You should be asking me why didn't everyone take my advice.

You're not going to convince me to put everyone's jobs here in jeopardy on some theory you can't even come up with!

Jobs? That's your criteria?

Maybe you should've done your actual job.

Now it's time for the smart guys to do their jobs.

You're willing to kill people for jobs?

You self-righteous...

Frank! Frank!

I'm not the problem.

I've just about had enough of this.



Okay, we have to get to the bottom of this.

It may be uncomfortable, but you need to tell me the truth.



Where is he going?

I think he's got something in his office.

Did you forget something in your office?


If the recovery boats come in, they want to know what that means.

It means our rockets will get lost in the Atlantic Ocean.

Those things are expensive. We better not lose them.

Is that option on the table?

They wanna know what this will mean to NASA.

Can't you just pick it up off the bottom?

What kind of question is that?

Tell the recovery boats to remain out at sea and get those rockets when they splash down.

Boats can't stay out there in the wind.

We need you to figure the cost for your company if we launch with no recovery boats.


See if NASA can figure this out, then.

If you want 24 launches in a year, you can only do that with reusable parts.

If the parts get lost in the Atlantic Ocean...

Wait, too windy?

It's too windy for boats to be on the water, but not too windy to launch the shuttle?

We're trying to get through this launch before thinking about making recoveries to supply the next one.

If the boats come back in now, they won't be able to make it back out for the launch window.

The boats are already headed back.

So, we're going to lose a billion-dollar asset?

That's right.

Excuse me?

What's he doing? Huh? Huh?

Get the flight engineer on the phone now.

This is Adam with the team that built the Solid Rocket Boosters, and I have important information regarding a catastrophic failure of the shuttle launch due to the primary and secondary O-rings.

Get him on the phone now. Who is that on the phone?

Are you talking to Kurt? Huh?

Jim Whitt, go.

Jim, you have about 30 seconds to get Kurt on the phone and convince him to call a meeting between NASA and our company to discuss the impending catastrophic failure of the primary and secondary O-rings due to the cold temperature of our scheduled launch time.

You better hurry.

You better hold on because it gets worse.

What do you mean it gets worse?

What could be worse than a catastrophic failure?

Transfer me over to Kurt.

I don't know how to do that, the girl that does the phones is gone for the day.

Just hit transfer, receiver, then extension 304.

Okay. Here.


This is how you want to play this, huh?

Frank, hold up. Like a junior high playground?

Can we all just take a breath and talk about this?


The time for talking is over.

It looks like I'm gonna to have to single-handedly save the space program. Save the space program?

Do you even hear yourself?

What good is a space program that never launches into space?


We are having some major issues regarding the launch tomorrow morning and we need to set up a meeting with Marshall, Kennedy and our company.

Uh, temperature needs to be discussed as well as our recovery of the SRBs.

Boats are being called back in because of wind, which puts us in jeopardy of losing our assets.

That's correct.

Yes, sir, uh, we could use some management assistance setting up that meeting ASAP.

And, Kurt, I want to highly stress that this remain an engineering decision.

All right, thank you.


Here's what we're gonna do.

We're gonna get a meeting with Kennedy Space Center and Marshall Space Flight Center on a conference call.

We're gonna convince them to push the launch window a little bit.

We need those boats out there and recover our rockets.

Now, what's the argument with the temperature?

It's inconclusive.

The temperature is outside of our experience data, and you that we have been getting erosion and blowby.

It isn't the worst at a lower temperature.

Yes, it is.

Not with erosion.

What's the difference, gentlemen?

Erosion means that the rubber hose seal is being eaten away.

Blowby is the exhaust that actually gets past the seals.

And it's the blowby that gets worse at the lower temperatures.

The lower the temperature, the more the rocket exhaust passes right past the seals.

The greater the blowby, the greater the chance of secondary seal failure.

Secondary seal failure equals catastrophic failure.


We are going to argue for a launch delay.

And we are all going to be in agreement, Frank.

Now NASA is pushing for a launch, even though it could cost us our rockets.

It's the engineering.

We need to push because of the engineering.

There is more at play here, Adam, than the engineering.

The danged media keeps pushing and pushing.

So much so that NASA is staring down the barrel of another national embarrassment.

Especially after the handle and all the delays.

Who cares?

Who cares?

The people who pay the bills care.

The taxpayers. Yeah, right.

The Department of Defense pays the bills, so their satellites can catch a ride into orbit.

And the DOD wants what they paid for.

If they don't get what they paid for, they'll just go somewhere else.

Where? Macy's?

Maybe NASA and the DOD think it's time to invest in a new horse, especially if this horse can't get them where they wanna go.

You think it's an engineering problem, but it's not.

It's an economic problem.

Are we arguing to launch or not launch?

Yes, economics is a factor. I thoroughly agree.

However, the five of us. Five lepers.

The five of us believe temperature is the best argument.

If NASA's loss is not greater than our loss of the rockets, then the economic argument will not work.

However, if they are concerned about the loss of their shuttle in an even more embarrassing incident, then we should argue in the best interest of their success.

If we delay a few hours, temperature goes up, right, Adam?


And the rocket gets launched, right, Frank?


And our ships have a better shot of recovering our SRBs, right, Kurt?


Then it seems to me we have no other choice in the matter.

It seems we have no choice in the matter.

Sir, let us put together an argument.

We want to help the company, NASA, the DOD, everyone.

You have exactly 45 minutes to get a presentation together.

Forty-five minutes?

As soon as this sentence is done, I am picking up that phone, calling them and setting the meeting.

How are we supposed to get this prepped in 45 minutes?

Get him outta here.

Kurt, this is a complex technical issue, we need more than 45 minutes. Stop.

Mr. Nelson?

How are we supposed to put together a complex technical presentation and send it across America, so Utah, Alabama and Florida can all see it all within 45 measly minutes?

We got the win.

Oh, what was all that about the economics?

Adam, NASA has never gone against a contractor's recommendation.

We get the meeting.

We tell them we don't want to launch, they don't negate us, we win.

Let's throw some stuff together and get the launch delayed, and get to work on this thing, you know?

Get it launched eventually, so we can have jobs.

If we do a halfway decent job, we will be just fine.

Oh, in 45 minutes?

I'm starting to think this was a bad idea.

Why don't you just go home for the night?

No. We need everyone working.

I used to think you only cared about being right.

That's right. Now I think you only care about being at odds with everyone.

What you think doesn't matter.

I think what he thinks matters!

What if we are chasing a ghost here? Huh?

A mad man's imagination.

Why do we have to participate in this death spiral?

Because I'm the one who's right.

Yeah, says you. That's right, says me.

I'm out.

Edwin, we need you. I don't need this.

Ed, you have to look past the argument and the number and the data and the O-rings and see the man.

All right, sometimes he doesn't get it.

He doesn't care about you, he doesn't care about me.

Hell, I don't even think he cares about the engineering.

But I do know he cares about this, he cares about being right.

And that's what I trust and that's the truth.

You gotta get past his little show.

I trust him. Yeah, you trust everyone.

I just wish I had another day.

What if he's wrong? What if he's right?

What if he's wrong? What if he's right?

Whoa! Why is this our problem all of a sudden?

If we're wrong and we stop the launch for no reason, we lose.

If we're right and we stop a launch, another launch, we lose.

It's lose-lose.

Because we are the only people on the planet who know we don't know that there might possibly be, maybe, a problem.

And it's the right thing to do.

It is time to move.

We split up.

Five minutes to gather.

Fifteen minutes to sort.

Fifteen minutes to chart.

And fifteen minutes to send off.

That's 50 minutes.

We'll have to move faster than time.

We'll have to hand draw our charts.

Agreed. They are gonna want a lot of statistics, so if you have any doubt, just bring everything with you.

How do we make a presentation to people in three different parts of the country in just under 40 minutes?

It's 1986, we are rocket scientists, we work with NASA.

We are going to fax it.

Good evening.

I'm joined tonight by teacher turned astronaut.

And the first civilian to ever go into space.

I have to start by asking you, what do you think this is gonna mean for you after the mission?

What are you going to do when you return from space?

I don't know.

But I do know that this is an adventure I couldn't say no to.

I mean, to be able to go into space and help school children learn and be more interested in learning, that's what I'm really looking forward to right now.

At first, I was... I was nervous about what it would mean for my family, and my husband, my kids, my teaching career, but now I'm just looking forward to the adventure ahead.

You know, the great unknown, not necessarily space, but life.

Do you think it's really sunken yet, you're going into space?

No, absolutely not.

I still can't believe that I was chosen for this.

You know, 50,000 people applied.

I still remember putting my letter into the mailbox, and thinking, there are so many other people doing the exact same thing right now.

We were all alike that day.

We all thought, "It could be me. I have a chance at this."

And then it was me and it's like winning the lottery to be able to go into space and blasting off in the shuttle.

I mean, I just feel like I'm taking everyone here on earth up there with me.

Are you afraid at all?

No. I don't think so.

Who knows, though, when we're actually strapped in and those massive rockets are blasting us off into space.

Yeah, that does sound kinda scary.

But I have the utmost confidence in the thousands of people who make all of this happen.

You know, these days, space flight is very safe.

You know, recently, NASA has had a few delays.

How, if at all, has that affected the crew, mentally?

I mean, it's definitely, uh, been interesting.

You get so excited about finally taking this mission, and then it's delayed.

But I know that the engineers and everybody else involved are doing what they need to do to make it as safe as possible.

So, I have full confidence in what they're doing and the decisions they make.

If it needed to be postponed then, you know, for our safety or for whatever reason they have, then that's something that I think we're all okay with.

You know, at some point in everyone's life, they dream of being an astronaut.

And you get to be one.

Are you having fun, has this been a fun experience?

Oh, yes. So much fun.

I... I love everyone I work with.

Commander Scobee is a solid unflappable man.

Uh, Mike and Ellison are the hardest working, smartest people you will ever meet.

And Ron and Greg will... they make us laugh nonstop.

Judi and I have a lot of fun together.

And, I mean, just as a team, we really have to rely on one other.

Sounds like an amazing team.

Oh, it is. I mean, all the way from the very top of NASA down to the guys who clean to the engineers in between who make sure that this is as safe as possible.

I mean, all these people involved are what make it such an amazing experience.

And it's... I've had so much joy getting to be a part of all of this.

I know that all of my students, and even the students at the elementary and the middle school that, uh, go to my high school, that feed into my high school are all going to be watching.

And I'm just so excited to be there to wave at the cameras and see them and, you know, let them see that your dreams can come true.

Uh, I mean, who would've thought that I...

I'm a high school science teacher who's going into space.

We have no time. Let's go and get this table out here.

Thank you, sir, appreciate it.

Everything passed, I need to have them.

What else do we need? We need all sources.

Come on, we need the erosion charts from STS-51-B. That is 51-B.

We need to 51-A and 60...

Oh, I saw that one in one of the brown folders.

Which one? Oh, uh, one of them.

I'm not sure.

I need all SRM recoveries to go.


Go out or go in? In.

You need this one?


Should we separate the soot levels from the erosion?

No, I want them to see the correlation.

Should we make a main summary of all the findings?

Wait, wait, wait.

We need 51-A, 51, uh, G, and 51-F.

"I" comes after that.

"I" after "F."

Why can't these be in order and we call them Challenger and Discovery and then the number?

Well, because they didn't all go in consecutive order.

They're... they're all mixed up.

It would just be even more confusing.

Right, more confusing.

Does anyone else find it funny that we use labels 51-L and 61-A, not the number 13?

Okay. Doesn't make sense to me.

Yeah, just me, okay. I blame it on Apollo.


I'm missing another launch from October.

I've got the 30th.

Eighty-four or eighty-five?


Anyone have October not 30th 1985?


Somebody talk to me.


Adam. Get your head in the game.


You've never been more wrong about anything.

I get this more than you know.


I'm gonna go get a cup of...

Hey, um, give me a hand with these drawings, okay?

You know he's our best shot.

I know. We know.

Yeah, well... he has exactly nine minutes to get it together.

He better.

As a matter of fact, all of us need to throw some cold water on our faces before we go in there.


When you prepared for the telecon meeting, had anything changed in your plan to approach your higher-ups?




Hey. How's it going over there?

Oh, I got what I wanted, just not the way that I wanted.

Is it the temperature?


The fluorocarbon elastomer.


You're the only ones.

There's no one else.


You have a human problem, not an engineering problem.

What's next?

What do you have right in front of you that you have to do right now?

Stand... stand up and go in the conference room.

And then what?

Make sure everyone has the right documents.

Then what?

I'll check the temperature correlations to blowby and seal integrity.


You can do this.


I know.


We are all here, gentlemen.

This is Jim, The Company's flight engineer here at Kennedy Space Center.

Good evening, gentlemen.

Anyone from Marshall on yet?

Uh, yes. Sid, Rust, and Pat here.

All right, what seems to be the issue here?

Our best seal expert Adam has some concerns about the temperature.

I can't stress enough how important it is that how long it takes for these O-rings to seal after they are compressed is vital to a successful launch.

The bottom line is the colder it gets, the further we move away from the direction of goodness.

What do you mean we're moving away from the direction of goodness?

The ability for the seals to expand in their grooves is reduced as a function of temperature, that's when the exhaust blows right by the gap created, burns a hole in the side, and explodes.

You have a history of seal and erosion and blowby correlation from previous relevant launches.

Pages nine through twenty.

Yes, there are... there... there are two seals on each joint.

Now, we have seen the primary seal breached in the past.

And we have all discussed the primary seal being compromised, and we have all concluded that this is an acceptable level of failure if we are confident the second seal will hold.

We are unsure the secondary seal will hold at these temperatures.

So, you don't know?

We know that we don't know.

Never has a contractor spoken more truly.

Well, thank you, Marshall.

We try to keep a handle on things, though not as good as you guys.

We have enough time to make jokes, but we don't have enough time to fix seals.

If the seals are a problem, then why aren't they in the problem assessment system documents we have here?

And why are we just hearing about it now, tonight?

Yeah, I'm gonna let our problem assessment expert handle that one.


Uh, because it looks to be like that we left them off of the document.

Because it was fixed?

No, sir.

Because they were always on there.

I don't understand.

So you're saying we took a problem of the problem assessment system because it's still a problem?

We all agreed that these ongoing problems were cluttering up the PASes, no one was looking at them.

And the things that we took off were to be handled by a special committee.

Uh, seems like, what's the main seal guy's name?


Seems like Adam thinks the problem isn't fixed.

We all agreed the problem is acceptable.

We've never launched a shuttle below 53 Degrees and we're moving into the coldest launch in NASA's history.

So you're changing the launch criteria from 40 degrees to 53 degrees the night before the launch?

We're saying this is our data limitation.

When we run tests and squeeze the rubber...

Look at page 38.

When we squeeze it at 100 degrees, and then let off the pressure we never lose contact, but at 50 degrees when we let off the pressure, it takes a few minutes for the rubber to spring back into place.

Your test does not represent reality.

The O-rings are constantly under pressure, your conclusion is not logical.

It is logical.

It proves that the fluorocarbon elastomer rubber is absolutely affected by temperature.

If we lose the seal for a tenth of a second, the hot fire and gases could blowby the seal and erode the O-ring, which we have seen happen.

And if the secondary backup O-ring does the same thing, is compromised... that's the ball game.

We've seen blowby on STS-61-A also.

It's page four.

It says here that the launch went off at 75 degrees and you got blowby.

I just don't understand how you can determine temperature is the deciding factor.

Yeah, I'd like to answer that one please.

I just don't understand how you don't understand that the cold makes rubber harder and less flexible.

It's warm, there's blowby. It's cold, there's blowby.

It's warm, there's erosion.

It's cold, there's erosion.

It doesn't seem to matter what temperature it is.

Yeah, if you'll just look at it with a rudimentary pass-fail, then, yes, they both get blowby.

But if you get scientific about it, at the colder temperatures, the soot from the blowby is jet-black.

At 75 degrees, the soot from the blowby is light gray, spotty.

I examined them myself.

Now, if you can't see the difference, I can't help you.

We have seen primary seal failure in the past.

And if you see primary seal failure, then there is a high probability of secondary seal failure within the first second of ignition when the rocket flexes at the joint.

And it will flex.

And when the seals are compromised, you get blowby.

The blowby erodes the seals.

And that's when you have rocket flames shooting out the side instead of the bottom.

And you have never seen secondary backup seal failure?

Actually, we have.

STS-51-B, the secondary O-ring suffered 12% erosion.

So why wasn't that the ball game, Bill?

What do you mean?

Well, you said earlier, that if we have secondary seal failure, it would be the ball game.

This says it's happened before.

Just because we done it once doesn't mean we could do it again.

We did it by the skin of our teeth.

Is this how we're going to keep going?

Like a child who runs out into the road and nothing happens.

He says, "See, I'm just fine.

Let's just keep on running out into the road."

And the parents do nothing?


So you're the parent?

Someone has to be.

I just can't believe that it's a function of temperature.

The data is inconclusive.

I can't accept this train of thought.

If you take a look at the synopsis, we should not launch with an O-ring temperature below 53 degrees Fahrenheit.

It shouldn't matter that we've skirted disaster in the past.

The odds will catch with us eventually.

Quantify your results.


What is the probability of primary and secondary O-ring failure?

I don't understand your question.


How do you quantify a train is coming?

You look down the tracks and you see a train is coming.

I am telling you to do it. Quantify your results!

No, I can't. I can't do that with this data!

I can only work with the data in front of me.

You're giving me oranges and asking me to bake you an apple pie.

I can't do that.

What I can quantify with 100% accuracy is that right now we are moving away from the direction of goodness.

I don't... I don't understand this conversation. I...

The facts don't lie!

I don't understand how you can see the facts and they don't convince you.

Cold rubber doesn't lie.

Recovered rockets don't lie.

Burned up, charred up O-rings don't lie.

I'm right about this.

I am.

You hired me to do a job, and by God, I'm gonna do it.

And I don't care if it ruins me, or you, or NASA or anybody else, you get me?

So what do you think, Pat?

I am appalled that you would dare to make such a recommendation.

And change the flight criteria the night before a launch?

Look here, it is expected to be 29-39 degrees tomorrow.

Even your high temperature is outside of our data experience.

Haven't you been getting ice already?


I'm not gonna go against a contractor's assessment.

When do you want me to launch? Next April?

I can't go against a contractor's recommendation to stop the launch.



This has to be an engineering decision, not program or management.

Kurt? You wanna give us a final?

Uh, can you give us about five minutes, please?

Yes. You bet.

Thank you.

This is so backwards.

Generating new launch criteria the night before you launch, that's backwards.

I suspect our guys are gathering more data, running numbers to come up with a more accurate temperature launch window.

Whatever they're doing, they had better come back with a way to quantify their recommendation.

What was that?

So now we have to prove that something doesn't work?

Instead of having to prove that it does work?

We need to make a management decision.

We can't do that.

Please, look at the chart in front of you.

If Bill... if it tell say nothing, let them show you our uncertainty.

We cannot guarantee a good seal!

I don't know what else to say.

Black soot. Look at 'em.

Look at 'em!

Data is inconclusive.

I wouldn't get on that shuttle tomorrow.

You're not an astronaut.

That's right. I'm not an astronaut.

But their lives are in our hands.

Would you get on that shuttle?

They know the risks.

And that's not our concern.


What kind of a man are you? Adam!

Who... How dare you play with human life like that?

Who do you think you are? God? Huh?

You think you get to decide who lives and who dies?

This is despicable is what this is.

You're a weak, spineless man, who can't... won't give these poor souls a chance, so... so what?

So we can keep our stupid jobs?

And make an extra buck or two? Huh?

You're willing to drive right up to the edge of the cliff, just to see how close you can get without falling off.

You're gonna fall off tomorrow.

I tell you what, why don't you put on one of those pretty blue costumes and a helmet, drive yourself down to that cage with a bomb strapped under it, huh?

Better yet, why don't you invite your wife or your daughter?

This is not a management decision.

NASA, we took a second look at our data, and we've determined that it is inconclusive.

Our recommendation is to launch.

Are there any disagreements?

Then it's a go.

Why didn't you speak up after that?

Why did you stay silent?

You guys were the engineers.

You should have said something.

I don't know what to say to that.

That's exactly why you need our help, to get through this.

These questions are gonna come up.

You need to have an answer.

Can you fax over a flight recommendation to get signed?

Right away.

Please sign this.

Oh, no.

We need someone from your company to sign this.

I'm not signing that.

Can we have someone from your end sign a flight recommendation and fax it over, please?

Right away.

The recovery boats coming back in was enough to scrap the launch.

The wind was enough to scrap the launch.

The ice was enough to scrap the launch.

Let alone your contractor safety concerns.

If something happens tomorrow, I wouldn't want to be the one to stand up in front of some board of inquisition and give testimony as to why I chose to launch against the qualifications and recommendations of my engineers.

The T-minus ten seconds to burn off any residual hydrogen gas.

T-minus 45 seconds and counting.

The Solid Rocket Booster flight instrumentation reporters have gone into the record mode.

Coming up on the 32nd point in our countdown.

The SRB hydraulic power units have started.

T-minus 21 seconds.

And the Solid Rocket Booster engine gimbal is now underway.

T-minus 15 seconds.

T-minus ten.

Nine, eight, seven, six...

We have main engine start.

...four, three, two, one.

And lift off.

Lift of from the 25th space shuttle mission and it has cleared the tower.

Challenger now heading down range.

Engine's beginning throttling now at 94 percent.

Normal throttle, uh, most applied 104 percent.

It will travel down to, uh, 65 percent, shortly.

Engine's at 65 percent.

Three engines are running normally.

Three good fuel cells.

Three good engines.

Engines throttling up.

Three engines now at 104 percent.

Challenger, go and throttle up.

Challenger's gonna throttle up.

One minute, fifteen seconds.

Velocity, 2900 feet per second.

An altitude, nine nautical miles.

Generates distance, seven nautical miles.

Did you know the investigation turned up the fact that some of them survived the initial explosion?

Some of the safety switch protocols had been activated.

Did they die on impact? Did they drown?

Did they suffocate?

I guess it doesn't matter.

Did you know any of them?


Never met a single one.

This is a tragedy.

A true tragedy, one our nation will not soon forget.

But I think we have to remember, it's a risky business.

It is.

But you know what?

I'm really gettin' kinda sick of hearing that.

Least we had Reagan to comfort us, though, huh?

Today is a day of mourning and remembering.

We know we share this pain with all of the people of our country.

This is truly a national loss.

To the families of the seven, we cannot bear as you do the full impact of this tragedy.

But we feel the loss and we're thinking about you so very much.

I've always had great faith in and respect for our space program.

And what happened today does nothing to diminish it.

We don't hide our space program, we don't keep secrets and cover things up.

We do it all upfront and in public.

That's the way freedom is and we wouldn't change it for a minute.

We'll continue our quest in space.

There would be more shuttle flights and more shuttle crews.

And, yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space.

Nothing ends here.

We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning.

As they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye, and "slipped the slurry bonds of Earth" to "touch the face of God."

Thank you.

What are you doing?

Getting rid of this thing.


Adam, can you just wait just one second?

Adam, what do you think this is going to solve?

I don't know.

You don't have to throw away our TV.

Mary, I don't want all of this getting in.

Getting in? What are talking...

The reports, the investigations, the accusations.

Haven't you heard what he was saying?

Against me. Against us.

You didn't do anything.


You did something.

That amounted to nothing.

You didn't do anything wrong.


You did the right thing.

I did the right thing?

This is where you end up when you do the right thing.

Right out here in the alley, right next to the trash where the... where the neighbors can look at you and gawk, "Oh, there he is, there's the engineer, that's the guy that works for the O-rings, killed seven people," Mary.

So, yeah, this spot right here, this is where you end up when you do the right thing.

You didn't do anything wrong.

I could've...

I could've done so much more.

No. No. You couldn't have.

You did everything that you could have.

No! All of you did.

Well, did I, uh, did I call the media?

Did... did I call the astronauts?

Did I try to call the astronaut's families?

Did I pick up the red phone and try to call the president?

Did I jump in my car and go flying all the way down to Florida and go lay down in the middle of the launch pad to try to stop this thing that I knew was gonna happen?

I know. I know you knew it.

But it wouldn't have changed anything because they didn't listen.

They didn't listen.

They should have pushed the launch...

They should have pushed the launch.

They should've pushed it a few hours, a few weeks, days, whatever it took.

But they didn't.

And that is on them.

You were right.

I was right.

I was right.

So what?

We... This is too heavy a burden to carry.

This is what you need to be throwing away, not the TV.

Mary, I wasn't the right man for the job.

But that's not how this works.

You can throw it away, but it's not gonna change anything.

Maybe not, but you get to decide where you go from here.

What happened in Utah a few weeks after?

I don't know. People were upset.

Uh, the whole town has a stake in this.

Most of us who live here, work there.

There were a few individuals who decided to pull a very insensitive stunt, we don't know who they were.

Did you feel like it was directed at you?

Yeah, I did.

Hey. Hey.

Does anybody call you names because of what happened?

Some of them.


I am so sorry that this is happening to you.

Can we just leave now and never come back?


No, something wrong has been done, and your dad has to see it through, okay?


I'm not sure why.

And I'm not sure it matters.

I don't wanna go to school today.

Oh. Come here.

You don't have to, kiddo, you don't have to.

But you are gonna have to go back.

And when you do, it's gonna be hard.

I want you to remember something, and you remember this always...

your dad tried to stop that launch when no one else would.

That's the truth.

They will eventually call anyone and everyone who has a significant role in the Solid Rocket Booster fabrication to testify before the commission of President Reagan has assembled.

It's a witch hunt.

It's not a witch hunt.

It's just a Fact-Finding Committee.

Well, they've found an awful lot of facts lately, haven't they?

Like what?

Like that New York Times article, where an insider leaked sensitive information.

It's not sensitive information, it's the truth.

And if you're implying that I'm the one who leaked, you're out of your mind.

Do not give out any more information than is absolutely necessary.

Yes, no, or I don't know.

You shouldn't antagonize these people.

Don't go out there on your own.

I'm telling you, for your own sake.

I don't like the way you said that.

Do you want the space program to continue.

Yes or no? That's not the question.

Yes or no?

That is the question. That is the only question.

You engineers seem to think that in few weeks, it's business as usual.

Well, I have news for you.

You are not flying again anytime soon.

You get to decide when.

How long do you wanna wait before the next shuttle is on the launch pad?

Three years or three decades?

You decide.

Mistakes have been made and if they continue to be made, you are never flying again, ever.

That decision is made for you.

No more contracts, no more space program, no more progress.

This is it.

History-making time, right now.

Do you continue to shoot your mouth off with no regard to progress?

Because if you go against counsel and you perjure yourself, or you say something incriminating by accident, that is on you.

Testifying before a presidential commission is nothing to screw around with.

And how many have you testified before?

I don't testify.


You've testified before none, and I have, so that makes me the expert in this room.

Yes, no, or I don't know.

I have to get back to work.

If you go against us, you will lose.

Both of you. the secondary seal that we were talked, that we alluded to with the type of erosion, uh, that we had was...

I understand what critically one means, it means it is important for safety and for flight.

Is there a high... higher category than that?

Let me go back just one moment to the Cook memorandum.

He said, "I would think that any NASA budgets submitted this year for fiscal year 1987, should certainly be based on a reliable judgement."

Just getting started.

Anyone know you're here?

I don't think anyone knows anyone is here.

Is there any internal correspondence on potential concern over the operation of the O-rings or the joints?

We can ask Jim who works for the contractor that built the Solid Rocket Boosters, if they have anything.

I believe there's some test data in progress now.

Some from before, that, uh, speaks to the resiliency of the O-rings.

There were some discussions the night before the launch, correct?

Between you and the people at contractors company?

Yes, sir.

As a matter of routine, we ask our technical people, contractors, if there are any concerns.

And the only concerns that they pointed out were the recovery battery, um, temperatures.

And those are located on the forward end...


...of the Solid Rocket Boosters.

Did you discuss anything with the contractors or engineers?

They presented to us the fact that the lowest temperature that we had flown an O-ring or a case joint was 53 degrees, and they wanted to point out that we would be outside our experience base.


I'm asking because we read in the New York Times about memos to NASA expressing concern about erosion of the O-rings.

Are there any documents expressing concern about the temperature that morning?

I'm not aware of any such documents.

I will go back and... and look, go to my files to see if there are any.





I can't believe this.

Someone has to say something.

Please, the media is here.

So what?

What are you doing?

Please put your hand down.

I can't let it go down like this.

That's not working.


There you go. Shh!

Oh, stop it, you. Go interrupt them., we don't know if he did anything about this.

I'm not doing this. Go!

We... we are all seeing this really for the first time.

I guess we saw it in the newspaper...

I'd like to say about the meeting you're talking about... earlier.

Am I correct in assuming that, uh, what you described that in the normal chain of authority, neither Mr. Cook nor Mr. Mann....

I'd like to say something about the meeting you were talking about.

Hey, hey, hold on a second, um...

I believe Jim Whitt will have something to add.

Yes, I'd like to say about the meeting...

Excuse me, excuse me.

Can... can you say that a little louder where everyone can hear you?

I'd like to say about the meeting you were talking about earlier.

The meeting was called by us, the engineers.

And we tied in Marshal Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, to let them know our concerns about the colder temperatures, and that our recommendation was not to launch.

If what I'm hearing is true this could be in litigation for years.

We initially told them not to launch below 53 degrees.

We were convinced the seals were compromised the lower the temperature got.

We were moving away from the direction of goodness.

You never changed your minds about launching?

No, sir.

I was in Kennedy, and after Adam and Bill expressed their concerns, our company in Utah had a private caucus and changed their minds.

You work for that company?

Yes, sir.

So you had data and concerns, then changed your mind based on what?

You'd have to ask them in Utah, I was not a part of the private meeting to reevaluate the data.

Were you gentlemen there in Utah?

Yes, sir. Yes, sir.

Did the reevaluation of the data factor into proceeding to fly?

Yes, sir.

Why did you decide to fly?

We didn't decide to fly. We didn't decide to fly.

Well, someone did.

The gentlemen just said that the private meeting resulted in changing the recommendation to launch.

And now you're saying you did not?

Nelson, did their company recommend a launch?

Yes, sir.

So who changed their mind?

Bill and I are O-ring experts and the recommendation to launch win against our recommendation.

We faxed over a lot of documents and our official engineering perspective to not launch.

NASA put pressure on our leadership, our boss conveyed a meeting with everyone in Utah, and they decided to launch.

Did you change your mind?

No, sir. Never.

How about you?

No, sir.

And you?

No. In fact, they faxed over a document and tried to get me to sign it, recommending we fly and I refused.

What were your initial findings?

When we tested at the lower temperatures, we... we saw that it took...

Can you quantify how poorly this is going for you?

Not as poorly as it's gonna go for the guy who throws his own company under the bus.

Maybe you ought to get a handle on that.

Mr. Nelson?

I'd like to see the signed document that recommends to launch.

Yes, sir. I have the signed document from the contracting company that recommends to launch.

What did we all talked about earlier?

If you're asked a question, you say what?

Yes, no, and what?

And what did I hear?

We're the company guys, we're going to work tomorrow.

I just wanted you to know, what you men did in there today was incredibly brave.

Thank you.

I hope you know that there are laws to protect you against any retaliation for what you have said here today.

We'll see.

Is anything gonna happen to these guys?

We are here to learn and to make recommendations to the President and then he will decide.

I think the best thing to do is to simply keep telling the truth.

Yes, ma'am.

I'm not hungry anymore.

He'll come around.

No, he won't.

Adam. Yeah.

I just wanted to ask you, um, we have no proof.

You don't have any money to afford a team like this.

And I can already see it's an unwinnable case.

So what's the real reason you wanna do this?

No one was prosecuted.

No one lost their jobs except for the people who were trying to do the right thing.

And now, seven of society's finest are dead.

And they're gonna stay dead.

Don't you think we need to try something?

I do.

But it's just going to wind up being a stunt to try the case in public, and give them a black eye in the news for a couple of days.

I can live with that.

You do know beating up the bully won't bring you peace.

Maybe it'll bring justice.

Have you ever gotten either one that way?

I don't care what you have to say.

I am an O-ring expert.

I worked for the company that built the Solid Rocket Boosters for the Space Shuttle Challenger.

And the decision to launch went against our recommendation.

But I guess you knew that already, huh?

I wanna ask you, how many of you are planning to be engineers?

Everyone. Okay.

That's great.

Really, that is... that is great.

You know, what... what I think I want to talk to you about today is about the value of the human life.

Because all of you are gonna go on to build roads, bridges, toys, cars, rockets, homes, whatever.

Whatever it is, an engineer thinks it and makes it.

Hi, dad. Hey, kids. Hi, girls.

Hey. We'll be back later. Hi.

But I just want you to remember to see the people on the other side of whatever it is that you make.

And also remember the people you made it with.