Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Challenger Disaster


Richard Feynman is on my very short list of heroes. Few people have ever been as cogent and persuasive when talking about science. He worked on the Manhattan Project, but was best known for his contributions to quantum physics. This movie is a recreation of the investigation into the failure of the solid rocket boosters on the Challenger which, just behind the scenes of 9-11, ranks as the second-worst thing I ever saw on live TV. The people empanelled to look into it were mostly content to be led by the nose by the people at Morton Thiokol, the ones who gave the okay to launch in conditions much colder than the O-rings had ever been tested for. Only Feynman and Sally Ride were skeptical. The film climaxes in a scene so unlikely that I was sure it had to be made up. Just after the executives had finished testifying that there was no problem with the O-rings, William Hurt, as Feynman, absolutely demolishes them by the simple act of dunking a piece of an O-Ring in a glass of ice water. Sonofabitch! It doesn’t spring back into place when he squeezes, something the assholes on the stand had just sworn it would do! I think the director knew that many people would be dubious as to the accuracy of this scene … so he ran the actual testimony over the end credits, and it’s almost word-for-word what we just saw dramatized.