Speaking of... Life, Hope & Truth

Challenger’s Continuing Challenge

It’s hard to believe 28 years have gone by, but it was on a cold, January morning in 1986 when America was stunned by the pictures of the space shuttle Challenger being ripped apart in a high-altitude explosion. The shuttle program had functioned so smoothly that a launch was little more than a secondary news event. That all changed in one tragic instant.

No one can say for sure exactly what they endured, but investigators found that the crew compartment survived the explosion basically intact, and there was clear evidence that several of the crew members were alive and functioning after the explosion. It took nearly 2½ minutes for that portion of the shuttle to fall from 60,000 feet, and it hit the surface of the ocean at approximately 200 miles per hour, extinguishing all hope that anyone could have survived.

While the shock was felt everywhere, it was especially strong in the area where my wife and I lived, less than five miles from the Johnson Space Center in Houston. We knew many people who worked at NASA, who interacted on a personal level with the astronauts almost daily. These seven people were not just names; they were a part of our community. Their children played soccer or Little League baseball just like other children in the area. They were not celebrities who lived cloistered lives; they were the people who went to PTA meetings, stood in line next to you in the grocery store, and helped out when people in the community needed help. Mike Smith, Judith Resnik, Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe and the others were not just names; they were our neighbors.

The months of investigations following the incident identified the physical cause of the explosion—O-rings in the solid rocket boosters that failed in the 18-degree temperatures at launch time. But the ultimate cause wasn’t really physical—it was a series of faulty judgments made by a number of people. Some warned that launching at those temperatures without proper data to support the safety was too dangerous, but their warnings were brushed aside. Decision makers felt pressured when they might normally have been more cautious. People who really didn’t understand the dangers made decisions in what proved to be an arrogant disregard for all the warnings. And those faulty decisions sent seven brave American astronauts to their deaths.

NASA instituted improvements to ensure that such a thing would never happen again, and it didn’t. However, just 11 years ago, on Feb. 1, 2003, seven more astronauts died as the shuttle Columbia broke apart on reentry; and once again, the engineers and experts had to figure out what went wrong and change their procedures.

The shuttle program has ended, so isn’t this just history? Actually, there is another important lesson for us. Though mistakes in judgment produced tragic results, NASA, to its credit, sought to learn from the mistakes and change. As we look around us, we see countless human lives filled with results just as tragic. But those making the bad choices fail to learn; and as a result, they keep making the same choices and producing the same painful results.

In hindsight, the shuttle disasters were largely unnecessary because the warnings were there. They simply went unheeded. The human tragedy we see around us is likewise unnecessary because God Himself has given warnings about making the wrong decisions and instructions about what produces the right results. He has also given us warnings, in the form of detailed prophecies, about cataclysmic events ahead; and He tells us to change so we can be saved from them. Most people arrogantly disregard those warnings and refuse to implement the changes God instructs us to make. What will you and I do? We can choose to reap the blessings or the consequences, but we cannot choose to do nothing.

This site can help you make the right choices that produce the right results.

For Life, Hope & Truth, I’m David Johnson.