On the 30th anniversary of the Challenger disaster

Today, as I’ve been reminded for this week, marks the 30th anniversary of the Challenger disaster in 1986.

I do not remember where I was when the explosion occurred. I was only six, at at school in a country uninvolved in the launch of the Challenger. I learned of the disaster and its causes at a somewhat more mature age, perhaps in the context of the scandal erupting when it turned out the space shuttle was launched prematurely in very adverse weather conditions for no good reasons.

Is it because of Challenger that my generation learned not to indulge in the dreams of regular and inexpensive space travel, in the Challenger as a functioning space bus? Did Challenger underline the extent to which bureaucracies invested in the public’s trust are willing to compromise basic elements of safety in order to look good? Maybe. Richard Feynman’s famous O-Ring demonstration remains as damning of the actions of everyone involved as ever.

I would have to say that, when I think of the Challenger disaster now, I think of it less as a specific proof or disproof of anything, and more as a background element of disaster. Reading Carole Maso‘s The Art Lover, where the protagonist sees the explosion live on television even as she learns that her best friend is hospitalized with AIDS, that televised scene of disaster was an effective punctum. Much more recently, as I noted in January 2014, the use of a vocal sample from that broadcast in Beyonce’s “XO” was effective in underlining the potential for catastrophe that can lie underneath everything, ready to bring us to ruin if we do not take care.

Originally published at abitmoredetail.wordpress.com on January 29, 2016.

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