Friday, January 28, 2011

They Gave Their Lives for Science

We don't often think of scientists and engineers risking their lives for discovery and the advance of science. As a friend reminded me, today is the anniversary of two tragedies and another sad commemoration is Tuesday.

The first is the anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire, 43 years ago today.
The Apollo 1 crew. From left, Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chafee
A routine test was going poorly. Suddenly, a fire broke out. The cause has never been determined. Because of the poor design of the Apollo capsule, the crew never had a chance.

Today is also the 25th anniversary of the Challenger disaster. 
The plume of flame out of the right side of the light-colored solid fuel
rocket came from a non-sealed joint. The fire grew
and the Shuttle assembly disintegrated.
By this time it was thought shuttle missions were "routine" and the regular TV networks no longer carried them. We were watching CNN's coverage in WeatherData's office and, when we saw the explosion, we could not believe what we had seen. 

The weather played a big part in the shuttle disaster. Severe cold overnight caused an "O-ring," designed to seal a joint, to shrink. Because of the shrunken O-ring, the fire was able to escape the joint leading to the breakup. 

Finally, Tuesday is the 9th anniversary of the Columbia disaster. 
A defective heat shield, along with other flaws, caused the shuttle to break up in flight. 

Hat tip: Paul Mallonee

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