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originally posted by: KansasGirl
originally posted by: Skid Mark
a reply to: LSU2018
I read recently that the astronauts were most likely alive until they hit the ground.
I've always wondered about that. But it seems like surely, they would have knocked unconscious with the explosion, or passed out from smoke inhalation or something. Why did your source think they would have been alive that long?
Immediately after, all communications between the shuttle and the ground were lost. At first, many people watching the blast, and others in mission control, believed the astronauts had died instantly — a blessing in its own right. But they were wrong. NASA’s intensive, meticulous studies of every facet of that explosion, comparing what happened to other blowups of aircraft and spacecraft, and the knowledge of the forces of the blast and the excellent shape and construction of the crew cabin, finally led some investigators to a mind-numbing conclusion. They were alive all the way down.
That may have once been believed. But that was before the investigation turned up the key piece of evidence that led to the inescapable conclusion that they were alive: On the trip down, the commander and pilot’s reserved oxygen packs had been turned on by astronaut Judy Resnik, seated directly behind them. Furthermore, the pictures, which showed the cabin riding its own velocity in a ballistic arc, did not support an erratic, spinning motion. And even if there were G-forces, commander Dick Scobee was an experienced test pilot, habituated to them. The evidence led experts to conclude the seven astronauts lived. They worked frantically to save themselves through the plummeting arc that would take them 2 minutes and 45 seconds to smash into the ocean. That is when they died — after an eternity of descent.
If you are interested in the fate of the Challenger crew, I highly recommend reading "Riding Rockets" by Mike Mullane (hilarious, brutally honest account of what it was like to be an astronaut during the early years). Also, Truth, Lies and O-rings by Alan MacDonald.
Mullane's first flight was with Judy Resnik and he provides a first hand account of what the astronauts were told about the pathological evidence.
Alan MacDonald worked for Thiakol and has insider information about the events leading up to Challenger and the great efforts NASA went through to shield the public about the tragic cause of deaths of the astronauts.
I worked at NASA during STS-107. During the accident investigation, the coroners were unable to attain the records of the Challenger crews pathology reports.
What is factually known is that Michael Smith's PEAP was turned on by either Onizuka or Resnik. Scobee's PEAP was not turn on because the activation value was under his seat.
Of the four PEAPs that were recovered, three of them were activated. Since Onizuka or Resnik had to turn on Smith's PEAP (the activation valve was located behind his seat), there is a high probability that the other two activated PEAPs were Onizuka's and Resnik's.
Michael Smith's PEAP had 2 minutes and 27 seconds of air used (the PEAP system contained 5 minutes of 80% nitrogen and 20% oxygen in the tank). This indicates that Michael Smith had his visor down and the amount of air used exactly matches the time it took from vehicle breakup to the crew compartment hitting the ocean.
When Challenger was broken apart from the aerodynamic forces, the crew cabin continued it’s upward trajectory. During the vehicle break up, the crew compartment ripped most of the electrical/life support lines from the cargo bay. The streaming lines acted as a stabilizer to the now separated front section of Challenger.
This meant that the compartment did not tumble to the point where the G forces would have caused crew incapacitation. It is also unlikely that the compartment lost cabin pressure as a result of the electrical/oxygen lines being ripped from the compartment as they were still attached during the fall.
Two facts prove that the aerodynamic forces at the time of vehicle breakup did not immediately render the crew unconscious. 1) Onizuka/Resnik activated Smith's PEAP as well as their own. 2) The switches on Smith's console which controlled electrical power/APU restart were in off nominal positions.
The crew compartment itself was designed like a fortress. It was a separate structure (think of it as a floating module) that was attached to the vehicle by four attachment points. The vertical load links were located on the center line of the forward bulkhead and the lateral load reaction links were located on the lower segment of the aft bulkhead.
Tracking radar was able to follow the crew compartment all the way to water impact. NASA had the coordinates with 5 minutes of it striking the ocean. Why the remains were not recovered immediately is still unknown, but I was told that the astronaut corps were not happy with the slow response.
Since it took so long to recover the cabin, any evidence of the cause of their deaths was erased.
Either way, they would have been killed instantly when Challengers crew cabin hit the ocean in a slightly inverted nose down (Scobees side) position.
The crew were all found still strapped to their seats, but the destruction of the 227 mph impact destroyed much of the evidence of crew consciousness at the time of impact.
It was just a product of the external tank being damaged and losing structural integrity which destroyed the aerodynamic profile of the entire mass and it ripped itself apart. The crew cabin, just by design constraints, was much stronger than the cargo bay area. The crew cabin did have cameras that had their own battery power supplies and downlink, so there is post destruction video of the crew cabin out there sealed away.