When you have insomnia, raccoons watching baseball will make you giggle like an idiot.
January 28, 1986: Space Shuttle Challenger Breaks Apart After Launch
Barely 70 seconds into its flight, the space shuttle Challenger broke apart on this day in 1986, killing all seven astronauts aboard. The disaster was caused by a faulty seal in one of the rockets on the shuttle. The tragedy led to a 32-month hiatus of the shuttle program.
Read President Ronald Reagan’s speech to the nation following the Challenger disaster.
Photo: The STS-51L crew, who were lost aboard the Challenger (NASA). Front row: Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair. Back row: Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik.
At the loftiest heights of the income pyramid, American meritocracy is broken, replaced by the shameful self-dealing of the superrich.
All of us recognize the way the breakdown in meritocracy is playing itself out closer to the middle class. In theory, capitalism provides equal opportunities to every individual, allowing him or her to use innate talent and ambition, combined with more than a dash of luck, to achieve economic success. Also in theory, economic failure is supposed to be justly earned, a product of a deficiency of talent, ambition, and luck.
The reality, of course, is very different — and becoming more so with every passing year. We start out our lives profoundly unequal. Some Americans grow up impoverished, attending chaotic, academically worthless schools, and exposed to an enormous range of social and cultural obstacles to achievement both at home and in the local environment. Others, by contrast, receive a world-class education at school, continual emotional and scholastic support at home, access to tutors, test-prep, and even pharmaceuticals to compensate for a range of cognitive and behavioral deficits.
On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after its launch, killing six astronauts and one school-teacher before the eyes of millions of spectators nationwide. In a tragic instant, NASA’s succession of successful space missions crumbled into disastrous public mistrust in the face of this devastation. To investigate the cause of the atrocious accident and recommend steps for preventing such tragedies in the future, the government assembled a commission, chaired by Secretary of State William P. Rogers and consisting of politicians, astronauts, military men, and one scientist. That scientist was Richard Feynman, known as "The Great Explainer," a celebrated champion of scientific culture, graphic novel hero, defender of integrity, and holder of the key to science.
As a no-bullshit science crusader, Feynman flew all over the country to NASA engineers who had become unsettled by how propaganda had eclipsed care and safety in the shuttle program. The report he published made the Commission so uncomfortable and NASA so embarrassed that it was almost suppressed. Feynman fought hard for its survival and in the end it was relegated to an appendix.
At the live press conference the Commission held to answer questions about the disaster, Feynman did his iconic tabletop experiment with one of the shuttle’s O-rings and a cup of ice water to dramatically demonstrate how those crucial gaskets had failed because managers dismissed engineers’ warning that it was too cold outside for the launch.
Feynman’s historic report can be found in the excellent The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman, which also gave us Feynman’s timeless wisdom on the meaning of life, the universal responsibility of scientists, the role of scientific culture in modern society, andgood, evil, and the Zen of science
When stargazers dream of the ultimate destination for looking up at the heavens, the high-altitude Atacama Desert in northern Chile likely stands at the top of the list.
Nature videographer Nicholas Buer recently shot this…