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The Challenger Disaster - or the physicist as renegade hero

The Challenger Disaster, which aired on Science and Discovery channels last night, covers the 1986 Presidential investigation into the loss of the space shuttle Challenger. The story is seen through the eyes of physicist Richard Feynman, played by William Hurt.


William Hurt does his usual solid job playing Feynman and carries the movie. The rest of the cast delivers as well, particularly Bruce Greenwood playing yet another sympathetic military officer in Air Force General Donald Kutyna.

I was familiar with the engineering failures that caused the disaster because it was a major subject of my engineering ethics class. But I wasn't that familiar with the actual Commission that investigated or Richard Feynman.

Feynman does his own thing on the Commission instead of simply following the schedule set by the chairman, former Secretary of State William Rogers. This puts him at odds with Rogers during the investigation. But he is aided by other Commission members Kutyna and astronaut Sally Ride. The televised hearings are recreated reasonably accurately though the rest is a bit dramatized.


The movie also shows that Sally Ride had a larger role behind the scene than is generally known. It was a secret that only came to light after her death last year when General Kutyna felt free to reveal what he knew.

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