Claim: A secret tape recorded aboard the doomed space shuttle Challenger captured the final panic-stricken moments of the crew.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 1994]
The tape is said to begin with a startled crewman screaming,"What happened? What happened? Oh God - No!" Screams and curses are heard - several crewmen begin to weep - and then others bid their families farewell.
Two minutes forty-five seconds later the tape ends. That's when the shuttles crew compartment, which remained intact after the vessel exploded over the Atlantic, hit the ocean at over 2,000 miles per hour, instantly killing the crew.
"Cover up? Of course there was a coverup," declared Robert Hotz, a member of the Presidential commission that investigated the disaster. "NASA can't face the fact that they put these astronauts in a situation where they didn't have adequate equipment to survive. NASA doesn't give a damn about anything but covering it's ass," he said.
The official account released by NASA ends with shuttle pilot Michael Smith saying,
"All shuttle astronauts carry personal recorders and the tape in question apparently came from Christa's (McAuliffe), which was recovered after the shuttle disaster," said Hotz. Jarvis was sitting beside her, and when he figured out what was happening he said, "Give me your hand."
"NASA insists there's nothing like that on tape but they're talking about the mission tape, not Christa's. So they're not lying, but they're not telling the truth, either."
A journalist with close ties to NASA was even more emphatic, "There are persistent rumors, dating back to the disaster, that this tape is absolutely bone-chilling."
The following transcript begins two seconds after NASA's official version ends, with pilot Michael Smith saying,
T+1:17 (F) Oh dear God.
T+1:18 (M) Turn on your air pack! Turn on your air...
T+1:20 (M) Can't breathe... choking...
T+1:21 (M) Lift up your visor!
T+1:22 (M/F) (Screams.) It's hot. (Sobs.) I can't. Don't tell me... God! Do it...now...
T+1:24 (M) I told them... I told them... Dammit! Resnik don't...
T+1:27 (M) Take it easy! Move (unintelligible)...
T+1:28 (F) Don't let me die like this. Not now. Not here...
T+1:31 (M) Your arm... no... I (extended garble, static)
T+1:36 (F) I'm... passing... out...
T+1:37 (M) We're not dead yet.
T+1:40 (M) If you ever wanted (unintelligible) me a miracle... (unintelligible)... (screams)
T+1:41 (M) She's... she's... (garble) ... damn!
T+1:50 (M) Can't breathe...
T+1:51 (M/F) (screams) Jesus Christ! No!
T+1:54 (M) She's out.
T+1:55 (M) Lucky... (unintelligible).
T+1:56 (M) God. The water... we're dead! (screams)
T+2:00 (F) Goodbye (sobs)... I love you, I love you...
T+2:03 (M) Loosen up... loosen up...
T+2:07 (M) It'll just be like a ditch landing...
T+2:09 (M) That's right, think positive.
T+2:11 (M) Ditch procedure...
T+2:14 (M) No way!
T+2:17 (M) Give me your hand...
T+2:19 (M) You awake in there? I... I...
T+2:29 (M) Our Father... (unintelligible)...
T+2:42 (M) ...hallowed be Thy name... (unintelligible).
T+2:57 (M) You...over there?
T+2:58 (M) The Lord is my shepherd, I shall... not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures... though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil... I will dwell in the house...
T+3:15 to end. None. Static, silence.
Rest in Peace
Origins: Seventy-three seconds into the 28 January 1986 flight of the space shuttle Challenger the craft exploded, killing the seven astronauts aboard. Videotapes released by NASA afterwards showed that a few seconds before the explosion, an unusual plume of fire and smoke could be seen spewing from the lower section of the shuttle's right solid-fuel rocket. It was generally assumed (and NASA did little to disturb this opinion) that all aboard died the moment the external tank blew up.
NASA later conceded it was likely that at least three of the crew members aboard remained conscious after the explosion, and perhaps even throughout the few minutes it took for
However, the "transcript" quoted above was not taken from a "secret tape" leaked from NASA; it was taken from an article published in a
Not everyone aboard died the exact second the external tank exploded; that much is known. A complete understanding of exactly what happened in that cabin after the explosion remains elusive because the impact of the crash, plus the six weeks the wreckage and bodies spent in the sea, made it impossible to determine precisely when and how everybody aboard died. (Six weeks in sea water would also have ruined any unshielded audio tapes that miraculously survived the explosion and the crash.)
If the cabin depressurized immediately, the crew would have lived about 6 to
Possibly the best clue towards solving the mystery of how long the doomed crew survived lies in what NASA learned from examining the four emergency air packs recovered from
That was the conclusion of
In the report, Dr. Kerwin said: "The cause of death of the Challenger astronauts cannot be positively determined, the forces to which the crew were exposed during the orbiter breakup were probably not sufficient to cause death or serious injury, and the crew possibly, but not certainly, lost consciousness in the seconds following orbiter breakup due to
In other words, they might well have lived for the full spiral down and might even have been fully conscious for all of that hellish descent. But even if so, this fabricated "transcript" does not preserve their final words.
Barbara "shuttlecrock" Mikkelson
Last updated: 28 January 2015
Jones, Alex. "Withheld Shuttle Data: A Debate Over Privacy." The New York Times. 27 January 1987 (p. C1). Okie, Susan. "Astronaut Autopsies Will Be Difficult." The Washington Post. 16 March 1986 (p. A14). Wilford, John Noble. "A Grueling Autopsy for the Challenger." The New York Times. 9 February 1986 (p. D5). The Associated Press. "NASA Says Challenger Crew Survived Briefly After Blast." The San Diego Union-Tribune. 29 July 1986 (p. A8). The Associated Press. "Challenger Crew Made Bid for Life." The Record. 29 July 1986 (p. A1). Weekly World News. "Tape Proves Doomed Shuttle Screamed, Cursed and Prayed." 5 February 1991.