To: RISKS@SRI-CSL.ARPA For those of you who haven't heard, the Challenger blew up this morning, 1 minute and 12 seconds after launch, during maximum thrust. Everything appeared to be working properly. TV pictures show one of the solid rocket boosters on the side going first, then everything. (There had been some concern because the temperature went below 28 degrees Fahrenheit during the night at Canaveral, and that temperature is considered critical because of ice formation.) The Challenger had consistently been the most reliable of all the shuttles. One unvoiced concern from the RISKS point of view is the presence on each shuttle of a semi-automatic self-destruct mechanism. Hopefully that mechanism cannot be accidentally triggered.
I did not intentionally deceive you or overdramatize the risks taken during checkout of "my" Fusion experiments. ( I say "my" because I'm proud of them and they are the only ones I've ever worked on. ) People were normally behind blast walls during operation. However, certain individuals became familiar enough with the "normal" operation of the machine ( and, at times, frustrated with certain types of idiosyncratic behavior ) did put themselves at risk in order to trace down short circuits. People became convinced ( with time ) that the software was reliable. Note that routine operation after "checkout" was complete was a lot different than operation during "checkout". We normally operated behind blast walls with 2-3 video cameras ( and finally got a vcr ). One video camera was hung where it could "see" most of the power supplies. That camera had a zoom lense and it was routed through a "frame grabber" which was triggered off the master trigger. Many times that camera would "bloom" with the most dramatic evidence of a direct short. Visitors see the remains of the capacitor which exploded years ago on the CTX experiment. The safety record is excellent, but it could be ruined at any time by stupidity. None of the articles I've seen have criticised the SDI on the basis of the stupidity of the operators, so I wasn't "flaming" that point. I personally believe that the stupidity is evidenced by the lack of a world concensus for exploration of space and demilitarization of the world situation. Perhaps this is just "liberal crap" left over from my youth in the 60's; perhaps I should re-examine my beliefs, but I think back on my life as an "Air Force Brat" whose father was in SAC ( the Strategic Air Command ) in the 50's, and I remember "the bay of pigs" week. That's probably one of the closest "near-death" experiences you've ever had, aren't you thankful that you made it? How did you feel? Did it hurt? Did you feel any different when you packed your sleeping bag and your tent in the station wagon and left for the mountains with the rest of the kids and moms that you knew? Do you think that people have that same feeling now when they discuss survivability? I think that SDI has given the flower children their first hope since 1957. If it does only that, it has helped the world by forcing negotiations.
Readers of the RISKS Forum might enjoy seeing the new movie, Brazil, which has been described as 1984 redone by Monty Python. Martin Minow email@example.com
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