Titanic Challenger Similarities


Don Tweed

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Mar 30, 2006
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In Charles Pellegrinos' book, Her Name, Titanic, he makes some fascinating comparisons of these two great vessels.
How they both flew against ice warnings.
How each was its own lifeboat.
And how both lay at the bottom of the Atlantic.
That darn word complacency seems to creep up again and again.
Is that the main cause for these disasters?
Was it "fate", to teach us a lesson?
Or was it just a combination of factors leading to the end result?
Seems kind of ironic that two of mankinds greatest machines of the twentieth century are laying at the bottom of the ocean.

-Don
 
Dec 2, 2000
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IMO, it was general complacancy and that combination of factors that led to the end result. Accident investigators are all too familier with the "chain of events" each insignifigant in and of itself which lead to calamity. Break any link in that chain, and you get to go on your merry way without trouble.

But if you don't...well, damn the bad luck!
 

Jan C. Nielsen

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Dec 12, 1999
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I think that there are some interesting differences --- that really haven't been focused on, too much.

For example, one aspect of the Challenger disaster that I found positive, was the emphasis on the ethnic diversity of the crew, in press coverage, with Carl Sagan, and elsewhere. Sagan repeatedly emphasized that members of virtually all of the major religions were represented by the dead crew members.

However, with the Titanic disaster, although there was a complete assimilation of ethnic groups, religions, and cultures in death at 2:20 a.m. on April 15, 1912, everyone seems to have ignored that aspect of the event's significance.
 
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Brent Holt

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I think the similarities are overblown in that book. The Rogers Commission report on the Challenger accident, while an OK account of the tragedy, took many things out of context. The space shuttle is the most complex machine on earth and the risk is high. Many of the technical decisions made before the accident can be understood when you remember the people making them did not know the accident was going to occur. (hindsight is 20-20) The was no conclusive technical data assembled at that time that proved low temperatures would cause a catastrophic failure.
Brent
 

Don Tweed

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Mar 30, 2006
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What about the ice warnings?
We all know what ice can do to an aircraft, is it not safe to say the same goes for the shuttle?
I know a person who works for Sunstrand Data Control in Bellevue,Wa. that had some insight on this very matter and how it affected the O-rings of the shuttle.
And, in 1912, the Titanic was the most complex machine on earth at the time.
Complacency is a monster just waiting to rear its ugly head!
I am not saying the comparisons are wide and far reaching, just very interesting.
Best reguards, Don
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Don said: "We all know what ice can do to an aircraft, is it not safe to say the same goes for the shuttle?"

Yes, but not in the way you may be thinking. I have flight experince in cold weather conditions and icing was enough of a concern that if the conditions were right for it, I didn't go flying. Rather a disappointment, but as the aircraft I flew were general aviation types with no de-icing/anti-icing features, it was far better to be safe then dead!
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With aircraft, ice buildup can cause trouble in at least two different ways that I can think of right off the bat. One way is that ice accumulating on the wings can cause severe distortion in the flow across the airfoil as well as add a considerable amount of weight. This can lead to the machine losing lift and ending up in a non-recoverable stall.

Another way it can cause trouble...depending on where the ice builds up...is that if when it breaks free, it can be ingested in the engines. Turbine engines and solid objects do not get along. With piston engines, the problems would be with icing building up in the carbourator with the end result that your powered aircraft turns into a glider with little or no warning.

With the Challanger, what the extreme cold (Not the ice itself!) did was cause the O-rings to become brittle and crack, allowing the hot gasses of the SRB's to leak, then blast it's way through until it hit and burned through the external tank containing the liquid propellents.

I hope this clearifies things a bit.
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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"However, with the Titanic disaster, although there was a complete assimilation of ethnic groups, religions, and cultures in death at 2:20 a.m. on April 15, 1912, everyone seems to have ignored that aspect of the event's significance."

Not everybody. Some writers made a point of death being the great leveller. Here's a bit from Louis Post, an American lawyer and politician.

"At that supreme moment, when human souls were on trial, the appeal to brotherhood was intuitive and overwhelming. Kiser's inspiring verse gives us the picture:

Christian and Jew, humble and high
Master and servant, they stood at last,
Bound by a glorious brotherly tie."

That's from 1912. Post went on to lament that people are not always so brotherly.
 

Steve Smith

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Mar 20, 2011
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You could certainly argue that complacency played a part: but it probably plays a part in virtually all
man-made disasters. I'm sure there are many other accidents that more closely parellel Titantic's than the Challenger - and vice versa

I think the reason people link these two together so often is their iconic status: Both vessels were the technological marvels of their time - the absolute pinnacle of human achievement (at least to the public mind). That such a disaster could ocur in either case was unthinkable... so when it did, the shock factor was far, far greater than for any "ordinary" disaster. With such a deep rooted presence in peoples minds, both disasters instantly became a handy metaphor for shattered dreams, for complacency, for incompetence... for just about anything the journalists and politicians care to hang on them. Dave's quote from the 1912 report above is a good example .
 
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Brent Holt

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There were really not any ice warnnings about the Challenger accident. There were concerns that cooler temperatures could affect the sealing ability of the O-ring seals, but there was no conclusive evidence at the time to prove it. With a system as complex as the shuttle, calculated risks must be taken all the time. Although riskd can be reduced, they cannot be eliminated.
After the Titanic disatster, did all the liners on the Atlantic slow down? Of course not.
Brent
 

Jan C. Nielsen

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Thanks for the post, Dave. I'd be interested in making reference to that in my forthcoming ET article on Edgar Meyer.

Was your source, the "Down With The Old Canoe" book, by Stephen Biel, or something else?

Thanks.
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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Jan, good try, but no cigar!

It's in Biel's other book, Titanica, page 127.

In Down With the Old Canoe, Biel makes interesting comments on the mental gymnastics performed in 1912. It was obvious that not all the heroes of the night were Anglo/Americans and this required prejudices to be carefully adjusted. Not abandoned; just adjusted!