The Challenger Disaster


Action / Drama


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April 30, 2014 at 11:52 AM



William Hurt as Richard Feynman
Joanne Whalley as Gweneth Feynman
Brian Dennehy as Rogers
Bruce Greenwood as General Kutyna
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698.36 MB
25.000 fps
1hr 30 min
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1.24 GB
25.000 fps
1hr 30 min
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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by Tom Gooderson-A'Court ([email protected]) 7 / 10

Uncovering the man, uncovering the truth.

On January 28th 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger broke up 73 seconds after the twenty-fifth Space Shuttle launch, killing all seven of its crew members. The disaster was, at the time, the most catastrophic loss in NASA history and is still remembered as one of the most disastrous and heartbreaking days in human space exploration. Following the tragedy a Commission was set up to get to the bottom of the disaster and uncover the cause of shuttle failure. On the Commission was perhaps the most famous of the twentieth century, Richard Feynman.

The Challenger (formerly titled Feynman and the Challenger) is a made for TV movie which first aired on the BBC on March 18th 2013. The film focuses on the role Richard Feynman (William Hurt) played in the Commission and the lengths that he went to; to prove what was really behind the Shuttle's failure that January morning. The film intersperses real footage, including that of the actual event with dramatisations of Feynman's quest for answers which are taken from Feynman's autobiographical book What Do You Care What Other People Think? The movie is well researched and generally very well made and features a terrific central performance and compelling story.

I was born just under a month after the Challenger disaster but it was a part of my childhood. My parents had a huge poster on the stairs of one of the houses I grew up in of the crew and the Shuttle which used to intrigue and haunt me. As I got older I became very interested in Space exploration and in my twenties threw off the horrors of High School Physics lessons to become interested in physics. I am to physics what a football fan is to football. I'm fascinated by it and get engrossed in small details but put me on the field and I'd lose the ball faster than the speed of light. I am an enthusiastic amateur. All of the above is a very long and drawn out way of saying that the plot of The Challenger is of great interest to me. Its principle character Richard Feynman is a man who I have some but not much knowledge of and most of my knowledge comes from the odd popular science book, YouTube clips and occasional popular science lecture delivered by the likes of Prof. Brian Cox, Simon Singh and Ben Goldacre as well as the comedy of Robin Ince. I was fascinated then to learn more.

The film introduced me to a Feynman I wasn't expecting to meet. The Feynman I've seen footage of was controlled and firm and had a distinguishable but refined Queens accent. William Hurt's Feynman is much more 'Californian'. His accent is slightly different and his portrayal is more agitated and messy. I don't mean any of this in a bad way though and think it matches the state that the man was in both mentally and physically. Although slightly dishevelled, Hurt has more than a passing resemblance to the scientist he is portraying. What is obvious from the film is that the budget doesn't match that of an average theatrical film. There are corners cut in various places which sometimes detracts slightly from the movie as a whole but luckily the story is strong enough that it rarely gets in the way.

The plot is deeply fascinating and encompasses physics, ethics, finance and politics. All four combine in a tense and agitated melting pot which forms the Commission and it soon becomes apparent that Feynman is coming at the case from a different angle to the majority of the Commissioners. Early on he is frustrated by a lack of pace in the meetings and then he is stifled by the rigours step by step process. Feynman takes it upon himself to dig around and visits various NASA facilities in which he is viewed with suspicion by scientists and technicians scared to be held accountable. This sets up more conflict in the Commission and Feynman finds himself short of allies. He does however find a friend in Air force General Kutyna (Bruce Greenwood) who, like the audience by now, is sympathetic to the Physicist's cause. What follows is a slow unravelling of the facts which without Feynman may never have come to light.

The film treads a thin line between telling the truth and attacking the likes of NASA and Solid Rocket manufacturer Morton Thiokol much as Feynman did himself. Although my limited knowledge gave me some insight into the disaster and subsequent findings I was fascinated to be taken on the journey towards the discovery and felt that the film blended this with Feynman's health issues very well. It was clear from the outset that this was about Challenger first and his health second, something which again mirrors Feynman himself. Even the title of the movie can refer to the craft and the man. Occasionally I found myself questioning cover-ups and discoveries which seemed a little too dramatic and possibly exaggerated but my knowledge doesn't extend far enough to know what was real and what was invented. It is my belief and hope though that the vast majority of what I saw on screen was real. The actual footage certainly was and despite having seen it numerous times, it's still heartbreakingly sad.

Overall The Challenger manages to get to the heart of the disaster and uncovers a man who deserves to be better known than he is. William Hurt is superb and the plot is fascinating in every detail. I had a few problems with realism and dramatic licence and the budget caused some issues but overall I'd recommend the movie to anyone with a passing interest in NASA, the disaster, Richard Feynman or just good detective thrillers. Like most good true stories it made me want to learn more for myself which on its own proves the movie was a success.

Reviewed by iwhoknows 9 / 10

Absorbing, Entertaining, Factual. A must see to understand one of 20th Century's defining moments.

After the dramatic opening scenes where realism is achieved by using actual footage of the "Challenger disaster", the movie slowly develops as the audience begins to realize that what they are experiencing is not merely a factual drama/documentary about an unfortunate malfunction, but rather a thriller with "Good Guys" and "Villains" The choice of William Hurt to play Richard Feynman was brilliant. Hurt is acknowledged as a character actor who lives and breathes every role that he accepts and as the movie progresses it is remarkable that the viewer becomes so involved with the character that they actually forget that it is an impersonation. Hurt who in real life is a complex, some say awkward person, brings aspects of his own complexity to the role.

Joanne Whalley is supportive as his wife, but the story is very much that of theoretical physicist Richard Feynman.

Bruce Greenwood is a vital link in the whole drama. He deserves a lot of credit for his strong portrayal of General Kutyna a disciplined loyal military man who acts as the catalyst for the truth to prevail. Greenwood looks like he was born in a uniform. He assumes the role as naturally as if he'd taken leave from the battlefield to make the movie.

Eve Best provides a solid and sensitive performance as Sally Ride (First woman in space). Her role in the Rogers Commission remains a mystery and we only learn of it just before the credits roll.

Brian Dennehy as William P. Rogers (Chairman and, former secretary of state) exudes the physical appearance of a persuasive man who has his own agenda and delivers a powerful performance. Dennehy is a master at conveying meaning in a story merely through the raising of an eyebrow, a glint in his eye or a subtle shift of body position.

One needs to make special mention of the good performance by many of the South Africans who were used in supporting roles. In particular Robert Hobbs who plays Allan J Macdonald a man torn between doing what is right whilst realizing the personal cost that might result.

There is no mention of the members who made up the "Rogers Commission". (Not even in the credits). The commission was comprised of some of the most influential members of the military and should surely be identified.

James Hawes directs with firmness and allows the story to flow and develop with fascinating insights into Feynman the scientist, but also Feynman the man and husband who had to fight his own person battles as a subplot.

Lukas Strebel camera shots are interesting. I feel the use of camera positioning where half the frame is blocked was at first novel, but maybe repeated too often and in some scenes it would have been better to allow the subject to take up the full frame.

The ending comes suddenly almost as if the editor had to condense the material into exactly 90 TV minutes. It is rumored that there might be a movie release where the running time will increase to 120 minutes. The Challenger is scheduled for the Discovery channel in the USA in November. Most probably renamed "73" – (Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight).

Reviewed by jud-lovingood 1 / 10

Inaccurate account with many Distortions

In the preface to your movie Challenger Disaster you state, "This is a true story." Well not completely. I happen to be part of the story, so I want to correct the record. The scene in which I, Dr. Judson Lovingood, am sworn in at the Presidential Commission hearing and I am asked about the failure probability of a Space Shuttle Mission, did not occur. First the discussion between Feynman and me regarding failure probabilities occurred in a conference room at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. Second, the issue discussed concerned the failure probability of the Space Shuttle Main Engine, not the entire mission. Third I appeared before the Commission on February 6, 1986 and February 26, 1986, and none of my testimony involved failure probabilities. (Mission failure probability was a Johnson Space Center responsibility, and JSC would have addressed that issue to the Commission.)These points can be verified by referring to Feynman's book, What do I care what other people think? and the Commission Final Report. On p. 180 of Feynman's book Feynman has a discussion with Louis J. Ullian, Range Safety Officer at Cape Canaveral. After Uliian told Feynman that NASA, not Judson Lovingood and not in Commission Testimony the failure probability of the shuttle solid rocket was 1 in 100,000, Feynman stated to Ullian, "That means you could fly the shuttle every day for an average of 300 years between accidents –every day, one flight, one flight, for 300 years—which is obviously crazy. Ullian attributed the number to the "man in charge, Mr. Kingsbury." The movie attributes Feynman's remarks as being made to me regarding mission failure at a Commission hearing, which is a lie. Also you fail to present in the movie as Feynman states in his book that I provided him a document giving the 1 in 100,000 failure probability number for the main engine. The document was approved by the same James E. Kingsbury, noted above, who was Marshall Director of Engineering; so the number I gave him (1 in 100,000) was an engineering number. The title of the document is Space Shuttle Data for Planetary Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG) Safety Analysis, NASA/Johnson Space Center Report JSC 08116, February 15, 1985. JSC Shuttle Program Documentation stated that shuttle success probability is necessarily close to one and "the approach of determining when a vehicle is safe to fly based on a well evaluated and documented program with attention to details is superior to relying on a reliability number derived from an insufficient data base." I had told Feynman this, but he chose to ignore it. The main engine had a program involving rigorous manufacturing, quality control, development acceptance tests, qualification tests, between-flight x-ray, fiber optics scope inspections plus individual flight computers which monitored pressures and temperatures to shut off the engines if red lines were exceeded and redundant components. In addition there were Abort modes involving Return to Launch Site, Overseas landing in Spain and Africa, and Abort to Orbit mission modes which avoided loss of mission. No Shuttle mission ever failed because of engine failure; so I say I am correct. The solid rocket did not have these features because they could not be monitored for in-flight shutdown (once ignited, they could only burn out.) Feynman did not know of these mitigating circumstances that lowered the failure probability of the engine and then lowered the probability that an engine failure would cause mission failure. He jumped to his precipitous conclusion and dared not study the report I provided. In fact Feyman was so caught up in calling me a manager and in celebrating the guy who gave him the 1 in 200 number, he never knew that the 1 in 200 number guy was the top manager of the Space Shuttle Main Engine Project. Yes, you got it; he was a manager. An engineer never gives "'99-44/100% pure' (copying the Ivory soap slogan)". This is Feynman's 1 in 200 number, which he made such an issue of, and it came, not from a Marshall engineer, but from Marshall's top main engine manager. Marshall's top engineer, James E. Kingsbury, signed the official NASA report stating the number was 1 in 100,000. This was in the report I gave Feynman and was the number I cited.

Feynman knew all about the NASA failure probability numbers racket. He had an agenda to make the point that NASA management was not listening to its engineers. And ironically he picked me as the manager. And I was the manager/engineer who tried to get Marshall management to notify headquarters and Houston that Thiokol wanted to delay the launch, and we needed to have a meeting to discuss a launch delay (See Commission Testimony.) And the engineer (the 1 in 200 guy) was the Main Engine Project Manager. Finally, in the Commission scene with George Hardy, Judson Lovingood and Larry Mulloy as sworn witnesses, the actors have Hardy stating that the o-rings were good from -40F to -50F, then the Mulloy actor confirms this and then a commissioner actor states just to be sure that Hardy is saying that the o-rings will be resilient at 80 degrees F below freezing. The Hardy actor confirms this. This is a lie. Hardy's and my testimony was that the booster had been qualified to +40F mean propellant bulk temperature. No one ever testified that o-rings would function properly below zero degrees F. This movie is all about Feynman's egotistical and narcissistic character, and it is infested with lies and defamatory distortions and reflect on my integrity. Its purpose is unclear. Feynman was a University professor in a multifaceted multi-billion dollar government/industry space program that he could not grasp the complexities of. That is why Rogers kept him on a short leash. The Feynman actor repeatedly refers to B.S. B.S. accurately summarizes the movie.

Judson Lovingood, PhD

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