Comments by Former NASA Whistleblower Richard C. Cook to Commemorate 25th Anniversary of Challenger Disaster
Answering the Call of Space: Lessons of Tragedy and Triumph from the Challenger Disaster
January 28, 2011, is the 25th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger disaster. A little more than a minute after Challenger was launched at the Kennedy Space Center that cold winter morning, the shuttle broke to pieces when an O-ring joint in one of the solid rocket boosters failed due to a burnthrough. The seven Challenger astronauts died, with some possibly having survived until the crew cabin struck the ocean surface after plummeting 60,000 feet.
It was arguably the greatest tragedy of the space age. NASA and the booster contractor, Morton Thiokol, knew the O-ring joint was flawed. A redesign had been decided on, though flights were to continue while the repair was being implemented.
The night before the launch, engineers from Morton Thiokol argued vociferously that liftoff should be postponed, because they feared the unusually cold temperatures moving in that night would subject the O-rings to hardening and possible failure. Personnel from Rockwell, the shuttle orbiter contractor, had their own fears with respect to formation of ice on the launch tower that could crash down on the orbiter when the main engines ignited.
The Thiokol engineers who predicted a rocket failure were overruled by their own management, acting under pressure from NASA. Even though NASA knew the day of the mishap what had caused it, a cover-up began to be implemented.
But the whistleblowers spoke up. In my own case, I had been working in the NASA Comptroller’s office as the lead resource analyst for the solid rocket boosters. When a Presidential Commission was formed to investigate the disaster, I testified on NASA’s past knowledge of O-ring problems after leaking some of the O-ring papers to the New York Times.
With support from some Commission members, the Thiokol witnesses, most notably Al McDonald and Roger Boisjoly, also made known their opposition to the launch. In June 1986, the Commission duly reported on the technical cause of the launch failure.
But presidential commissions are also created to deflect political repercussions. What they did not report was the likely pressure coming from the White House to get the shuttle into orbit so that the Teacher in Space, Christa McAuliffe, would be aloft when President Ronald Reagan gave his state of the union speech that night.
When I wrote my book Challenger Revealed I proved, at least to my own satisfaction and to that of many readers, and using information from an interview I conducted of a key eyewitness, that President Reagan himself was likely involved in the faulty launch decision. But I am not a conspiracy theorist, and, even though the White House knew that NASA was concerned about the possible effects of the cold weather, there was no evidence they knew the Thiokol engineers opposed the launch for booster rocket problems that had never been mentioned outside NASA or the Defense Department at the higher political levels.
But there was more to it than that. Also in my book, I explained how the shuttle design had been compromised by decisions to make the vehicle an orbital platform for military missions. I also showed how much of the schedule pressure driving launch decisions in 1985-1986 came from use of the shuttle for space weapons research under the Reagan administration’s Star Wars program. All this activity was, to my mind, illegal in terms of NASA’s 1958 charter for the peaceful exploration of space.
The Challenger disaster was truly a preventable accident. But the time to point the finger and find fault is long past. Today in 2011 the shuttle program itself is history.
And by the time I finished my book in 2006, after working on it on and off for 20 years, I was personally ready to forgive, allow the healing process to take over, and move on, and I remain in that frame of mind today. To all who still may carry guilt from their own involvement or that of family members in those terrible events a quarter century ago, I say accept and forgive yourselves my brothers and sisters, for all did the best they could with the information they had available and the pressures that were brought to bear. I include the memory of President Reagan in this, my prayer.
So now I want to focus on some more far-reaching reflections we can derive from the deaths of the seven Challenger crew members—Commander Dick Scobee, Pilot Michael Smith, Mission Specialists Judy Resnick, Scott McNair, and Ellison Onizuka, and Payload Specialists Gregory Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe.
These seven were truly heroes of our time, as everyone has been who has been connected in any way, even as spectators, with the space program since its inception.
The space program did not come from nowhere. Though cynics may deride it as just a way to further national supremacy, carry weapons of war to the heavens, or a humongous waste of money, I believe there is much more to it than that.
In some respects the space program has been kids playing with some big, expensive, and dangerous toys. But I really don’t mind that at all.
It was fun for me too working for NASA. Because along with it came the search for knowledge and understanding of the world beyond the earth’s surface and beyond the earth-bound mentality that has dominated mankind’s collective history for such a very long time.
Going to space was new. It was as though space was calling to us. Now, in the latter half of the 20th century, we, along with Russia and other nations, were answering that call.
For what is space, after all? Space is not simply nothing. It is the home and womb of all life. The ancients spoke of the four elements—earth, air, fire, and water. But space was a fifth element—they called it the “ether.”
The ether was viewed as the source of everything and the place of origin of infinite power and energy. Physicists today are making similar discoveries through quantum mechanics and through learning about zero point energy, where a single indefinable locus of space contains not simply a vacuum, but an immense reservoir of unmanifested potentiality. Nicola Tesla tried to tap into this so-called free energy source, and some say he succeeded.
But sending human beings to space proved to be enormously complex and expensive. The human body is not made to survive in space.
Most of the cost of manned space travel goes to creating an earth-like environment in the extreme and hostile space environment. NASA’s space scientists long have argued that much more scientific knowledge can be gained from unmanned space probes, and they are right.
Plus there’s the fact that our methods of getting to space are shockingly primitive. We can’t even come close to imagining the explosive force of a Saturn 5 or a space shuttle main engine.
Of course these gigantic rockets can blow up—they’re supposed to. Except their force is designed to exit from the tail end in a controlled fashion, which obviously does not always happen. The investigation of more benign propulsion mechanisms such as anti-gravity, atomic energy, or electromagnetism, has been underfunded but still goes on.
Yet in spite of the dangers, we still long to travel to space. I had my own fantasy of becoming the first budget analyst in space—I am not making this up. And those more sensitive souls involved in the space program have long known that we are not alone in the universe and have chuckled any time a newspaper reporter suggests it is even an open question.
When I arrived in Washington to work for the federal government in 1970, I met a man who worked in the NASA office charged with investigating extraterrestrial life. After I published Challenger Revealed, I was contacted by people who had been involved in the space program and who gave me detailed information about NASA’s extraterrestrial observations and contacts, including those made during the lunar voyages and the shuttle program. These included reports of videos of nine-foot-tall space beings hanging with the astronauts in the shuttle’s payload bay.
Most recently I have begun a major research project on UFO phenomena. You have to sift your way through a massive quantity of information, and get past many idiotic media productions about the creatures of space who want to eat us for dinner, but when you do the work, it becomes very clear that UFOs have in fact come to earth and are probably present today.
Enough former military men, scientists, and ordinary observers have reported on UFO phenomena to establish their credibility. Despite efforts by some parties to debunk such phenomena, things like crop circles provide further evidence.
Crop circles are not a hoax. Their formation by beams of light have been witnessed, videoed, and documented. Crop circles depicting mathematical phenomena such as the Mandelbrot Set or the Julia Set have only recently been constructed by high-powered computers, yet they have been formed in perfect precision in crop fields in Great Britain and elsewhere.
I have also investigated the literature on the two supposed flying saucer crashes in New Mexico in 1947. Eye-witnesses to these events have been found and interviewed. It’s obvious to me that they really did happen.
And yes, I support those who argue there has been a massive U.S. government cover-up of these and related events, possibly so the government can reverse-engineer and monopolize UFO technology. A leader in making this case is Dr. Steven Greer, head of the Disclosure Project. I have myself talked to many people with nothing to prove whose eye-witness accounts of UFO sightings are clearly genuine.
I also agree with those who say UFOs and extraterrestrials have been around for millennia, as Erich von Daniken has explored in Chariots of the Gods and other books. It’s a plausible explanation of how such advanced ancient civilizations as the Sumerian suddenly appeared with complete systems of writing, astrology, architecture, and religion.
There is another phenomenon related to extraterrestrial contact that I will not dwell on, but which you can look into if you are so inclined. These are the channeling contacts that have been documented over the past half-century.
I spoke of the fragility of the human body and how it is unsuited to the space environment. But perhaps through the mind and the spirit we have better ways to contact or even travel through space.
There is a large body of literature on out-of-body travel that the U.S. military and intelligence communities have tried to tap into through development of remote viewing capabilities. I have carried out such experiments myself and have been able to simply get up and walk out of my physical body as it lay in a relaxed state.
People who have practiced such techniques have reported visits to parallel worlds similar to ours but existing in different dimensions of reality. There is also a group of people connected with the Monroe Institute in Virginia whose mission is to travel out-of-body in order to contact and provide assistance to the spirits of people who have died in traumatic events such as airplane crashes.
On the subject of channeling, there are two groups that have provided detailed and credible reports of extraterrestrial contacts. One of these is L/L Research of Louisville, Kentucky, publishers of The Ra Material, as well as a series of books by Carla Rueckert based on their exploration of the Law of One. This relates to the same principle of the underlying unity of the Universe as physicists are learning about, though from a more spiritual perspective.
Another channeling source is based on the work carried out by U.S. scientist Andrija Puharich, psychic Phyllis Schlemmer, and others, and is documented in several books including British author Stuart Holroyd’s, The Nine: Briefing from Deep Space.
And before you dismiss channeling as a legitimate source of knowledge, reflect on the likelihood that much of the Bible and other world religious literature also may be channeled material. For instance, Rudolf Steiner, the famous Austrian spiritual adept, said that the four Gospels of the New Testament were channeled.
So, these are some of the reflections that flood my mind as I review the meaning of the Challenger disaster 25 years ago. The lives of seven highly accomplished and courageous human beings were lost due to some extremely short-sighted and mundane human failings. They risked their lives and lost them, though I have no doubt they live on and are already engaged in or contemplating their next adventures.
Their achievements and what they risked for their values have been a major part of my own adult life and education. Thus for me, recollections of the Challenger disaster have not been something to shrink from.
There is much to learn from both triumph and tragedy and many transformative ways to view their meaning. I wish such an open-minded attitude of learning and exploration upon each of you, my companions in both outer and inner space.