From: [Dennis Powell]
Date: Sun, 18 Feb 1996 07:51:19 -0500 (EST)
Subject: shuttle transcript
there being -- what's new? -- confusion about the alleged space shuttle
challenger tape as the crew cabin fell from 65,000 feet, here's the story:
a few months after i wrote a long and widely carried article on the fact that
the crew was not killed until the crew cabin hit the water and on nasa's
attempt to obscure this fact, i received a telephone call from a woman who
claimed to be making a movie about the challenger disaster and who wanted
some information about it. in the course of the conversation the question
arose, as it always does, as to whether there is some sort of secret tape
recording that nasa isn't telling us about. it is presumed by many that there
is no way for communications to be utterly lost, no matter the ferocity of
the problem -- a presumption that i do not believe is true; remember, nasa
didn't even put an epirb or a pinger on the thing.
however, crew members were and are issued little cassette recorders. i was
assured by nasa that these were allstowed in lockers during launch. this
struck me as odd, in that one figures the first teacher in space would be
recording her sensations and so on throughout the launch, perhaps to play to
her students later -- we've never really had a play-by-play,, except from
astronauts who are at work at the time, of a launch. moreover, it turns out
that christa's recorder was found along with her helmet the morning after the
disaster. it is certainly possible that the helmet left her head and the
locker popped open and the helmet and recorder decided to swim together for
shore, but to me it's far more likely that they were in close proximity to
begin with, meaning that the recorder was not stowed but was instead on her
person. what's more, the tape had been partly wound, strongly suggesting that
it had been partly recorded.
after refusing to admit that the tape had been found but then being
confronted by the statements of the coast guard guys who found it, nasa said
that it was impossible to read the tape. interestingly, the contractor that
nasa uses to reconstruct magnetic media (who did successfully recover data
from other magnetic devices aboard the shuttle, including the recorder
containing the infamous "uh-oh" which had been at the bottom of the ocean for
two months) was never given the cassette.
given nasa's near-total panic at the time -- crippen, abbey, even truly were
telling investigators to "lose" data about the fate of the crew -- it would
be unsurprising to learn that no attempt was ever made to read the tape;
somewhat but not terribly surprising to find that it was destroyed. but i
know neither of these things to be a fact. they are merely possibilities and,
in the first case perhaps a likelihood.
yet the rumors continued. i have spent more time chasing the crew cabin tape
than i like to admit, given the utter failure of my endeavbors in that
regard. people who had allegedly heard the tape would, on closer questioning,
merely "know someone who heard it." people who claimed to have a copy of it
turned out not to have a copy of it. people who claimed to have a transcript
had no such thing. (i would enjoy a day or two looking whatever's behind the
bank-type vault door in the library at nasa headquarters, though; this is not
entirely in connection with the search for the tape, which is not an
obsession of mine in that it would only be yet another confirmation of what
i've already confirmed and written.)
so now the purported movie maker called and she asked about the tape. i told
her pretty much the above. she asked me if i had heard from anyone what is
supposed to have been on the tape. of course i had, but i had no reason to
believe that any of it was genuine. she pressed on, and i said, okay, here's
the stuff i've been told.
a few weeks later i was at a local store and saw a screaming headline to the
effect that the tape had been found and a transcript was printed herein.
knowing that the transcript was widely sought and therefore could have been
sold to just about anybody, i was puzzled that someone would take it to the
weekly world news, but stranger things have happened -- dan schorr, after
all, took the pentagon papers to the village voice -- so i got the thing. and
looking inside, i was fooled for a moment: it certainly looked genuine. it
contained the things i had heard it contained. then i looked at the sidebar.
it contained all manner of blind quotes lifted from my conversation with the
"movie maker." of course it would look real to me -- it was made up from what
i had told her!
i faxed the whole thing down to the miami herald, and we laughed over it and
over the kind of journalism -- pure use of the word -- manifested by the gang
in lantana, and that was the end of it. or so i thought.
months later i heard from keith mcinnis, who had been contacted by a san
francisco publication that had been offered a copy of a transcript of the
tape made as the shuttle fell to its watery grave. they wanted to know if it
was genuine. which inquiry keith passed on to me. the san francisco
publication faxed me the "transcript." it was the same "transcript" published
in the weekly world news. someone had simply copied it and tried to sell it
-- perhaps the original author, i don't know, though i'd like to, because i'd
like to find her and wring her neck.
the stupid thing has resurfaced from time to time since then. it is bogus. i
know it is bogus because, as i've explained, i unintentionally had a leading
role in making it up.
as i said several paragraphs ago, i don't think there's a transcript because
i don't think any attempt was made to find out what was on the tape recovered
the day after the disaster. nor is there likely ever to be, assuming the
tape's continues existence; nasa is happy to have at least the vague doubt
exist over whether the crew was alive and conscious all the way to the water,
which they surely were. any irrefutable, easily understood proof of this
would be an enormous embarrassment for nasa.
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