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The Challenger Disaster
The Challenger Disaster 2013.jpg
Also known asThe Challenger
Based on
  • What Do You Care What Other People Think?
  • Truth, Lies and O-Rings
Written byKate Gartside
Directed byJames Hawes
Theme music composerChristopher Letcher
CinematographyLukas Strebel
EditorPeter Christelis
Running time89 minutes
Production companies
Original release12 May 2013 (2013-05-12)

The Challenger (US title: The Challenger Disaster) is a 2013 TV movie starring William Hurt about Richard Feynman's investigation into the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.[1] The film was co-produced by the BBC, the Science Channel, and Open University,[2] and it premiered on 12 May 2013 on BBC2.

It is based on two books What Do You Care What Other People Think? (1988)[3] and Truth, Lies and O-Rings.[4][2]

The film follows Feynman (William Hurt) as he attempts to expose the truth in the disaster.

It aired in the U.S. on the Discovery Channel and the Science Channel on 16 November 2013.


Dr. Richard Feynman, a physics professor at Cal-Tech, gives a guest lecture to students, lamenting on both the power and limitations of science. While driving home, he hears on the radio that the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded on takeoff and that it is very likely the astronauts perished in the accident. Several days later, Richard receives a phone call from a former student of his, who asks him to sit on the Presidential Commission to determine what caused the accident. Feynman, a vocal opponent of the political games politicians and government play, initially isn't sure if he should sit on the inquiry; however, his wife Gwen encourages him that he cannot pass up a puzzle like this, and must sit on the inquiry and figure out what really happened.

Feynman arrives in Washington and quickly realizes the chairman William Rogers wants to protect NASA and may not be seeking the real truth of what caused the accident. Unbeknownst to Feynman, the commission will be in recess for five days before any official work begins. During this time he visits various NASA production facilities on his own to learn and attempt to determine the cause of the accident. He finds there is a culture lacking in truth and reality as NASA employees are afraid to openly discuss known issues with the shuttle program out of fear. As a maverick investigator, Feynman discovers many other known issues through research and a surreptitious note that the loss of a shuttle was expected. Feynman's only ally on the commission, General Donald J. Kutyna, attempts to leak information to Feynman as he has a secret source within NASA who knows what really happened.

As Feynman draws closer to the truth his health dramatically changes as he discovers he has cancer. Realizing how important the truth is, he returns to Washington to divulge the reason for the shuttle's failure. In a televised broadcast of the commission hearing, having discovered that the O rings were the culprit for the explosion, he demonstrates that due to cold temperatures, the O ring could not expand and caused the explosion. Unable to hide from these findings, the commission issues its report to president Ronald Reagan with Feynman including an appendix with his own findings, citing "for a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled." The film closes with a montage of several key members in the film and their contributions.


See also


  1. ^ Bricken, Rob (February 2013). "Here's William Hurt as the legendary physicist Richard Feynman!". io9. Retrieved 20 March 2013.
  2. ^ a b End credits
  3. ^ Feynman, Richard; Feynman, Gweneth; Leighton, Ralph (1988). What Do You Care What Other People Think?. W. W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-02659-0.
  4. ^ McDonald, Allan J; Hansen, James R (30 March 2012). Truth, Lies and O-Rings. ISBN 978-0813041933.