Tuesdays with Moron: Chatological Humor Update

Apr 01, 2014

Gene's next monthly chat is Tuesday, April 29 at noon. You may submit questions here.

Although the weekly edition provides an update between live chats, it is not and never will be a "blog," even though many persons keep making that mistake. One reason for the confusion is the Underpants Paradox: Blogs, like underpants, contain "threads," whereas this chat contains no "threads" but, like underpants, does sometimes get funky and inexcusable.

Happy April Fool's Day!

See, now that I have acknowledged it, you are free to continue reading and not worry about whether I am going to insert some lame, zany deception in order to elicit a slap-to-the-forehead reaction! This is a fools-free zone today. A 100% accurate update.

Toward the end of last week's chat, someone mentioned the 1986 Challenger explosion, expressing relief that the astronauts had died immediately. I said that wasn't so -- that they'd almost certainly hit the water alive and conscious -- and cited an investigative piece we had run in Tropic magazine, at the Miami Herald, in 1989.

A few readers asked if they could see that story, and a few others said they thought I was wrong, including one in this chat, who writes:

"According to a friend of my who worked on the Challenger recovery, the crew cabin was not intact when recovered, but was a pile of rubble. It may have hit the water intact, but was not intact when recovered."

Not exactly true. It was smashed to pieces, but held in place by a mesh of wires and cables. It was like a beanbag. It was the cabin, with the astronauts inside.

For this chat update, I am going to link you to the original Tropic piece, by freelance writer Dennis E. Powell. It remains, in my memory and that of Tom Shroder (we both worked on this piece), one of the most remarkable feats of reporting we've ever seen.

This was published at a time when NASA was jealously guarding the sad narrative of the Challenger story; they knew the truth but feared that if the public knew it, sentiment would shift from sympathy and indomitable resolve to anger and doubt. Some of the secrets involved the political nature of the screwup that led to the disaster (The Reagan administration wanted launch before his state of the Union message, whatever the weather) and part of it involved the way the astronauts died. The public wanted to think it was instantaneous, and NASA did nothing to disabuse them of that notion, even though they knew better.

After this story came out, NASA attacked it as false. Their denials lasted years, until the facts became more public and could no longer be denied. Powell was 100 percent correct in all of this.

Here it is.   It's long, but so worth the read.  

I will tantalizingly add that there is one more awful fact Powell had heard was true, and believed to be true, but could not confirm.   We still believe it is true but cannot print it. 

See you next week.

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Gene Weingarten
Gene Weingarten is the humor writer for The Washington Post. His column, Below the Beltway, has appeared weekly in the Post's Sunday magazine since July 2000 and has been distributed nationwide on The Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service. He was awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing.

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