Challenger: The Last Flight Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

Pros: The events of January 1986 as presented by people who were directly involved in them; emphasis on the human factor that led to the disaster; a lot of attention in the series is paid to astronauts and members of their families; rare archival footage and recordings Cons: All the events described in the series are well known to those who are interested in space Challenger: The Final Flight / “Challenger: The Last Flight”

Genre documentary series
Created by Stephen Leckhardt and Glen Zipper
Netflix channel
Year of release 2020
Episode 4
Site IMDb

Stephen Leckhard, Glen Zipper and employees of JJ Abrams’ company Bad Robot Productions, who produced the series (this studio worked on the Cloverfield film series, three updated Star Trek, the last three Mission: Impossible, two of the three new Star Wars, as well as dozens of TV series , including Westworld, Castle Rock, 11.22.63, Almost Human, Fringe and Lost), focused not on the technical aspects of the Challenger disaster, but on the people who took part in preparing the launch, and on the astronauts who were victims of overconfidence and arrogance NASA.

No, the show goes into plenty of technical detail, dealing with solid rocket booster failure, the O-ring burnout problem, and the dangers of launching shuttles in cold weather. But the emphasis is not on them, but on the political, marketing and propaganda aspect of the Space Shuttle program, on how dependent NASA became in the 80s. last century from public opinion, on the people who made that fateful decision to launch, and on the astronauts who became victims of this decision.


It is worth understanding how the Challenger shuttle disaster turned out for the United States. America has been waiting for this launch like no other since the Apollo lunar missions. For the first time, it was not a trained NASA astronaut, a military pilot or a scientist who was supposed to go into space, but a school teacher, a completely ordinary person, one of the ordinary Americans who could not even dream of becoming on a par with the celestials. The Americans closely followed the selection of candidates (and 11 thousand teachers submitted applications to participate in the competition!), and all stages of the preparation of the Boston teacher and mother of two children, Christa McAuliffe, for the flight. The launch was broadcast in school classrooms and cafeterias across the country. The children gathered for this event as if it were a holiday, prepared firecrackers, confetti, refreshments…

For many schoolchildren who watched that broadcast, the death of astronauts on live television was the first experience associated with death, shock and the cause of mental illness. And there were tens of thousands of such people in the United States. According to the Americans themselves, the Challenger disaster was a shock for them comparable to the shock from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. A nationwide tragedy from which the country will recover for several more years.


The authors of Challenger: The Final Flight pay attention to both the history of the Space Shuttle program itself and the preparation for this particular flight and its propaganda significance. In addition to well-known and rare archival footage, the series contains many contemporary interviews with direct participants in those events. The astronauts’ wives and children, Christa McAuliffe’s sister, the people who were at Cape Canaveral and Mission Control that day, journalists, NASA officials of the time, and representatives of contractors involved in the Space Shuttle program.


Particular attention, naturally, is paid to the people who took part in that fateful telephone conference on January 27, 1986 between representatives of NASA and Thiokol (manufacturers of solid rocket boosters), at which the final decision was made to launch on January 28. To people who objected to the launch; people who insisted on the need to adhere to flight schedules; people who have not found the strength to resist the pressure of their seniors. Now, 34 years later, almost all the participants in that meeting are very old. Some of them, those who are directly to blame for what happened, still believe that they were right and, given the available data, would make the same decision today. Others have been blaming themselves every day for 34 years for not doing everything in their power to cancel the launch. The families of the deceased astronauts have never forgiven the participants in that meeting.


It is tragic that for all the dissimilarities between the USSR and the USA, cosmonauts and astronauts from both countries often became hostages of politics. Only if in the USSR the bosses of the Communist Party adjusted launches to coincide with socialist holidays, then in the USA the cause of disasters was the flaws of the democratic system – the need to justify the allocation of funds to NASA and adhere to a tight launch schedule. And despite the lessons learned from the Challenger disaster, the same factors would cause the Columbia shuttle disaster 17 years later. Self-confidence, ignoring a long-known problem, the need to adhere to the launch schedule.


Challenger: The Final Flight is a very emotional series. Much time is spent here on interviews with the wives and relatives of the astronauts, who talk about their families, the preparations for that launch, the last evening before the launch, and what followed after Challenger turned into a fireball in the sky. These are very touching and very difficult episodes that transform a set of names of astronauts who died in the disaster into real people, husbands, fathers, sons and daughters. Some of these moments make it hard to hold back the tears.

Undoubtedly, everyone who is interested in space is very familiar with the details of the Challenger disaster. Dozens of articles and books have been written about this tragedy, hundreds of television stories, and several documentaries have been filmed. However, even if you know all the details, take a look at Challenger: The Final Flight. Along with last year’s Apollo 11, this is one of the best space documentaries released recently.


A detailed and emotional series telling about one of the worst disasters in the history of manned space exploration

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