Non-Fiction Review: Challenger - An American Tragedy by Hugh Harris

Every generation has their defining media moment. Over the course of my lifetime I've witnessed the coverage of serial killer horrors from the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer and Paul Bernardo; school shootings at École Polytechnique and Columbine High School; and terrorist activities involving Pan Am Flight 103, 9/11, and the Boston Marathon.

While I clearly remember my wife waking me up on September 11, 2001, with the news that a plane hit a building, the event that scarred me the deepest, and which I remember the most vividly, is standing in the library of my elementary school on January 28, 1986, and watching the Challenger explode.

As such, reading Challenger: An American Tragedy: The Inside Story wasn't an easy experience, but it was something I had to do. Hugh Harris, the voice of Launch Control for Kennedy Space Center, takes us back through that fateful day, and through the organized chaos that followed. It's not a long read, and it quite dry in places, but it's incredibly fascinating to peel back the layers of secrecy and politics to understand what really happened.

Here we experience the last conversation with the Shuttle crew (ending with an ominous "Uh-oh"), the discovery of the crumpled frame of the Challenger crew cabin on the ocean floor, President Reagan's emotional speech in place of the scheduled State of the Union address, and a chillingly simple demonstration of o-ring failure in a cup of ordinary ice water. Harris recounts the weather warnings and temperature cautions from the engineers that never made it to the decision makers. He walks us through how White House inquiry came to happen, and just how much it actually improved the situation.

The story reaches an emotional high with the successful launch of Discovery, but it doesn't end there. Harris does a nice job of wrapping things up by honoring the crew of the Challenger, their contributions to the world, and the legacy they left. Challenger: An American Tragedy: The Inside Story may sometimes be a bit dry on the page, but the same can't be said of how it hits the eyes. It brought back a lot of memories, most of them painful ones, but it also offered both answers and closure to that elementary school kid who witnessed a disaster the likes of which he couldn't imagine, and then was sent back to class without another word said.

ebook, 81 pages
Expected publication: January 28th 2014 by Open Road Media


  1. Thanks for adding a little personal experience to your post. This was a horrific accident that might not have happened if politics and government weren't allowed to intervene in science! Great review.

  2. I was too young, but my husband is older and he remembers the seeing the Challenger explode on television like it was yesterday. When I asked him about it after seeing this review, he spoke about it in a way that echoed yours; like you, I think the disaster affected him deeply. As someone who was just a baby and can't remember anything, I read and hear accounts like yours and his and I just can't imagine. The horror it must have been. Thank you for this review, and for injecting your personal experiences. ~Mogsy


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