Why conspiracy theorists refuse to believe the Challenger astronauts are dead
- Conspiracy theorists believe that Challenger astronauts never really boarded the space shuttle.
- They say it Challenger the disaster was an orchestrated hoax to cause some kind of massive trauma in the population.
- Experts say the conspirators are incapable of accepting bad things happening to good people.
On the unusually cold morning of January 28, 1986, no one died aboard the Challenger space shuttle, which exploded 73 seconds after liftoff. Captain Francis Richard “Dick” Scobee, Pilot Michael J. Smith, Mission Specialist Ronald McNair, Mission Specialist Ellison Onizuka, Mission Specialist Judith Resnik, and Payload Specialist (and “teacher in the space”) Christa McAuliffe, are still with us.
So say the conspiracy theorists who insist that Challenger astronauts never died in the tragic disaster of exactly 36 years ago.
According to the big story, Scobee is the CEO of a Chicago marketing and advertising company called Cows in Trees. Onizuka is his twin brother, Claude Onizuka. McNair is his older brother, Carl McNair. Smith is Professor Michael J. Smith of the University of Wisconsin. Resnik is the Arthur Liman Professor of Law at Yale Law School. The third scholar is Sharon Christa McAuliffe; she now only uses her first name, Sharon, has an almost entirely different face than Christa, and attends Syracuse University College of Law, where she is an adjunct professor. (Payload specialist Gregory Jarvis is the only person conspiracy theorists believe to be dead, as they have been unable to identify a lookalike.)
Here are the facts, according to a NASA review panel. Challenger solid rockets were rated for temperatures of 39 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, but the ground temperature at launch was only 24 degrees. This, in turn, caused a seal on the shuttle’s right solid rocket booster, known as the O-ring– a malfunction at launch, letting hot, pressurized gas escape. The gas ruptured a strut connecting the booster to the external fuel tank, destroying both.
“It seems clear that the space shuttle Challenger disaster was a fatal accident caused by a serious flaw in the decision-making process”, Marta Marchlewska, head of the Political cognition lab at the Institute of Psychology of the Polish Academy of Sciences, which has extensively studied conspiracy theories, says Popular mechanics. “People who say astronauts are still alive refuse to accept that bad things accidentally happen to good people. So either there is someone behind the disaster or it just didn’t happen,” says Marchlewska.
A conspiracy theory tames the great chaos around us, which is the likely explanation for these implausible ideas. It’s easier to blame the imagination secret machinations of influential people or institutions, serving selfish and dark agendas, that to admit life can be a cruel beast. Additionally, researchers say that conspiracy zealots are distinguished by analytical thinking levels and educationand they tend to inflate the possibility concurrent events. They are also more narcissistic.
Although part of the crew survived the initial explosion, such as some theories suggest, plunging into the Atlantic from an altitude of about ten miles in the sky would feel like hitting concrete at a speed of about 200 miles per hour. Conveniently, conspiracy theorists say the astronauts weren’t on the shuttle in the first place. They were probably “paid actors” who got on the shuttle just for the cameras and exited before takeoff. Challenger-crew-doppelgängers are about the age astronauts would be if they were alive today, and haven’t even changed their names, the claim continues. There is also no record in Social Security Death Index for one of the seven Challenger astronauts, believers say (even though journalists at the nonprofit Poynter Institute have discovered entries for at least four crew members).
Why would NASA choreograph and broadcast an event like this in front of millions of people, many of them school children? According to conspiracy theorists, the US government carefully orchestrated the explosion on television to inflict so-called “collective trauma” on the millions of young people who watched the Challenger takeoff live. “Tragedy increases indoctrination and brainwashing,” a YouTube commenter wrote alongside a video supporting the Challenger conspiracy theory. As for their proof? Weeks after the disaster, newspaper headlines denounced the disaster as “the very first national trauma on children.”
But the collective trauma theory doesn’t hold much. “It is possible that some children were traumatized by seeing the shuttle explode live, but the trauma is such an individual thing that it is impossible to generalize and say that it was a traumatic experience for all children who have it. witnessed,” he added. Alisha Ali, associate professor of applied psychology at New York University, says Popular mechanics.
It’s possible that the stress precipitated the conspiracy theories. Recently, Twitter has been inundated with conspiracy theories claiming that Bill Gates is using the pandemic to force mass vaccination on the population. “During times of trauma, like the deadly COVID pandemic, or a tragic disaster that reverberates nationwide, like that of Challengerpeople are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the state of the world around them and might be looking for meaning in the conspiracy,” Ali says.
So no, Challenger the crew members were not “crisis actors”, the two experts conclude, and they did not survive the 1986 crash – it was a tragedy, plain and simple.
Editor’s Note: Links to conspiracy theories have been omitted to avoid amplifying misrepresentations regarding the Challenger disaster.
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