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NASA Releases Challenger Transcript and Report on Cause of Death

Editorial Note: On July 28, 1986 Rear Admiral Richard H. Truly, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Space Flight and a former astronaut, released a report from Joseph P. Kerwin, biomedical specialist from the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, relating to the deaths of the astronauts in the Challenger accident. Dr. Kerwin had been commissioned to undertake this study soon after the accident on January 28, 1986. This press release accompanied the release of the report. Copies of these documents are available in the NASA Historical Reference Collection, Hstory Office, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC.

RADM Richard H. Truly
For release
July 28, 1986
4:30 PM EDT
RELEASE NO: 86-100


RADM Richard H. Truly, Associate Administrator for Space Flight, today released copies of the final report from Dr. Joseph P. Kerwin, Director of Life Sciences at the Johnson Space Center, Houston, on the investigation into the cause of death of the Challenger astronauts, along with a transcript of the operational recorder tape containing the internal communications among the members of the Challenger crew.

A thorough review of the wreckage and all other available data from the Challenger flight has been completed. NASA is unable to determine positively the cause of death of the Challenger astronauts but has established that it is possible, but not certain, that loss of consciousness did occur in the seconds following the orbiter breakup.

The voice tape transcript contains the comments of Challenger astronauts Francis R. Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Ellison S. Onizuka and Judith A. Resnik for the period from 2 minutes, 5 seconds prior to launch through loss of data.

NASA’s announcement on July 17, 1986, stated that the initial review of the voice tape indicated that the crew was unaware of the events preceding the breakup of the orbiter. Detailed analysis showed that the final comment on the tape provided the first potential indication of awareness on their part at the moment when all data was lost at 73 seconds into the flight.

Admiral Truly stated, “Many dedicated people, both from within NASA and from other agencies, have devoted long hours and many months, first to recover the Challenger crew module from the ocean floor, and then to examine all available evidence to establish the cause of death of the crew. Their work deserves the admiration and thanks of the American people, and I believe their efforts have now closed this chapter of the Challenger loss. We have now turned our full efforts to the future, but will never forget our seven friends who gave their lives to America’s space frontier.”




Last Updated
Jul 25, 2023

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