When the Challenger space shuttle exploded 73 seconds after its launch in January 1986, killing all seven crew members on board, Daniel Junge and Steven Leckart were school-aged kids watching it all happen on television. Now they are the directors of Netflix’s four-part “Challenger: The Final Flight” docuseries, and they hope the lessons learned from that tragic mission will resonate with American audiences amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“This was our Kennedy moment; this was our 9/11 moment,” Junge told TheWrap.
If there’s one thing to be gleaned from the fatal NASA space shuttle mission, its that listening to scientific data can sometimes be the difference between life and death.
“It does feel like the right message now, just in terms of the value of science and the value of teachers, which is really important right now and will hopefully resonate,” Junge said. “And also, no matter how you feel about Reagan, [he was] a leader who galvanized the country behind the space program in a moment of tragedy.”
Presenting parallels between Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and former president Ronald Reagan’s handling of the Challenger tragedy wasn’t at the top of Junge and Leckart’s mind while they were making the docuseries pre-COVID-19, but in hindsight, the irony is hard to miss.
“He was a leader who had the ability to rouse the country and bring the country together, which is what a president is supposed to do,” Junge said of Reagan.
The directors laughed as they remembered a moment during the early editing process in which they questioned whether audiences would understand why the crew — astronauts Judy Resnik, Dick Scobee, Gregory Jarvis, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, and Michael J. Smith, plus civilian school teacher Christa McAuliffe — had to quarantine prior to the mission so as not to get sick in space.
“We were remarking to ourselves, and we discussed it at length: Will people know what that is? Do we have to find a line that explains what quarantining is?” Leckart said. “And of course, Christa says it again when she’s on the bicycle to one of the camera people, ‘Please stay six feet away from me, I’m in quarantine.'”
The show also comes down hard on the powers at NASA who were warned ahead of time about the risks of launching the shuttle during cold-weather conditions, which resulted in the erosion of the rocket’s delicate O-ring seals and spelled the end for the Challenger. But the directors were adamant that they didn’t want to paint anyone at NASA in a “nefarious” light — they only wanted to point out that interpreting data is susceptible to human error, especially when decision-makers are under pressure.
“I can’t speak for Larry Mulloy, but I think to some degree that might have set in for him: the worry-fatigue, and saying, ‘No, we’re going to be fine, we’ve seen this before,'” Leckart said of the manager of the space shuttle solid rocket booster program at NASA when the Challenger launched in 1986.
“Arguing about data and numbers, you can read it in different ways and interpret it in different ways. I mean, look at climate change. We’ve been arguing about this for decades, and yet there are still people that don’t believe it despite the fact that there’s data that shows that the world is on fire,” Leckart said. “So I don’t think it’s any different. I also think, too, a big bureaucratic organization is incredibly tough to manage in general, and we’re seeing that play out with the pandemic, right? Politics aside, no matter who’s in charge, it’s a very complicated equation with lots of voices and moving parts, and it’s hard to manage. NASA was probably no different.”
“Challenger: The Final Flight” premieres Wednesday, Sept. 16 on Netflix.
Read original story Netflix’s ‘Challenger’ Directors Hope COVID America Learns the ‘Value of Science’ From 1986 Tragedy At TheWrap