Tuesday, July 6, 2010
In these illustrations from the weeks following the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in which the shuttle and all its crew were lost, intense efforts went into trying to investigate and explain the catastrophe in a way that the public could easily grasp.
Among the problems confronting science reporters in this and similar technologic events were ambiguous phrases
and special uses of terms of art; the critical joint in a booster rocket had failed, it was reported, possibly from a "rotation" of the joint.
The special use of this term was, on one hand, perhaps familiar enough to aerospace engineers but not, on the other , to the American public who were indeed the primary witnesses, underwriters, and mourners of the tragedy.
Working at the New York Times with Gary Cosimini, then Science Times design director, we attempted as clearly as possible (and under intense deadlines) to picture both the essential nature of the enigmatic hypothetical "rotation", and also some of the engineering "fixes" then under discussion.
We worked from esoteric diagrams and charts, striving to eliminate obscuring details in order to show the critical structures and how they might have performed.