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'Challenger' celebrates the crew while charting what went wrong with the doomed flight

September 16, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

CHALLENGER - THE FINAL FLIGHT (L to R) The Challenger 7 flight crew: Ellison S. Onizuka; Mike Smith; Christa McAuliffe; Dick Scobee; Gregory Jarvis; Judith Resnik; and Ronald McNair in episode 4 of CHALLENGER - THE FINAL FLIGHT. Cr. Public Domain/NASA

There has always been something vaguely ghoulish about subsequent coverage of the Challenger disaster, considering that we all know how the story ends. But "Challenger: The Final Flight" navigates a delicate path -- celebrating the lives of those lost in 1986, and the hubris, politics and pressure to deliver that became the anatomy of a failure.

(CNN)There has always been something vaguely ghoulish about subsequent coverage of the Challenger disaster, considering that we all know how the story ends.

But "Challenger: The Final Flight" navigates a delicate path -- celebrating the lives of those lost in 1986, and the hubris, politics and pressure to deliver that became the anatomy of a failure.

Airing on Netflix, the four-part documentary series races through a whole lot of history, including efforts to diversify the space program, the half-dozen women who broke through in the astronaut class of 1978, and how NASA seized on the idea of putting a teacher in space as a public-relations stunt because people had become blasé about space-shuttle missions.

That teacher, Christa McAuliffe, is the best-remembered name in what was at that point an unprecedentedly diverse crew of seven extraordinary individuals, who died despite the warnings and alarms sounded about the shuttle's safety and specifically the solid-rocket booster O-rings that caused Challenger to break apart 73 seconds into its launch.

The passage of time hasn't dimmed the anger or emotion, expressed by not only friends and family, but NASA veterans, some of whom still vividly remember how their concerns went unheeded or ignored, and the arrogance bred by the program's success.

Directors Steven Leckart and Daniel Junge (working with a team that includes executive producer J. J. Abrams) fare best when painting with the broadest brush, capturing the romance that surrounded the space program, which became -- think "The Right Stuff" -- the ultimate

That ingenuity stands in stark contrast to the mistakes that were made, and just as significantly, the crash's aftermath, when the Reagan administration sought to soft-peddle the conclusions of an investigatory panel so as not to cripple and embarrass NASA.

"The country needed something to feel good about," astronaut Robert Crippen says, regarding the national mood as it pertained to the space-shuttle program in the 1980s.

To the extent that need is even more acute now than it was then, that single observation explains why the timing for "The Final Flight" feels especially poignant and apt.

"Challenger: The Final Flight" premieres Sept.

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