Confusion and Uncertainty
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The above video illustrates the confusion and uncertainty of those who witnessed the Challenger disaster from the viewing stands at Cape Canaveral.  In my opinion the most disconcerting moment of the disaster can be heard in the immediate reaction of those who were watching Challenger ascend when the explosion occurred.  The problem, of course, was that those who witnessed the Challenger disaster firsthand did not realize at the time that they were witnessing THE CHALLENGER DISASTER; they didn't know what they were seeing.  Some in the crowd knew immediately that something had gone terribly wrong but didn't know what, while others thought that the sudden pyrotechnic display was part of the normal launch staging, that it signalled the separation of the solid rocket boosters from the external tank (which wasn't scheduled to happen for another fifty-four seconds).  The result was that while some of the viewers screamed and cried out when the explosion happened, just as many others responded with cheers and applause, innocently thinking that another milestone of the launch had been achieved.  It is the image of the fireball, the falling debris and the out-of-control boosters in that deep blue sky accompanied by the incongruous sound of cheers and applause from some in the crowd that is to my mind the most surreal aspect of the disaster.

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