1986, Roger Commission report submitted 9 July 2006 to President Reagan
Feynman was a great Nobel prize winning scientist. He conducted a little experiment as part of the Rogers Commission that is one of the great public 'gotcha' moments ever, and testament to the power of an inquiring mind. The temperature on Challenger launch day was 32F.
Feynman: Before the event, from information that was available and understanding that was available, was it fully appreciated everywhere, that this seal would become unsatisfactory at some temperature, and was there some sort of a suggestion of a temperature at which the SRB shouldn’t be run?
NASA personnel : Yes sir, there was a suggestion of that, to answer the first question- given the configuration that we ran that the seal would function at that temperature. That was the final judgment.
Feynman: I took this stuff that I got out of your seal, and I put it in ice water, and I discovered that when you put some pressure on it for a while and then undo it, it doesn’t stretch back, it stays the same dimension. In other words ... for a fewseconds at least, and more seconds than that, there’s no resilience in this particular material, when it’s at a temperature of thirty two degrees. I believe that has some significance for our problem.