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In fact, no clear evidence was ever found that the crew cabin depressurized at all. There was certainly no sudden, catastrophic loss of air of the type that would have knocked the astronauts out within seconds.
NASA later conceded it was likely that at least three of the crew members aboard remained conscious after the explosion, and perhaps even throughout the few minutes it took forthe crew compartment of the shuttle to fall back to Earth and slam into the Atlantic Ocean.
Even if the compartment was gradually losing pressure, those on the flight deck would certainly have remained conscious long enough to catch a glimpse of the green-brown Atlantic rushing toward them.
If it lost its pressurization very slowly or remained intact until it hit the water, they were conscious and cognizant all the way down.
though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil… A complete understanding of exactly what happened in that cabin after the explosion remains elusive because the impact of the crash, plus the six weeks the wreckage and bodies spent in the sea, made it impossible to determine precisely when and how everybody aboard died.
Not everyone aboard died the exact second the external tank exploded; that much is known.
His July 1986 report was based on an official examination of the debris of the crew compartment, audio tapes and other data recorded on the shuttle, the remains of the astronauts, and photographs of the capsule as it fell after the shuttle exploded. Kerwin said: “The cause of death of the Challenger astronauts cannot be positively determined, the forces to which the crew were exposed during the orbiter breakup were probably not sufficient to cause death or serious injury, and the crew possibly, but not certainly, lost consciousness in the seconds following orbiter breakup due to in-flight loss of crew module pressure.” In other words, they might well have lived for the full spiral down and might even have been fully conscious for all of that hellish descent.
However, the fourth unactivated pack speaks with an even stronger voice, indicating that most likely realization of the circumstances and loss of consciousness were occurring at roughly the same time. Joseph Kerwin, director of Life Sciences at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Moreover, personal recorders would not have picked up the comments of crew members on different decks as the faked transcript would have us believe. Rest in Peace known to have been wearing personal recorders. They most certainly could not have lived through the crushing 207 mph impact with the waters off the Florida coast, which negates the wilder versions of “survived astronauts” rumors that had them still alive for hours (and even days) under the sea, waiting for rescuers who could not reach them in time. (Six weeks in sea water would also have ruined any unshielded audio tapes that miraculously survived the explosion and the crash.) If the cabin depressurized immediately, the crew would have lived about 6 to 15 seconds after the blast; if not, they might have survived for the full two minutes and forty-five seconds it took the cabin to fall 65,000 feet back to Earth.As they were feeling the jolt, the four astronauts on the flight deck saw a bright flash and a cloud of steam. Someone, apparently astronaut Ronald Mc Nair, leaned forward and turned on the personal emergency air pack of shuttle pilot Michael Smith. Though the shuttle had broken to pieces, the crew compartment was intact.