William Hurt as physicist Richard Feynman in “The Challenger Disaster,” watching footage of shuttle’s destruction
“The Challenger Disaster” spins an engrossing tale of how one stubborn scientist and a couple of stealth allies uncovered the truth about the 1986 space shuttle explosion despite high-level efforts to keep it buried.
It’s not just a good story, it’s a good story well told. It’s also on the right channels, since the science here makes the discovery.
William Hurt stars as Richard Feynman, a physicist who is asked to join the commission investigating why the Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch.
Despite the public’s outrage, or maybe because of it, commission Chairman William Rogers (Brian Dennehy) seems intent from the start to move slowly and conclude that the cause can’t be determined.
This would please NASA, which lobbies for additional funds. It would please the contractors that built the shuttle.
Feynman, quietly aided by a few sympathetic folks like fellow commission member and former astronaut Sally Ride (Eve Best), eventually finds scientific evidence that can’t be unfound.
While the coverup attempts here are infuriating, “The Challenger Disaster” doesn’t take the easy route of cartoon villains. The obstructionists are wrong, but they’re human.
Hurt’s on familiar turf, playing Feynman with pauses as well as brilliance. It’s a performance worth Emmy consideration.
What we need to remember is that “The Challenger Disaster” remains a cautionary tale, despite bring wrapped inside a story where the good guys win.