Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster Ensemble Performance

Below is one half of a major ensemble assessment performance I have offered my Year 12 Drama class this year.

Seven members of the class will research, script and rehearse key events leading up to, including and after the 1986 Challenger Space Shuttle disaster. Several scenes are prescribed in the task, but many additional scenes will be added by the group.

The other seven members of the class will do the same with the 2003 Columbia Space Shuttle Disaster, with both performances occurring on the same night.

Feel free to borrow or adapt this ensemble task for use with your own students if you wish.

Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster

Setting
America

Performance Style
Non-naturalism, with aspects of Epic Theatre and Theatre of Cruelty.

Theatrical Conventions
Transformation of character, place and object, disjointed time sequences, pathos.

Stagecraft Elements
Props, costume, multimedia.

Dramatic Elements
Tension, language, contrast.

Background
On January 28, 1986, the NASA Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated 73 seconds after lift-off at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. All seven crewmembers were killed.

The official cause of the accident was the failure of two o-ring seals at the joint between the right Solid Rocket Booster and the external fuel tank. This resulted in pressurised gases escaping from the rocket booster and subsequently igniting, before penetrating the fuel tank, itself.

Millions of American schoolchildren watched the launch live in their classrooms on NASA TV, as the first teacher in space was aboard the aircraft. NASA’s space shuttle program was immediately suspended for 32 months following the incident to allow for official investigations as to the cause of the accident.

It appeared the Challenger incident was a horrible catastrophe no one could possibly have predicted. But was it really an accident just waiting to happen? Could one of the worst disasters in the history of space flight have been avoided?

Plot
One or more scenes should be performed out of chronological order to address the theatrical convention of disjointed time sequences. The following information should be represented in the performance. Additional information may be performed, as appropriate.

  • NASA’s knowledge of the o-ring as a flawed design
  • NASA’s flight scheduling and delayed Challenger launches
  • The low temperature on the morning of launch
  • NASA’s safety procedures
  • NASA’s organisational culture, including decision-making processes
  • Contractor Morton Thiokol and their reporting procedures to NASA
  • The loss of Challenger on January 28, 1986
  • President Reagan’s Address To The Nation concerning Challenger
  • The Rogers Commission investigation into the Challenger disaster
  • The US House Committee Hearings on the Challenger disaster
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