Feynman’s Appendix to the Rogers Commission Report on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident

Personal observations on the reliability of the Shuttle, by R. P. Feynman

It appears that there are enormous differences of opinion as to the probability of a failure with loss of vehicle and of human life. The estimates range from roughly 1 in 100 to 1 in 100,000. The higher figures come from the working engineers, and the very low figures from management. What are the causes and consequences of this lack of agreement? Since 1 part in 100,000 would imply that one could put a Shuttle up each day for 300 years expecting to lose only one, we could properly ask “What is the cause of management’s fantastic faith in the machinery?”

We have also found that certification criteria used in Flight Readiness Reviews often develop a gradually decreasing strictness. The argument that the same risk was flown before without failure is often accepted as an argument for the safety of accepting it again. Because of this, obvious weaknesses are accepted again and again, sometimes without a sufficiently serious attempt to remedy them, or to delay a flight because of their continued presence.

The Bielefeld Conspiracy

From Wikipedia:

The Bielefeld Conspiracy (in German, Bielefeldverschwörung) is a running gag among German Internet users, especially in the German Usenet. It is generally considered a satirical story rather than a hoax or an urban legend.

The story goes that the city of Bielefeld (population 330,000) in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia does not actually exist. Rather, its existence is merely propagated by an entity known only as SIE (THEY or THEM), which has conspired with authorities to create the illusion of the city’s existence.

The theory posits three questions:

1. Do you know anybody from Bielefeld?
2. Have you ever been to Bielefeld?
3. Do you know anybody who has ever been to Bielefeld?

A majority are expected to answer ‘no’ to all three queries; if they don’t, they, or the person they know, are said to be simply part of the conspiracy.

The origins of and reasons for this conspiracy are unknown. Speculated originators jokingly include the CIA, Mossad or aliens who use the Bielefeld University as a disguise for their spaceship.

Electrocuting an Elephant

A video clip of Thomas Edison’s execution of a pachyderm named Topsy.

In an attempt to discredit Westinghouse and Tesla by showing how dangerous AC electricity is, Thomas Edison electrified an elephant named Topsy.

More on Topsy at Wikipedia:

Topsy (born circa 1875, died January 4, 1903), was a domesticated elephant with the Forepaugh Circus at Coney Island’s Luna Park. Because she had killed three men in as many years (including an abusive trainer who attempted to feed her a lit cigarette),[1] Topsy was deemed a threat to people by her owners and put down by electrocution on January 4, 1903.[2] Inventor Thomas Edison captured the event on film. He would release it later that year under the title Electrocuting an Elephant.

A means of execution initially discussed was hanging. However, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals protested and other ways were considered. Edison then suggested electrocution with alternating current, which had been used for the execution of humans since 1890.

To reinforce the execution, Topsy was fed carrots laced with 460 grams of potassium cyanide before the deadly current from a 6,600-volt AC source was sent coursing through her body. She was dead in seconds.[2] The event was witnessed by an estimated 1,500 people and Edison’s film of the event was seen by audiences throughout the United States.