The NASA C-7 Parallel: Curse or Coincidence?

Most people over forty remember the list of Lincoln-Kennedy coincidences that were popularized shortly after the popular president's assassination in 1963. For those too young to recall, this was a list of supposed similarities or bizarre coincidences that occurred between the two slain presidents, such as the fact that Kennedy was shot while riding in a Ford Lincoln while Lincoln was shot at Ford's Theater. Further examples included the fact that both presidents had a vice president named Johnson, Kennedy's assassin fired from a warehouse and was captured in a theater whereas Lincoln's assassin shot the president in a theater and was cornered in a warehouse, both were killed on a Friday and in the presence of their wives, and a whole host of other little "coincidences" that make some people wonder if there couldn't have been some sort of cosmic "link" between the the events.

While it remains debatable whether there is any significance to the string of similarities in regards to various aspects of the two men's deaths, the fact that it does contain a number of curious—and, some might say, spooky—parallels makes it an interesting example of the remarkable role coincidence sometimes plays in history. But did you know that NASA might have its own set of unusual coincidences in regards to two of the most traumatic events in its history—the losses of the shuttles Challenger and Columbia?

The fact is, it does, and the similarities between these two tragedies are astonishing.

I know what some of you are thinking: How could there be any similarities between the two tragedies? The Challenger blew up 73 seconds after lift-off when a plume of flame from the booster rocket ignited the main fuel tank, whereas the Columbia broke up upon reentry in the final hour of its flight as a result of having a hole punched in its wing from a piece of insulation as it lifted off the launch pad. Two completely different sets of circumstances, with one happening on take-off and the other as the craft was on final approach, so how could there be any similarities—beyond the fact that both flights were doomed—between them?

I suppose one could make the case that both vessels share the fact that they were doomed within seconds of take-off, (though the Columbia wasn't to appreciate the fact until much later whereas the Challenger was to realize it within two minutes) but the similarities I refer to are not in the way the two accidents happened, but in the players—the shuttles and their crews—themselves. I have done a little research and found no fewer than ten bizarre coincidences, any one of which in and of themselves are not all that remarkable, but when combined make for an extraordinary case of synchronicity.

I call this phenomenon the C-7 Parallel. Why? First, because the names of both shuttles started with the letter "C"—the only two in the fleet with the same first letter—and, second, because both carried a crew of seven; thus, C-7.

Of course, if that was the extent of the coincidences, I'd have a pretty thin case. But there's more. Much more. Consider the following points:

That's just a couple interesting tidbits about the shuttles themselves. It's in the make-up of the two crews, however, where I find the most curious parallels. Of course, the fact that both shuttles carried a crew of seven is not all that unusual. That's the shuttle's optimal crew load and nearly half of all shuttle missions carried that number. What I find most intriguing is that:

Coincidences? Of course. Significant? Who knows. I just find it remarkable that of the over 130 shuttle missions that have been flown since 1981, this combination of men and woman—along with this precise racial makeup—has never been duplicated. The nearest I can find to a crew mix that came close was the August, 2007 flight of the Endeavor, which did carry a crew of five men and two women, with one of the male astronauts being African-American. (There were no astronauts of Asian ancestry, however.) Of course, that mission ended successfully. Whether that means the "curse" has been broken or that it only affects shuttles with a "C" in its name remains to be seen, but it is a truly remarkable series of coincidences that should give everyone pause to reflect and, perchance, to wonder.