HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (CN) - The Discovery Channel distorted facts in a film about the 1986 Challenger disaster, depicting a former NASA manager as "a liar, a cover-up artist, and an uninformed manager," the man claims in a $14 million defamation complaint.
Judson Lovingood sued Discovery Communications, The Science Channel, The Discovery Channel, BBC Films, The Open University and Kate Gartside, in Madison County Court.
He claims Discovery sacrificed the truth "to satisfy an appetite for conflict," in showing that NASA ignored made-up calculations, which supposedly led to the disaster.
"The Challenger Disaster," a film based on the failed launch of Space Shuttle Challenger, aired on Nov. 16, 2013 on The Science Channel and The Discovery Channel, attracting millions of viewers in the United States.
The film, which showed the presidential investigation into the January 1986 accident that claimed the lives of the space shuttle's seven crew members, became the network's most-watched program of the year and the third most-watched program in Science Channel history. Discovery Communications and BBC Films co-produced the film, which was written by Gartside and shot in South Africa.
Lovingood, a former NASA shuttle projects office deputy manager, says the film, which claims to be based on a true story, depicts him as a weak and crazy manager who ignored crucial information about total mission failure probabilities, at the expense of the astronauts' lives.
Actor Sean Michael starred as Lovingood, while William Hurt played the role of Dr. Richard Feynman, a Nobel laureate physicist who participated in the presidential investigation.
"The movie/film begins with the bold typed announcement: 'This Is A True Story,'" the lawsuit states. "It then announces in type, 'It is based on the book "What Do You Care What Other People Think?" by Richard and Gweneth Feynman and Ralph Leighton and interviews with key individuals.' No reference is made to any review of the actual transcript of hearings and Report of the Presidential Commission. Pertinent and significant aspects of this movie/film are not true (as represented) and are, in fact, false and defamatory. Pertinent and significant aspects of this movie/film are falsely created in a clear effort to create a wholly incorrect and false account of the facts to make the film more dramatic while sacrificing the truth and the character of plaintiff under the disguise of having emphatically announced 'This Is a True Story.'
"In the opening scene of the movie/film 'The Challenger Disaster,' Dr. Feynman is teaching a class of students. Dr. Feynman (William Hurt) states to the class, in pertinent part: 'Nothing is known with absolute certainty. It's how to handle doubt and uncertainty ... Science teaches us what the rules of evidence are. We mess with that at our peril.' Unfortunately for this plaintiff, the movie/film ignores or manipulates the rules of evidence and fact while messing with them to manufacture and create false facts in a deliberate effort to be more entertaining and dramatic at the peril of truth. All of this is done under the masquerade of telling the viewers 'This Is A True Story.'" (Parentheses in complaint).
The movie shows Feynman following up on his suspicion that the shuttle's main engine was responsible for the failure, not the solid rocket boosters, as previously suspected. The commission concluded later in the movie that Feynman's theory was wrong.