Author Topic: Challenger STS 51-L – Part 2/4 Major Malfunction  (Read 86584 times)

Offline Ares67

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Challenger STS 51-L – Part 1/4 Teacher in Space
Crew / Mission / Training / Launch Preparations

http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=28219.0

Challenger STS 51-L – Part 2/4 Major Malfunction
Countdown / Launch Day / Explosion


Challenger STS 51-L – Part 3/4 Days of Mourning
Immediate Reactions / Reagan Speech / Memorial Services

http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=28340.0

Challenger STS 51-L – Part 4/4 End of Innocence
Debris and Photo Documentation / Rogers Commission / Findings

http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=28412.0

« Last Edit: 03/22/2012 07:34 PM by Ares67 »

Offline Ares67

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Re: Challenger STS 51-L – Part 2/4 Major Malfunction
« Reply #1 on: 03/07/2012 03:02 PM »

Offline Ares67

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Re: Challenger STS 51-L – Part 2/4 Major Malfunction
« Reply #2 on: 03/07/2012 03:05 PM »
“January 1986, and the waiting was at an end. (Columbia 61-C), the last launch before Challenger, had been subjected to widespread ridicule in the press, where it was finally dubbed ‘Mission Impossible.’ (…) It was no joke for NASA to be made a laughingstock on the television news evening after evening. Obviously, all of these postponements were well founded. (…) Even so, the press could not have cared less about the technical reasons. The point was that even after six attempts NASA, always so effectual in the past, could not get Columbia off the ground.

At NASA, there was nothing they would have liked better and all the different teams were coming under greater and greater pressure. Columbia simply had to go up, in order to come back down and be ready to take off again, as scheduled, on March 6, on what had been christened the Astro mission – America’s contribution to the study of Halley’s Comet. The comet was not about to wait for NASA and it would be another seventy-six years before they had another chance for a close look at it.

It was January 12 before, at long last, they pulled it off. (…) Mission 51-L was now scheduled for January 23, but almost immediately it ran into delays caused by difficulties in bringing Columbia back down. (When Columbia finally touched down in California instead of Florida on January 18) there was no possibility of launching Challenger just five days later. Especially not when vital parts would have to be borrowed from Columbia. Columbia had no sooner touched down than technicians were climbing on board to remove certain all-important sensors and one of the five computers. This done, one of NASA’s training jets promptly took off for Florida with the parts. Of course, the general public was told nothing of all this. The cannibal approach was not suited to engendering good press coverage. Nevertheless, it was necessary if the hectic launch schedule was to be met. Challenger had, therefore, also borrowed several vital components from Discovery and Atlantis.

(Challenger) had to fit in with a prospective launch schedule that was growing ever tighter. In the spring of 1986, NASA planned to send two exploratory missions to the sun and Jupiter. On May 15, Challenger was to take off on the Ulysses mission (a space probe using a Jupiter gravity-assist in order to eventually explore both poles of our Sun) – carrying for the first time, an extremely powerful Centaur rocket stage (…), which meant that, for the first time ever, a Space Shuttle would be flying with liquid fuel in its hold. Actually it would be carrying an enormous bomb. (…) NASA engineers had been opposed to the Centaur stage for safety reasons, but were overruled by their supervisors. (General Dynamics in the past) had supplied this rocket stage for the old Atlas rocket, which was now to be phased out, in line with the lower priority being placed on expendable rockets. If their investment was not to go down the drain, they needed to be on that Space Shuttle.

(…) Five days after the Ulysses mission, on May 20, Atlantis would take off from a neighboring launch pad on the Galileo mission. The purpose of this mission (was to put a space probe) into orbit around Jupiter by means of a Centaur stage. This would be the first time that two orbiters had been prepared for flight and launched almost simultaneously. Everyone involved foresaw tremendous strain being put on key personnel at Kennedy. But they had no choice – Jupiter wouldn’t wait for NASA either. (…) If either or both orbiters were to miss this crucial time frame, it would be another fourteen months before they could take another crack at it.

Within NASA, criticism had also been leveled at the Ulysses and Galileo missions because the orbiters would be carrying plutonium – in Ulysses’ case, 23.1 pounds; in Galileo’s, 46.2 pounds. (…) It needed no great stretch of the imagination to work out the risk of an explosion on the launch pad. Nevertheless, NASA’s management decided that it was worth taking this risk. Both missions would give NASA’s poor standing in scientific circles a badly needed boost.

(…) At the Kennedy Space Center the “production line” was under pressure and no exception could be made for Challenger, even if a schoolteacher was to be on board. (…) It was now absolutely vital that Challenger not put more strain on the schedule. NASA would have preferred to launch Challenger on Sunday, January 26, the day on which Vice President Bush had to fly from Washington to Honduras for the inauguration of a new president. It would be most opportune if George Bush could make a brief stopover in Florida and give the 51-L launch extra media exposure. But the Vice President’s timetable could not be disrupted if there was the slightest risk that the launch might not take place. One thing NASA did not need was yet another embarrassing delay – this time witnessed by Bush.”

This is a short description of the situation NASA was facing at the start of 1986, made by Danish author Claus Jensen in his book “No Downlink” (1996). Without a doubt schedule pressure played an important role in the first in-flight loss of American astronauts. Only once before – ironically also during the last days of January – the U.S. space program had experienced a similar tragedy. On the day before the Challenger Seven were lost high in the skies above Florida, the space community had remembered Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee. Of course they had been killed in a fire on the ground, down at the Cape on January 27, 1967, during a practice countdown aboard their Apollo 1 capsule.

Back then schedule pressure, engineering mistakes and bad judgment of the fire risks aboard a spacecraft filled with pure oxygen had led to the death of three men and a 21-month hiatus in the Apollo program. Sadly, the lessons learned the hard way in 1967 would now have to be repeated – and these would not be the lessons everybody was expecting from the “Teacher in Space” flight.

Offline Ares67

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Re: Challenger STS 51-L – Part 2/4 Major Malfunction
« Reply #3 on: 03/07/2012 03:07 PM »
“If we die, we want people to accept it. We are in a risky business, and we hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life.”  (Astronaut Virgil “Gus” Grissom, 1927 - 1967)

Offline Ares67

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Re: Challenger STS 51-L – Part 2/4 Major Malfunction
« Reply #4 on: 03/07/2012 03:08 PM »

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Re: Challenger STS 51-L – Part 2/4 Major Malfunction
« Reply #5 on: 03/07/2012 03:14 PM »

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Re: Challenger STS 51-L – Part 2/4 Major Malfunction
« Reply #6 on: 03/07/2012 03:20 PM »
Wednesday, January 22, 1986 – Final Changes and Great Expectations

Launch of Challenger is delayed to January 26 due to expected bad weather at Cape Canaveral on January 25. Launch time also is moved up from afternoon to 9:36 a.m. due to a change in trans-Atlantic abort sites. Dust storms are projected to make unusable the prime site at Dakar, Senegal, West Africa. The abort site is switched to Casablanca, Morocco – forcing the morning launch since the site is only qualified for a daylight landing. (Meanwhile Christa McAuliffe’s family flew in from Concord, New Hampshire.) Scott McAuliffe, nine-year-old son of Christa McAuliffe, arrives at Cocoa, Florida, along with 18 third-grade classmates.  (Countdown, March 1986)

The Space community was expecting a great weekend. Not only would there be a historic Space Shuttle launch. At Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, stunning images of another world had already been coming in during the days leading up to Voyager 2’s fly-by of Uranus and its moons at the end of the week. And the already busy Deep Space Network would even come to the rescue of Europe’s Giotto mission. NASA helped ESA regain contact with the space probe headed for Halley’s Comet, when the Parks Observatory tracking station, NSW, Australia, temporarily had lost contact with the craft.

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Re: Challenger STS 51-L – Part 2/4 Major Malfunction
« Reply #7 on: 03/07/2012 03:26 PM »
Thursday, January 23, 1986 – Secret Handshake

June Scobee Rodgers (“Silver Linings”, 1996): “Before we knew it, the day arrived for us to pack our bags for Florida and catch the NASA passenger plane to the Cape. We were all there, except for the astronauts who flew ahead of us in their NASA T-38 training jets. Christa and Greg were wearing their astronaut flight suits, Lorna, Jane, Cheryl, Marcia, and I were dressed in casual clothes. We waited together for everyone to arrive before ascending the ramp to the plane. The sun was shining so brightly that January morning, that we had to squint to see across to the flight hangar. I had an armful of roses to present to each of the ladies as they arrived.

We made anxious gestures to each other and the crowd of visitors and reporters who waited to see us off and waved. Several of the reporters had become my good friends, and one of them, John Getter, was joining us later at the Cape. ‘Hey, June,’ he called. ‘Bet you wish you were the teacher taking the shuttle flight.’ – ‘Sure do,’ I remember calling back to him, ‘and I’d take you with me too.’ We laughed, for we both had admitted to the other that we would take the space flight in a heartbeat, especially if NASA had a need for a grandmother. We also knew that Christa was the perfect teacher for the mission.

(…) We arrived at the Cape without a glitch. Dick and his crew were there too. I ran to greet him with a hug and kiss. Then, I heard a call to Christa from the crowd of people behind the gate. It was Steve McAuliffe. I couldn’t wait to meet him. As I turned to welcome Steve into the group, Dick reminded me that Steve needed to pass his Primary Contact Physical before joining the crew. Steve knew that too, so he waved hello, and standing away from the crew and spouses, he tossed a T-shirt with the New Hampshire state seal on it to Christa, who passed it on to Dick for a photograph.”

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Re: Challenger STS 51-L – Part 2/4 Major Malfunction
« Reply #8 on: 03/07/2012 03:28 PM »

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Re: Challenger STS 51-L – Part 2/4 Major Malfunction
« Reply #9 on: 03/07/2012 03:32 PM »

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Re: Challenger STS 51-L – Part 2/4 Major Malfunction
« Reply #10 on: 03/07/2012 03:39 PM »

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Re: Challenger STS 51-L – Part 2/4 Major Malfunction
« Reply #11 on: 03/07/2012 03:42 PM »

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Re: Challenger STS 51-L – Part 2/4 Major Malfunction
« Reply #12 on: 03/07/2012 03:48 PM »
Scobee: As usual it’s a real pleasure to be at the Cape, to come down here and participate in something that the Cape does better than anybody in the world – and that is launching space vehicles. It’s a great pleasure for us to be here. We expect weather like this on Sunday when we launch. And you all do the best to keep it that way, if you would. And what I’ll do is to introduce to you the next crew member. We’ll just go down the line with everybody say a little bit as we go. I’d like to introduce my pilot Mike Smith, who’s one of the best flyers in the world. And it’s great to have him in the shuttle – I’m glad to have him aboard as a pilot. So here is Mike…

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Re: Challenger STS 51-L – Part 2/4 Major Malfunction
« Reply #13 on: 03/07/2012 03:50 PM »
Smith: Thanks, Dick. Let me echo what Dick said about… It’s good to be down here and to be flying a vehicle that we know a lot of folks down here worked very hard on. We understand it’s ready to go; we are looking forward to going to fly. I’m one of the three people onboard who’s… you know, it will be my first time to fly. Christa McAuliffe and Greg Jarvis – it’ll also their first time. We’re all just looking forward to getting on orbit and getting the secret handshake. I’d like to introduce now Judy Resnik. She’s our center-seater and will keep an eye on any system problems… Judy?

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Re: Challenger STS 51-L – Part 2/4 Major Malfunction
« Reply #14 on: 03/07/2012 03:52 PM »

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Re: Challenger STS 51-L – Part 2/4 Major Malfunction
« Reply #15 on: 03/07/2012 03:54 PM »
Resnik: Well, I’m too am glad to be here one more time and I am hoping that the affliction that Steve Hawley had from the 41-D mission, “Mission Specialist of the Delays”, hasn’t rubbed off on me. And I think the guys behind me are hoping that it hasn’t also. Otherwise they might throw me off the flight…  And I will now introduce El Onizuka…


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Re: Challenger STS 51-L – Part 2/4 Major Malfunction
« Reply #16 on: 03/07/2012 03:58 PM »
Onizuka: Let me say that it’s really a pleasure to be back. I’m looking forward to going to fly this one. I think we’ve got some interesting payloads. The mission is a great mission; we are looking forward to it. And I think we are ready to go fly. Thank you for being out here today. (Onizuka started going back into the background line, then – as everybody started laughing – he realized that he had forgotten something...) I forgot the one thing I was supposed to do. – Let me introduce Ron McNair, who is going to be doing a lot of work with the Spartan-Halley mission and carrying a lot of the experiments that will be going on in the crew compartment.

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Re: Challenger STS 51-L – Part 2/4 Major Malfunction
« Reply #17 on: 03/07/2012 04:01 PM »
McNair: Again, I’d like to echo or recap words of my crew members that we look forward to returning – launching from the Cape first of all – and returning here a few days later. I had the privilege of being a part of a crew a couple of years ago that made the first landing here at the Cape. And I intend to be a part of the crew to make the first return landing to the Cape in about a week. At this time I’d like to introduce to you… or perhaps the person you came to see… and that’s our Christa McAuliffe, our Payload Specialist “Teacher in Space”…

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Re: Challenger STS 51-L – Part 2/4 Major Malfunction
« Reply #18 on: 03/07/2012 04:02 PM »

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Re: Challenger STS 51-L – Part 2/4 Major Malfunction
« Reply #19 on: 03/07/2012 04:05 PM »
McAuliffe: Well I am so excited to be here. We’ve watched Columbia go over the Houston area this morning, and that was a thrill. I don’t think any teacher has ever been more ready to have two lessons in my life. I’ve been preparing these since September and I just hope everybody tunes in on day four now, to watch the teacher teaching from space. I’d like to introduce to you someone who is going to be in my second lesson: Greg Jarvis, the payload specialist from Hughes…