Author Topic: Me and 51-L  (Read 6174 times)

Offline Jim

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Me and 51-L
« on: 01/28/2018 07:53 PM »
In 1986, I was stationed at Los Angeles AFS assigned to what could be called the Air Force Shuttle Program Office.  I was in the System Requirements Group, which was responsible with working with NASA on manifesting payloads and experiments onto the shuttle.  Our office consolidated all the requirements from the local spacecraft program offices, the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization and NRO (at the time, it wasn’t acknowledged as the NRO, just national programs) and put together a budget for negotiations with NASA.  There wasn’t any real contention with NASA at the time, since there were “plenty” of shuttle flights and the DOD was still transitioning from ELV’s to the shuttle.  At the time, there had been only two DOD missions.  Each year, the three groups would meet in what was called the DOD Space Shuttle Users’ Committee.  There the DOD shuttle mission model (number of flights per year) for the next 5 years would be agree upon.  The meeting was 2-3 days, with the early days worked by staffers and the last days is where the generals would come in a rubber stamp the results.  Part of the meetings would include briefings on the status of various DOD shuttle systems (like IUS, SLC-6, etc) as well as status of the shuttle’s ability to meet DOD requirements (such as payload to orbit).

I was a young 1st Lieutenant accompanying my colonel and major to the meeting.  It was my first trip to the Pentagon and a little apprehensive.  I was already coming from a base that was top heavy and had more than 30 colonels; now I am going to a place where a full bird colonel feels like me.  The early meetings (January 27th) were to be held at the ANSER corp headquarters and then move to the Pentagon the next day.  At the meetings at ANSER, I was trying to find the status of the shuttle launch.  No internet, no satellite TV, no network coverage, and NASA TV wasn’t widely distributed among cable systems at the time.  CNN didn’t cover until launch was imminent.  So, the only resource available was the National Space Society’s shuttle hotline.  It was a 900 number that charged by the minute, but it was a direct feed of the NASA TV audio.  ANSER had these phone booths (they weren’t pay phones) which allow for some privacy.  I was trying to call the hotline but couldn’t make the connect.  ANSER had a block on 900 numbers (for good reasons) and I couldn’t assign the charges to my home phone (a 3rd number).  Somehow, found out that the launch was scrubbed on the 27th.

On the 28th, went to the Pentagon for the meetings.  Tried messing around with the phones but gave up.  Was sitting in a conference room taking notes, when a colonel barged in the room and said the shuttle was in the water.  We went to the office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Public Affairs and there were 4 TV’s on, CNN and the 3 major networks.  Spent the rest of the day in that room trying figure out what happened.  Later in the evening, went back to the hotel and called my wife.  I was distraught because didn’t know what was going to happen to my career and life.  The next day, the meeting was still held with pall over the room.  It was decided that a baseline mission model would be agreed upon that all studies and analysis going forward would be based on. 

Once we got back to LA, my job became very busy we worked on various stand-down scenarios.  It seemed as each week passed after the accident, we were working on a stand-down scenario that was 3 months later than the previous.   It didn’t settle down until the summer when everything sorted out.  Some of the studies that came out my office were the increase in number of Titan IV’s from 10 to 41, the Delta II program for GPS and the Atlas II program for DSCS.

Offline Rocket Science

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Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #1 on: 01/28/2018 08:21 PM »
Dark days... Thanks for sharing your personal story with us Jim...
"The laws of physics are unforgiving"
~Rob: Physics instructor, Aviator, Vintage auto racer

Offline Tomness

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Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #2 on: 01/28/2018 09:58 PM »
Before I was even born. Could only imagine the stress you and your family & all of your brothers and sisters in AF & NASA trying to come back from that.  Thank you Jim.

Offline jabe

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Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #3 on: 01/28/2018 10:41 PM »
my story...
was the 1st shuttle launch I ever missed.. I was in 3rd year university and was playing snooker in the university games room.(Snooker is a game all physics geeks should know how to play btw) and the time escaped ride home came up and said..."the shuttle just exploded" reply was "yeah..right".... so we went down to the main atrium to watch the news with the other 100 or so who came to see what is up...


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Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #4 on: 01/28/2018 10:57 PM »
I was just a teenager still living with my parents, working my first full-time job. Because of the international time difference, I was woken by my Mother and told she'd heard on the morning 6:00am news bulletin on Radio 1-ZB Auckland that the 'Challenger' had "exploded into a thousand pieces" only a minute after launch" (73 seconds actually). I sat up in bed, just totally stunned.

"That's the one with the School Teacher aboard!" I told my Mum. There was no live, 24 hour TV news in New Zealand in those days - only if you were one of the lucky few to have Sky TV News and CNN through the Sky TV package. I got up and numbly went through my routine and went to work on my Yamaha. I worked at a local Bookstore and saw with disappointment that morning's newspaper had been printed before the tragedy. I had to listen to the radio news on the hour, all day to repetitive "No hope of survival" statements. Finally at 4pm, the afternoon paper "The Auckland Star" arrived and my mouth hung open - there was a full, front page spread picture of the now-legendary explosion and curling path SRBs coming out of it. I kept two copies of the paper, but all these years later; I don't know what happened to them. I still have my STS-107 Columbia papers, though.

For the rest of the week; I wore a black armband that I'd fashioned myself. Some people thought I was nuts.

EDIT: With you, my friends, indulgence - I have a link to my Vimeo channel's compilation on Challenger. The first part is a genuine TVNZ clip presented by Phillip Sherry, the leading NZ newscaster of the time. I read years later that he was very interested in Space Exploration and was stunned by the accident. I think you can see some emotion on his face and hear it in his voice. The video then segues into classic American coverage, played on TVNZ. I've been compiling such footage since the early 1980s. I still have most of the tapes and have been archiving them digitally before they degrade forever.

« Last Edit: 03/10/2018 01:13 AM by MATTBLAK »
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Offline webdan

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Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #5 on: 01/28/2018 11:30 PM »
Jaba, same here. It was first flight I had actually missed. While at work, suddenly one of the employees from the TV store next door runs in and exclaimed *something happened*. I was in disbelief when I saw the multiple TV sets playing endless replays.

And Jim, thank you for your story. No other words here.

Offline Lar

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Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #6 on: 01/28/2018 11:35 PM »
I watched every shuttle launch, at first. But work got in the way, and it got to be so routine and safe seeming... and I was actually playing bridge with my IBM colleagues at lunchtime when the news came over the PA. Heartbroken.
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Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #7 on: 01/28/2018 11:58 PM »
Yes, thank you Jim for kicking this thread off. And with the 15th anniversary of Columbia coming up; it's sobering stuff.
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Offline scdavis

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Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #8 on: 01/29/2018 12:16 AM »
I feel honored to hear stories from you who were there and involved at the time.

As for me, I was in fourth grade watching the launch on a classroom television along with probably most American school children. We had spent weeks learning about Christa McAuliffe as part of a unit on space tied in with the STS launch. I don't have words to describe the experience ... still brings tears to my eyes remembering.

Offline brihath

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Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #9 on: 01/29/2018 12:32 AM »
I remember being at home as I had a day off from work and was wallpapering our dining room.  I kept on checking the TV as the launch had been delayed.  I remember checking the TV and saw Dan Rather discussing what had just happened to Challenger, and the replay showed the vehicle disintegrating with the SRB's going in separate directions.  I was crushed.  I had been a space flight enthusiast and saw the launches of Shepard, Grissom and Glenn and followed every flight since those early days.  I took the time to collect my thoughts and wrote an editorial letter that was published in two local newspapers.  We were in a different time then as you can see from the examples I cited in my letter.  Even today, I always remind my friends that space is hard.

Offline JAFO

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Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #10 on: 01/29/2018 04:57 AM »
I was managing a K-B toy store. Forgot there was a launch, my roommate had the replay on CNN in the living room when I walked by on the way to work. I walked in, told my crew to get every Shuttle toy we had and put it up front. They thought I was nuts, but when the gates opened and the mommas and crying kids walked in... I waited until we sold out, then went home early after stopping and picking up a bottle of cheap tequila.

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Offline floron

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Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #11 on: 01/29/2018 05:11 AM »
I was 10 and had just got back from school when my dad rang from work and told me. I still remember that the first thing I said was "Was anyone hurt?"

I think the Second World War Pilot John Gillespie Magee Jr. put it the best:

I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew --
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Offline pippin

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Me and 51-L
« Reply #12 on: 01/29/2018 10:05 AM »
I remember the day very well (one of my first where-were-you-when-they-shot-Kennedy moments).
I was a teenager at the time and on that day we bought my first own home computer. When we picked it up, the seller told us “have you heard it, the Space Shuttle just exploded on the launch pad” (no live NASA TV back then over here in Germany and he also just heard it on the radio).
The computer came with a joystick called “Challenger” (seriously) and I just thought “maybe we should not have played around with that red button”. I still have that thing in my parents’ attic.

We returned home and by then it was all over TV, actually the most comprehensive spaceflight coverage we’ve had by then for a long time, sadly.

I had already been quite a bit of a space flight enthusiast by then, old family business since my father had already worked in the business since his early career (he worked on the first European launcher project, “Europa/ELDO”) so this really hit me at the time, much more than the general public over here or indeed most of my friends although we came from a bit of an aerospace community, the company my father worked for and which did aerospace electronics was by far the biggest employer in that small southern German town and in fact at least half of the population there had moved to the place to work in this business.
« Last Edit: 01/29/2018 10:16 AM by pippin »

Offline mike robel

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Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #13 on: 01/29/2018 11:26 AM »
I was a tank company commander in the 1st Infantry Division (Forward) in Germany.  I had just finished with an Article 15 when one of my tank commander's burst in on me and the 1st Sergeant and said "Sir, the Space Shuttle just exploded!"

Your kidding, said I.  NO, come look.  It was all over Armed Forces Network Television.  I finished up at the office and went home where I stayed up all night and watched TV going over and over the thing.  One must understand, I grew up on Merritt Island and my dad had worked on Apollo and Shuttle, so I had a small connection to the space program.

But after that event, the day to day requirements of command pushed it to the side.  Although every time I see something about Challenger, I remember SSG Corwin rushing into my office.

Offline Archibald

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Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #14 on: 01/29/2018 02:08 PM »
As of January 1986 I was only 3 and half years old so I can't remember that day.

But I come to grasp that horror later, circa 1988, aged 6. If you were a young techno-geek back then, already interested in advanced technologies, there was no way to avoid the doom of nuclear power (Chernobyl) and the doom of spaceflight (Challenger) even more since the two events happens barely three months appart and somewhat marked the end of some innocence and the end of an era - "Apollo" "electricty too cheap to meter"

First in my first spaceflight book (still have it). It was only words, some lines. Ok.  Later in a magazine where an entire page was filled with the coloured plume from the explosion, with the SRBs flying in the corners. It took me a while to figure the why and how of that picture - that the shuttle ascent, the position of the tracking cameras, made for such bizarre angle. For a six years old, those things were uncomprehensible.

This peculiar magazine. My elder sister, a  brilliant mind five years older than me, was reading it. Evidently I did the same and wham, the challenger picture exploded in my face.

It was just like the Chernobyl red and white chimney: at the time I couldn't figure why on earth had they it painted it red and white. (later: so that aircrafts didn't flew into it in fog). What was worse, in France and elsewhere a lot of high pylons and chimneys were and still are painted red and white, and the damn things remembered myself of chernobyl again and again.
It looked like a giant candy cane and at the bottom of that, was the dark - grey mess of the eviscerated nuclear reactor. It haunted my nightmares for years. I'm glad they recently demolished the thing and sealed the disaster into a new sarcophagus.

Chernobyl red-and-white chimney and Challenger white-yellow-brown coloured explosion cloud really burned my mind and scared myself to death.

Another lasting memory was Punky Brewster and the Buzz Aldrin episode, "Accidents happen".
This one.
The imdb entry is, by itself, heartbreaking.
Another strange way of being impacted by some horrific accident in the pre-internet days.
Dear God.
It was probably in the early 90's, my elder sisters were watching that sweet, funny show in syndication on M6 TV channel and all of sudden, wham, the challenger tragedy. Punky's teacher dead aboard a space shuttle. WTH. only much later did I found the episode, through IMDB, and that Buzz Aldrin was part of it.

I think that peculiar show really catched the absolute horror, cruelty, and absurdness that was the Challenger disaster for all those high school kids.

That is "why did the space shuttle with my teacher blew up ? Why did it happened this day, this launch, which was to be a happy time ? why did it ended in tragedy ?"

I'm not saying that had the shuttle blown another day, another crew, no one would have cared. I'm not that kind of person.
But the death of Christa McAuliffe made it far more a trauma, as far as PR goes. It still blow my mind even today, the sheer cruelty of what happened to all those poor kids.
« Last Edit: 01/29/2018 02:56 PM by Archibald »
... that ackward moment when you realize that Jeff Bezos personal fortune is far above NASA annual budget... 115 billion to 18 billion...

Offline fthomassy

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Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #15 on: 01/29/2018 05:39 PM »
Thanks for this thread Jim and thanks to everyone for sharing your perspective.

Like most of us here the space program shaped my childhood and influenced my career choices. I was a junior studying Aerospace Engineering at Auburn University at the time. I was on my way to class when I heard but don't recall if/how classes were disrupted. I do recall hours gathered around the TV at home and at my AFROTC detachment trying to glean every fine point of detail.

Several years later I left the USAF and joined the Aerojet team in the northeast corner of Mississippi doing non-linear FEA on ASRM cases and joints. ASRM was a post-Challenger program to upgrade from the troubled RSRM which was considered by some to be a patch-fix. Congress killed that project after >$2B spent (along with the Superconducting Supercollider, another $2B) and I became an Aerospace Refugee in the mid-1990s. I can't complain too much as I continue to enjoy a diverse engineering career.
gyatm . . . Fern


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Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #16 on: 01/29/2018 09:36 PM »
The Punky Brewster episode that Archibald is talking about is on YouTube. Check it out.
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Offline tdemko

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Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #17 on: 01/29/2018 10:47 PM »
I was a geologist working on a drilling project in the wilderness of north-central Pennsylvania. It was hovering around -15 Fahrenheit and my bottle of HCl keep freezing solid, even in my jacket pocket, so I was getting in and out of the pickup truck to keep warm and thaw the acid. The truck was running and the radio was tuned to an AM news station (we alternated news with country music). There was some breaking news about a problem with the Challenger launch, but few details immediately. The job foreman then drove up and heard that the shuttle had actually been destroyed. We finished out the day and I drove the foreman home to a nearby town. He invited me in to watch the TV coverage, and I finally saw those iconic images of the vapor cloud, the crazed flight of the SRBs, and the terrible rain of debris, some splashing into the ocean.
Tim Demko

Offline toren

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Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #18 on: 01/30/2018 05:35 AM »
I was a space nut since I was a kid, growing up on Mercury, Gemini and the tragedy and triumph of Apollo.  I was never a big fan of STS - the "committee design" was all too obvious to an engineer - but STS-5 was the only launch I've seen in person.  By 1986, I was deeply into a software startup and content to watch the launches on the evening news, rather than trying to find some live source.  So I was buried in code when my wife called and said "The Shuttle blew up".  The whole company - nerds every one of us - shut down as we crowded around the CEO's TV.

The iconic photo of the explosion is one of those moments frozen in time that I will never forget, just like the impact of the second plane on the WTC.  I can't hear "Go at throttle up" without cringing, or "High Flight' without getting misty (those were Reagan's closing words in his memorial address, for those who don't date back).
« Last Edit: 01/30/2018 05:37 AM by toren »

Offline woods170

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Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #19 on: 01/30/2018 09:31 AM »
Sunday, April 12, 1981 is the day I became a space-nut. Almost at the end of the TV news that day was a short item about the USA having launched something that was called the Space Shuttle. I had already read about the Moon landings but seeing Columbia lift-off is what hooked me.
I started devouring just about every book on spaceflight out there. My home-country, the Netherlands, at that time was blessed in having space journalist Piet Smolders being very well informed in both the USA and the Soviet Union, as well as being an avid writer.

Next we had our first astronaut, Wubbo Ockels, fly on Challenger in the fall of 1985. Interest in his mission was huge in the Netherlands and it resulted in a surge of in-depth material on the Space Transportation System. Again, I read and digested it all.
What came with that surge was information related to concerns about the reliability of the SRB's in general.
A few weeks after STS-61A had wrapped-up Piet Smolders reported on damage to the SRB's used in the STS-61A launch. It was only after STS-51L had been lost that it became apparent that the reported damage concerned the O rings.

Then came Tuesday, January 28, 1986. The launch was not broadcast live in the Netherlands so the headline in the 8 o'clock evening news came as a hammer-blow to me. I literally couldn't believe what I was seeing.

As it was, my dad had the habit of recording the 8 o'clock news, for review purposes, on his Video2000 system. I re-watched the news footage at least half a dozen times and couldn't help having the sinking feeling that there might be a connection between the disaster and the earlier reported concerns about SRB reliability.

Later in the evening a planned broadcast of a documentary about Wubbo's mission was on TV. But prior to it Piet Smolders featured on-screen while having a short interview with Wubbo about what had happened earlier in the day. Wubbo was very visibly shaken, having lost friends and colleagues in the disaster.

When the Rogers Commission's report came out in June of 1986 I was very upset to hear that it was indeed the SRB's being responsible for the STS-51L tragedy. But my anger was pale when compared to the fury that came from Wubbo Ockels when he learned the facts.

Offline MattMason

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Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #20 on: 01/30/2018 11:54 AM »
I was in my third year of college at Indiana University. My interest in spaceflight had been nearly life-long and had even written to NASA once about the Space Shuttle and received some nice info from the public affairs department. I'm and wasn't trying at the time to be an engineer but I had a higher-than-average working knowledge of the Shuttle's primary elements. One element, the External Tank, always seemed to be a strange, flimsy thing to me. For some reason, I thought the ET, the only disposable element, was flimsy only because it hadn't engines of its own. It seemed more like a balloon.

I was in class and didn't learn of the accident until perhaps 1 hour later. On entering the dorm building I overheard the news from a room with an open door and men I didn't know. They didn't mind as I came in, saw the footage and said something like, "That damned external tank!" At the time, the footage did seem to point to an ET structural failure.

You could feel the somberness drop like cold fog and rain over the campus, although it was just a cool sunny January day. I sat in my room watching the coverage for much of the day. As it turned out, the ET did fail but only after its aft section was blowtorched by the right SRB. It was a generation where most grew up on Apollo at least and graduated high school as the Shuttle first launched. To see an icon of "our" generation fail so spectacularly might have added to the sometimes fatalistic angst of that generation.
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Offline SBerger

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Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #21 on: 01/31/2018 03:14 AM »
I was an overaged (USMC vet) M.E. student in my senior year, studying in the ASME student lounge when the news came out.  Saw the video played over and over, as if it were on a loop, the rest of the day and into the late evening.  Two years later (after grad school), I was at GDSS working on Atlas II development.  A program that would not have existed (as Jim mentioned in his thread-starter post) if the Challenger tragedy had never happened.  15 years later I turned on the TV to get the weather report on 2/1/03 just in time to see the news coverage of  Columbia reentering in pieces over Texas.  Within a month I was part of a team sent to Michoud by LM to work on cause and corrective action for that tragedy.  These are not the things you want on your C.V. if you work in spaceflight.

Offline GClark

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Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #22 on: 01/31/2018 10:17 AM »
I was in the US Navy at the time, assigned to the USS Inflict.  That day we were underway in the lower Chesapeake Bay.  We didn't hear about it until we moored at Little Creek that evening.

I had duty that day, so I didn't get home until the following afternoon.  By that time the networks were no longer showing the footage, so I didn't see it until several months later (by which time it had lost its' immediacy).

As a footnote, that summer we had a guy report onboard who had been crew on the USS Preserver - the ship that salvaged Challenger.  He refused to discuss anything about it - obviously too painful.

Offline hoku

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Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #23 on: 01/31/2018 11:28 PM »
Tuesday, January 28, 1986 - I remember driving home after work (doing my military service at that time), and listening to the live coverage of the launch on the radio (German public broadcasting had a reporter at the Cape, and public radio stations were covering many space flight related events).

The commentator sounded quite enthusiastic that the launch finally succeeded. Then he remarked that less than 2 hours earlier he had been expecting another rescheduling of the launch considering the huge body of ice present on the shuttle and the supporting structures. He continued describing the (what I imaging grandiose) view of Challenger rising against the blue sky, and the separation of the solid boosters, and then briefly paused, realizing that something had gone awry.

Once at home, I turned on the news to find out more and see the footage of the launch. I also took a closer look at my Revell 1/72 space shuttle with fuel tank and boosters model (which stood next to the 1/96 Saturn V), feeling very sad for the loss of the crew, and wondering what might have gone wrong.

My personal highlight, just five years later, was my first visit to Florida, and the opportunity to see (and hear the roaring of) the launch of STS-40. Columbia continued to be my favorite shuttle, since it flew Spacelab D-2, launched Chandra (another "hair-raising" launch, which I listened to live on NASA TV), and carried out the Hubble Space Telescope service mission 3B to install ACS and give a new life (cryocooler) to NICMOS.

Saturday, February 1, 2003, turned into another sad day...
« Last Edit: 01/31/2018 11:44 PM by hoku »

Offline jg

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Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #24 on: 02/01/2018 01:18 AM »
51-L to me was a news story seen on TV, but one that hit me harder than most.

I worked on IRT on SpaceLab 2, that flew on STS-51-F.  I spent time during the SpaceLab integration testing phase of IRT in the payload integration building at KSC, which was next to the building where the astronauts stay the night before flight, and had seen where the typical pictures are taken as the astronauts leave the building and entered the van to go to the pad, generally smiling and waving.  You all have seen such video/pictures.

So when 51-L happened, the typical news pictures of happy, excited astronauts on the way to the pad hit much closer to home: it was in a place already in my memory from only a year or two before in a much more personal way.

Unfortunately, yet another (minor) casualty of the disaster was any chance of reflight of the IRT experiment. I was too busy with the X Window System to attend the flight of 51-F, and thought I'd have a chance to spend a flight in the mission control center in Houston later.  That was never to be....
« Last Edit: 02/01/2018 01:22 AM by jg »

Offline TripD

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Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #25 on: 02/08/2018 01:57 AM »
Thanks Jim for your story.

 I only saw one live launch. It was an earlier Challenger launch with much happier results. STS-7 marked the first American woman to visit space: Sally Ride.

 As for where I was when the disaster struck, I was in the chow line on board the USS Iowa.  The news hit me like a ton of bricks.  Needless to say, I did not wait to be fed.

Offline flyright

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Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #26 on: 02/08/2018 04:28 AM »
I appreciate all these stories, and thank you Jim for sharing yours and for starting this thread.

A few years before the Challenger accident, my wife had taken a teaching position in a New Hampshire middle school. Christa McAuliffe had the adjoining classroom at the time and, knowing we were new to the area, had gone out of her way to make us both feel at home in our new community.

On the day of the accident I was on a work-related trip while my wife and her students, like teachers and students in many other places, were assembled to watch live coverage of the launch.

I remember sitting stunned at a conference table, while around the table, equally stunned people were trying to digest the news.  All I could think about was Christa’s family, and what my wife, her fellow teachers who knew Christa, and teachers everywhere were suddenly coping with. After a couple hours of half-hearted attempts to continue the meeting we jointly agreed to try again another day.

As sad as this tragedy was, I think that it really caused a lot of people, especially some of the young people in those classrooms, to sit up, take notice, and connect with something  they had up to then taken for granted, human spaceflight. 

Offline tyrred

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Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #27 on: 02/08/2018 07:36 AM »
Thank you for sharing your stories.  So many perspectives.

On that fateful day, I was in my 2nd grade classroom at Chinook Elementary School in Auburn, WA USA.  12 days past my 8th birthday.  My teacher turned on the TV in the classroom and we watched Challenger lifting off, with the school teacher Christa McAuliffe aboard, and Dick Scobee commanding, a graduate of Auburn High School, people who could be us in the not-so-distant future, going to space...  But it was not to be. 

I remember thinking I could have been watching my own teacher dying.

Here's to the memory of those brave souls, who put it all on the line, attempting something amazing.

Offline seawolfe

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Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #28 on: 02/08/2018 07:55 AM »
I was interviewing for a job.  When the accident happened, the interview came to an abrupt halt when someone came in and whispered the news to the team interviewing me.  We all solemnly adjourned the interview but I never heard back from that company after that.

Offline cscott

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Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #29 on: 02/08/2018 06:38 PM »
I was 9 years old. I don't remember seeing the launch at school; my vivid memory is of watching the news footage at my babysitter's house after school, on the television we were occasionally allowed to watch cartoons on.  I recall that I sat glued in front of the news coverage for hours, watching those indelible images, until my mom came to pick up my brother and me.

My next strong memory is of getting the World Book encyclopedia update that year.  If you owned a world book encyclopedia, they'd sell you a service where you could get an "annual update" volume each year, updating the articles that were affected by that year's news.

I remember getting the annual update for 1986, which included a sticker intended to be placed over the "space shuttle" article in your encyclopedia, indicating the content was  no longer up-to-date and directing the reader to the appropriate supplement.  I remember very soberly updating "space shuttle" in our world book, and then carefully reading all the details of the accident included in the annual volume.

Offline DecoLV

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Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #30 on: 02/09/2018 02:43 AM »
I was a news reporter for a local paper in Guilford, Connecticut when STS 51-L happened. There were no TVs in the newsroom, but there was one back in compositing where the paper was made. Somebody from there came out excitedly, almost smiling, and yelled "The Shuttle just blew up!"  Stunned, we wandered back to compositing and saw the replays. I remember being shocked: I had been a space geek since I was a kid and even I had stopped following Shuttle flights on a day-to-day basis, they were routine. I probably wrote some local reaction piece later, but I don't remember. I probably just went back to whatever zoning story I was writing.

Offline Bubbinski

Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #31 on: 02/09/2018 05:26 PM »
I was in my freshman year of high school in Yuma, Arizona.

I knew the shuttle with the Teacher in Space was going to try to launch, and had been scrubbed yesterday. I was just getting really interested in space after seeing the Dream is Alive in San Diego the month before, and went to school hoping for good news on the way home. It was cold in Florida but warmer than usual under a bright sunny sky where I was.

Mr. Johnson’s math class was about to start when he came in and said the shuttle exploded. We were all stunned. Later I was picked up by a family friend after school let out and he told me what happened, and I saw the replay on the news. I was very sad for the crew and over the next few months and next year I checked out what books I could about the shuttle and about space in general from the Yuma public library.
I'll even excitedly look forward to "flags and footprints" and suborbital missions. Just fly...somewhere.

Offline Lee Jay

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Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #32 on: 02/09/2018 05:34 PM »
I posted once before that I was watching at home that morning before school, and I heard someone say that they had scrubbed the launch due to weather and were going to begin detanking.  I then grabbed my backpack and ran off to school.  I heard in 10th grade Algebra class that Challenger had exploded and actually told the teacher that that made no sense to me since there was no fuel on board.  We later heard via an announcement over the school PA system that the accident had happened in-flight and I realized that the scrub announcement I had heard earlier was either in error or had been reversed.

Offline exmps

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Re: Me and 51-L
« Reply #33 on: 03/10/2018 12:29 AM »
On 1/28/86, I had been at KSC for about 2.5 years in Shuttle Engineering.  Being junior in the section, I did not always have an opportunity to participate in the firing rooms for terminal count and launch, and such was the case that day.  I had spent the morning in the OPF and the VAB engine shop checking on the progress of some active problem reports for other upcoming missions.  The foot trip from the trailer complex offices (where OSB-2 stands today) through the VAB, to OPF 1-2, and back was about a 2km loop.  That was a simple enough stroll on a normal weather day, but the extraordinary cold that morning made it much more uncomfortable.  Plus, the local wind patterns created by the VAB made entry and exits there more of a “wind chill” event.

I had intended to keep track of the countdown closely, so I could temporarily step out from whichever facility I was in to briefly see the ascent.  It would have been typical for someone without a loading/launch firing room assignment to be ready to relieve the prime crew after a late scrub to support a 24-hour scrub turnaround procedure if that became the plan.  Given the cold weather and the reports of ice at the Pad, that’s what I had been expecting to do, and even more so when the original T-0 of about 0930 came and went.  When it became more certain that the new T-0 was 1138, I finished what I needed to do at the OPF and quickly hiked back toward the offices.  I watched the ascent from just outside our office trailer, not far from where the Saturn V was on display.

I never noticed anything amiss about the stack until it all came apart.  Seeing the SRBs veer off and continue made no sense.  Too much was happening at once to comprehend it all.  I realized after that day how unreliable eyewitness accounts of aviation accidents can be.  The mind can play cruel tricks; mine wanted desperately to see an intact ET and Orbiter fly out of that strange growing multicolored cloud to execute an RTLS abort.  But the PAO guy would have certainly said something about that.  The descending smoke trails shocked me back into my engineering senses.  The whole cycle of strange images to frantic hope to grim understanding had only lasted maybe 10 seconds.

The self-blame started before all the debris impacted the ocean.  What could have caused this?  Did my subsystems fail somehow?  Of course, the launch team was immediately sequestered in the firing rooms securing their data, and there was no communication with them.  For about 3 hours after the accident, I was quite concerned about the tip load measurements on the orbiter LO2 17” disconnect flapper valve.  Did we accept something we shouldn’t have?  Did the flapper valve slam shut during flow and cause the propellant line to rupture?  It was only by chance that I later overheard a senior military officer tell a colleague “Looks like the right hand SRB”.  This news didn’t make me feel any better – it just made me worry about different things in different ways.

I went with some co-workers into the Firing Room early that evening to hear VP George H.W. Bush and Sen. John Glenn speak to employees.  It was a welcomed gesture that they bothered to come to the LCC to try to comfort us after consoling the crew families, but unfortunately I came away with an unshakeable feeling that I had let an entire nation and 7 grieving families down.  That continued during the next 4 months of sifting through recovered debris. I revisit that feeling every year when the OV-099 and OV-102 anniversaries occur.

Sorry for the long post.  Thanks Jim and everyone for your stories.