Author Topic: Me and 51-L  (Read 5165 times)

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.
"Why is the logo on the side of a rocket so important?"
"So you can find the pieces." -Jim, the Steely Eyed

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.