It's hard to believe, but it was 26 years ago today that the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds into its flight. It was the first time in the 25 year history of the U.S. space program that we'd lost astronauts in flight. Thinking back to that day, it's remarkable how the information technology has changed since then.
I was in my office in Mission Viejo, having just gotten in about 30 minutes earlier, when our Computer Systems guy came running in saying he'd just heard that the shuttle exploded. The sum total of the information media available to me at that moment was a small transistor radio that I kept in my desk for emergencies. We had no TV's in the office, and the internet was still a futuristic dream (at least for the general public). For the next several hours I listened to the news reports on that scratchy little radio. I can still remember hearing the analyst say that because of Challenger's altitude and speed at the time of the break-up, it might take as long as 45 minutes for all the debris to fall.
When I got home, I put a tape in my VCR (fairly new technology at the time- it had a wired remote) and ended up recording about 6 hours of Challenger-related news reports, including the memorial service with President Reagan, which to this day I've never been able to bring myself to watch. It was a very emotional time for America. I still have that tape and recently transferred it to DVD. I don't know if I'll ever watch it, but it was a very memorable moment in history.
That night President Reagan spoke to the nation:
For those who may be too young to remember Challenger, here's a news report about it from the BBC. It would be 2 1/2 years before a shuttle took off again.
I also found an interesting article called the "7 Myths About the Challenger Shuttle Disaster". The article tackles the following myths:
- Few people actually saw the Challenger tragedy unfold live on television.
- The shuttle did not explode in the common definition of that word.
- The flight, and the astronauts’ lives, did not end at that point, 73 seconds after launch.
- The design of the booster, while possessing flaws subject to improvement, was neither especially dangerous if operated properly, nor the result of political interference.
- Replacement of the original asbestos-bearing putty in the booster seals was unrelated to the failure.
- There were pressures on the flight schedule, but none of any recognizable political origin.
- Claims that the disaster was the unavoidable price to be paid for pioneering a new frontier were self-serving rationalizations on the part of those responsible for incompetent engineering management — the disaster should have been avoidable.
Of course, anyone old enough to be paying attention on that day will remember President Reagan, speaking from the Oval Office on the night of tragedy, as he ended his tribute to the astronauts with this:
"We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them this morning as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God."And yesterday was the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire that took the lives of astronauts Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Ed White and stopped the Apollo program cold for many months while they re-engineered the Apollo capsule.