Twenty-Four Years Ago

It was my birthday, and the Challenger was destroyed. I have some remembrances of the event, originally posted eight years ago. That was the beginning of the end of the Shuttle program, less than five years after it started flying, though we didn’t necessarily realize it at the time. It was certainly the end of the fantasy that it was going to fly many times a year, and do everything for everyone. In that respect, it was a necessary wake-up call, and it provided the basis for today’s commercial launch industry.

[Mid-morning update]

A lot of memories over at Free Republic.

I don’t recall being as emotionally devastated as many report being, but I think that’s because it didn’t really shock me as much as it did many, who had believed all of the NASA propaganda about how safe the vehicle was. Those of us working on it knew better. The only real surprise was the nature of the failure — we had been betting on either a main engine explosion, or loss of tiles on entry (which did happen sixteen years later). I remember mostly thinking about the policy and (for Rockwell) business implications, and speculating on exactly what went wrong. And of course, I didn’t personally know any of those lost, except for having met Judy Resnik once in the cafeteria when she was visiting Downey.

[Noon update]

Clark Lindsey has more anniversary links.

[Update mid afternoon]

Memories from Miles O’Brien:

At first, I thought it was a cloud. But it was such an odd shape. Kind of like a big “Y”. It was, in fact, the awful scar that loomed off the coast of Cape Canaveral – more than 150 miles away. It seemed to be asking us all a question that to this day offers no easy answers: “Why?”naive-shuttle-concept

As you know, the truth is painful and sad. NASA managers were determined to prove their shuttle fleet was truly “operational” – even commercially viable. If their dreams had become reality, 1986 would have been the busiest year ever in the history of the Space Transportation System.

Fifteen flights were scheduled over 11 months. One was supposed to be the first mission to launch from the new shuttle facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Nine communications satellites, three classified payloads for the Pentagon and two major unmanned probes were to be carried into space in the payload bay of an orbiter that year.

NASA managers were trying to live up to years and years of their own unrealistic expectations, fanciful claims, pure science-fiction, and outright lies.

So when they discounted and discarded the firm “no-go” admonitions of engineers at the Thiokol plant in Utah where the solid rocket boosters are made, mission mangers team were, in fact, lying to themselves.

In many ways, when they continue to defend the status quo, they still are.

More Space Policy News

Jeff Foust has some interesting comments from the administrator, and more criticism of the ostensible plans from parochial congresspeople. There is also some confirmation of yesterday’s scoop by the Orlando Sentinel. And interestingly, there was “no discussion of a heavy-lift vehicle.” I’m not sure whether this means that there isn’t one, or that it simply wasn’t discussed. Since NASA is embarking on a new architecture study, I wonder if a no-heavy-lifter option will be on the table?

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!