Friday, January 27, 2006

I Remember Challenger

There have been a spate of articles about the Challenger accident of 25 years ago. I'm not going to link to them; you can Google for them on your own. I will, however, mention "7 myths about the Challenger shuttle disaster" by James Oberg. Myth #1 concerns how many people watched the disaster. I was working for Martin Marietta (now Lockheed/Martin) at the Lake Underhill facility in east Orlando, Florida. I was outside that morning in January with a whole group of engineers and technicians waiting to watch the launch. We were standing on the patio outside the main cafeteria. It was a good clear morning. There was quiet chatter among the waiting group until the launch.

Challenger lifted off as expected, and we watched as its liftoff trail climbed above the pine trees into the sky. Then about a minute into the liftoff came the puff of smoke at the top of the liftoff trail. There was no more liftoff. We stood outside for about a minute more. There were one or two "What happened?" questions, but no-one said anything else. Then we turned around and headed back inside. I started looking for a TV that I could tune to a local channel to check the news. About 15 minutes later all the TVs in the plant started to carry the news (I don't remember which channel). I spent the rest of the day numb.

There followed the investigation and the news stories and the books and the accusations of cover-up. I don't care. All I know is that on that day we lost 7 good astronauts and a very expensive spaceship.

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