Slipping the surly bonds of Earth

Roamy here.  Today is the 25th anniversary of the Challenger accident.

I was a wide-eyed, wet-behind-the-ears (read: obnoxious) co-op student in the fall of 1985.  I had watched Space Shuttle launches on TV before, but that first time watching one in a NASA conference room, I was like a wriggly puppy.  One of the older engineers was kind enough to translate the calls for me as we watched STS-51J launch.  The countdown was delayed for some reason, but eventually the Shuttle did launch.  Once the Shuttle had barely cleared the tower, most of the engineers left to go back to work, with perhaps a grunt of satisfaction or a little nod that one more bird was in the air.  It was the same with STS-61A later that month.  All that changed with Challenger.

Flame visible at the O-ring gap on the solid rocket booster

I was back at school when the accident happened.  Marshall Space Flight Center was squarely in the spotlight after Challenger, investigating the accident and redesigning the boosters.  Many of the managers involved in the decision to launch on that cold January morning would retire.  I came back for my next co-op quarter to a drastically different place.

Recovering pieces from the ocean

After Challenger, we would nervously watch every Shuttle launch, wincing at the call for “Go at throttle up” and breathing a sigh of relief when the solid rocket boosters separated, two minutes into flight.  It would change yet again after the Columbia accident to watching the onboard camera and waiting until main engine cutoff to breathe that sign of relief.

I can’t top Reagan’s words for the Challenger crew.


7 thoughts on “Slipping the surly bonds of Earth”

  1. Thanks, Roamy. This event and these people were part of my first thoughts as I got out of bed this morning. I am in awe and extremely grateful to America’s best and brightest that willingly put everything at risk as modern day pioneers.

  2. This was an amazing time in our nations history, but sadly, not the first. I was fortunate, I had the opportunity to speak with a man, with an interesting background. At one time, he was the Director of NASA’s Gemini program, Dr. Jerry White. But actually, he was talking about a question and answer session with some college students and one of the astronauts, Virgil “Gus” Grissom. One of the students asked this question, “Are you ever afraid in this role?” Grissom stepped back from the podium, to gather his thoughts. He said, “Young man, first, you are sitting on top of a guided missile. If you are not afraid, you do not have a firm grasp of the situation. The real question is this, what do you allow the fear to cause to do? The sad and ironic thing about the “The Challenger Accident” was that it was not our first loss of life. The first loss of life in NASA, one of those astronauts was named Gus Grissom. He knew the risks, but was not risk adverse. For him, the risk made him more careful. At one time, the environment inside the capsule, was total oxygen. They were doing a test on the round, with the capsule in a total of teaching environment. On one tragic day, they have a fire within the capsule and no way to fire out. They were testing for the Apollo program, they had three men in the capsule. Yes, we lost them all in a tragic test. They all knew the risks, but it’s still wanted to explore space.

    1. I remember watching, and then reading “the Right Stuff,” and thinking grissom was a punk. Then I read a bit about him, and learning about the apollo1, I thought what a disservice Gus suffered at the hands of Wolf.

  3. 4th grade. Home sick from school.

    I still get chills whenever I hear those words from President Reagan.

  4. I was a newbie at my first duty station. I was sitting on the back lanai of the third floor of the barracks, cleaning my weapon when someone broke the news.

    Stunned, of course.

  5. I was in 4th grade on a field trip with my spaceophile teacher, mrs bruene (she lurved me, not in that way) and I SWEAR TO GOD! we went to the museum of science and industry. Shortly after our lunch break where we ate sammiches and dehydrated icecream, Mrs Buren vanished. Once our day was finished, we walked on the bus and she was there in tears, because she watched the explosion while we were looking at the neato spining porcelain thingings called superconductors.

    She walked down the bus, taking a head count, and then we went back to school and then went home after hearing what happened. I was at my buddy robbies place, his mom had taped the launch beause even though she was an uneducated woman who spent all of her time at home she always hoped for more, especially for her kids, and she was there almost in a catatonic state, watching the launch over and over again.

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