Tag Archives: STS-51L

Innocence, 30 Years Later

Thirty years ago, I was in second grade. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was my last year at the elementary school that I attended and  lots of change would be coming over the next several years for me. Thirty years ago, I was young and didn’t believe that bad things could happen to me, to anyone I knew, or to my country. Thirty years ago, I had my innocence and it was a great state to be in.

On January 28, 1986, I was playing on the playground during morning recess and a friend came up to me and said, “the space shuttle exploded.” My first response was sheer incredulity, that he was testing me, to see if I would react… I said, “No, it didn’t, the Space Shuttle CAN’T explode.” I didn’t believe that such a thing could even happen. Space travel was routine, with the first shuttle launch just after my third birthday and the 25th scheduled for that morning. My friend replied, “yes it did, as it was launching this morning.” I still didn’t believe him. I couldn’t grasp that an event such as this was even possible.

From there, in my memory, that day becomes a big blur. The next thing I remember is being at a different friend’s house in the evening working on homework. The adults were in a different room, doing adult things. The room we were in had a TV, which was tuned to the news. They were showing Challenger’s 73 second flight over and over and over again. I’m sure that there were talking heads interspersed between the replays, but all I remember are the replays, over and over again. Looking back now, that was the beginning of the end of my innocence. The end of the belief that bad things couldn’t happen.

Every year, in mid-January, I post four pictures on my office door. The first is the Apollo 1 Crew, the second is the STS 51-L (Challenger) Crew, the third is the STS-107 (Columbia) Crew, and the final is a Red and Rover cartoon by Brian Bassett commemorating the aforementioned crews that all lost their lives in service of exploration.  I picked these pictures of the three crews because I think they represent the potential of the missions. Each crew is in their space suits, seemingly ready for launch, ready to being their exploration. I post these cartoons no later than January 16th, my birthday, which is the day that Columbia and her crew launched on their final mission in 2003. It’s also the day that the damage that caused Columbia’s demise occurred, though it would not happen for another fifteen days.

Last night I watched a wonderful documentary about the Challenger accident. The documentary focused not on the technical details of the accident, but on the reactions that people had to it. I was particularly taken by the audio of a reporter from Concord, New Hampshire, who was at KSC reporting on the flight because of its most famous crew member Christa McAuliffe. His station played several minutes of his spontaneous reactions to the incident, and at one point, he basically says, “I can’t talk any more. I’m in shock, I need to process this…” at which point I can imagine his dropping the phone he’s been talking in to and walking away. This struck me because it’s how I’ve been feeling since I posted those four photos on my office door.

Today, in 2016, my son is in second grade. He attends the same school that I did on that fateful day in January 1986, and though it’s been rebuilt, he plays on the same playground that I was playing on thirty years ago when I learned the news of the Challenger disaster. For some reason, this parallel, this coincidence that came about because he was born in my thirtieth year and started kindergarten when he did, has been bothering me this week. Ever since I put up those photos a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about my experience on the playground thirty years ago. I’ve been thinking about the beginning of the loss of my innocence and the changes that would occur in my life. I feel like spaceflight, to most people is again routine and the fact that there have been astronauts in space for nearly twice my son’s lifetime is taken for granted (if it’s even known) by most people. I feel like so much of the technology that we use on a daily basis, most of which was developed directly or indirectly as a part of the space program, is taken for granted.

My son is fully ensconced in his innocence and I work hard to protect that for him. I wonder what he will look back upon some day as the beginning of the end of his innocence. I hope that it will not be for a long time. I hope that I won’t be a cause of the beginning of this change in him. This year and ever year, I choose to remember the crews of Apollo 1, STS 51-L, and STS-107 in their flight suits, looking like they’re headed to the pad to launch into space and explore our universe.

I choose to look at them with the innocence of a child, knowing that it is not possible for anything to go wrong. I know that this is not true, I know that complacency and apathy will create problems for my country and my world. I just hope that my son won’t realize this for a long, long, time. I want to remember him like this, full of promise, full of innocence, and full of potential. I want all kids to have a look like on their face like my friend Shannon Moore‘s daughter Sara does in this picture.

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A Tough Week in NASA History

Today begins a tough week in the history of NASA. All three of NASA’s major accidents have happened between January 27th and February 1st:

January 27, 1967 – Apollo 1 Fire

January 28, 1986 – Challenger (STS-51L) Disaster

February 1, 2003 – Columbia (STS-107) Disaster

Each of these events happened at a different stage of the mission, each of them had their own technical causes, but in my opinion, each was caused by ignoring or accepting some of the risks of spaceflight. After each accident, the people of NASA got together to solve the problem and make human space flight possible again.

As you go about your week today, remember the Apollo 1 Crew: Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee;

Apollo 1 Crew


the STS-51L Crew: Francis R. Scobee, Michael Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnick, Ronald McNair, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe;

STS-51L (Challenger) Crew


as well as the STS-107 Crew: Rick Husband, William McCool, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson, Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramon

STS-107 Crew

and the sacrifices they made for knowledge, understanding, and their country. Be proud of the work they have done and be hopeful for the future of spaceflight and of humanity.

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For Me, NASA Means Hope

Many people have “Where Were You When…?” dates. These are the dates that you will always have an indelible picture in your mind of where you were. My first is January 28, 1986, the day of the Challenger disaster. This is the first real experience with tragedy and I remember the experience of that day as if it were yesterday. I know that’s a weird way to start a post about NASA meaning hope, but I want to make the point about how important NASA and the Space Shuttle Program have been to me.

NASA is an agency that brings the aspirations of our nation to the forefront. It’s about coming together to do what can’t be done now. NASA is about living up our promise and pushing our limits.  NASA is about doing things, “… not because they are easy, but because they are hard” as President Kennedy put it.

For my entire life, NASA and the Space Shuttle in particular, have meant hope to me. It has represented the ability of our nation and people around the world to break the bonds of gravity and get off our planet. For a child of divorce, getting up and away from the gravity of every day life meant a lot to me. As a child, my coping mechanism was taking on the job to keep everybody else happy, but when I was thinking about space (or some other things) I was able to rise above the every day of my life and think about the pure possibilities presented by life. If humans could get to a place where even the law of gravity didn’t apply, then I could imagine a place where it wasn’t my job to make sure everyone else was happy, where what I wanted wasn’t important, in short, a place where I mattered. The fact that Astronauts are national heroes made it even better. I could imagine myself getting away from the gravity of earth and when I came back, I would be the hero… As I grew up, I began to take NASA and the Space Shuttle program for granted. As designed, the program became routine for me. There were Shuttles flying on a regular basis and it seemed far away from my daily life.

Then came February 1, 2003, my second “Where Were You When…?” date. I knew that the STS-107 mission had launched on my birthday, but didn’t think much about it. I was at the beginning of a very busy time in my job and was completely focused on that reality, not that of the seven explorers circling above my head. February 1, 2003 was a Saturday morning. I was headed in to work to try and stay on top of things. As I drove the 42 freeway miles between my home and my office, I turned on the radio and they were taking about the landing of Columbia. I figured it would be a short segment, describing the touchdown and then we would get back to regular programming. In truth, I wasn’t much listening, instead, I was thinking about the day’s work. I did, however notice that regular programming had not returned and Columbia’s landing was the still the subject of the conversation. I began to listen more closely, and realizing what had happened, I was truly taken aback. For the second time in my life, Astronauts had been lost in flight.

Between 1986 and 2003, technology had advanced greatly, so I got in to work and started doing all the research I could on the STS-107 mission, and kept up closely with the news. More important than that, my interest in NASA, the Space Shuttle Program, and space in general was rekindled. The new technology meant that when flights resumed in 2005, I was able to watch them from my desk and download a great deal of information about the mission. I was able to reconnect with the program and NASA, which was a wonderful thing.

As 2005 turned to 2006 and the second return to flight mission occurred, I was able to get more and more information about the program, watch the missions live on my computer, and feel a similar sense of wonder about space travel as I had when I was a kid. The years went on and my interest continued and grew. By the time the STS-125 mission occurred in 2009, I was a full on space geek. I was able to witness the law of gravity being broken in real-time, for the entire duration of each Space Shuttle mission.  I was also able to learn more about the program and the people who made it work.

When I joined Twitter in October of 2008, little did I know that It would lead me to attend a Space Shuttle launch, visit Mission Control and Johnson Space Center (twice) and find a community of space geeks across the world, just like me. I’ve learned that space doesn’t just mean manned space flight. It means journeys to other planets to observe and explore the surface. It means getting outside our Solar System and putting human existence into a universal perspective, as Carl Sagan did with the famous Pale Blue Dot photo taken in 1990 by Voyager 1 at a distance of 3.7 billion miles from Earth.

Voyager 1 remains the furthest human built object away from earth. It is approximately 11,061,750,600 miles from Earth today. Even more amazing is the fact that we can still communicate with it.

For me, NASA means an escape from the gravity of life and Earth. It means a community of friends who shares an interest and love for space. It means human achievement that I can share with my son and daughter. For me, NASA means hope.

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25th Anniversary of the Challenger Disaster

Wednesday morning, while getting ready for work, I put Spacevidcast’s youtube video of the STS-131 launch on my computer. I attended this launch in April of 2010 and was lucky enough to see Discovery take off from a mere 6 miles away.

It was an amazing experience. so, back to this morning, watching the replay while getting dressed. I was wandering around my room with the launch playing on my iPad. I was listening to the communication between Discovery and the ground as the shuttle went “uphill” as John Young would put it. Then I heard a call from capcom Rick Sturckow to Discovery saying, “Discovery, you are go at throttle up.” I literally ran across the room to look at the screen, to make sure that Discovery made it through the next several seconds without incident.

Think about it, the launch I was watching happened almost ten months ago and I saw it in person. I know that Discovery made it to orbit and had a very successful mission. I know that they landed safely at the conclusion of that mission. Even with that knowledge, I found myself running to the screen to make sure that Discovery got through the 73 second mark safely.

On January 28, 1986, I was in second grade. During a recess, I was playing on the playground and a friend came up to me and said, “the space shuttle exploded.” My first response was that he was testing me, to see if I would react… I said, “No, it didn’t, the Space Shuttle can’t explode.” He said, “yes it did, as it was launching this morning.” From there, the day becomes a big blur. The next thing I remember is being over at a different friend’s house in the evening working on homework. My mother was in the other room with my friends mother. The room we were in had a TV, which was tuned to the news. They were showing Challenger’s short flight over and over and over again. I’m sure that there were talking heads interspersed between the replays, but all I remember are the replays, over and over again.

In the past couple of years, my interest in space has grown again. I’ve become more aware of the time, energy, training, and effort that is put in to each Space Shuttle launch. I’ve learned more and more about the culture of NASA and how accidents like Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia happened. I’ve gained a wide array of friends who know a lot more about space than I do. I’ve very lucky in that regard.

My mind this morning is alternating between a shocked second grader, a father, a Space Tweep, and a citizen of the United States. Unsurprisingly, every part of me sees the value of space travel and knows that we need to go forward. We need to keep exploring and we need to learn more about the human race through travelling in space.

A day doesn’t go by when I don’t think about the astronauts who lost their lives on January 27, 1967, January 28, 1986, and February 1, 2003 and how their sacrifice changed each of us…

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