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Second day of remembrance (1)

On this day in 1986, the space shuttle Challenger was lost during boost. Dick Scobee, Mike Smith, Judy Resnick, Greg Jarvis, Christa McAuliffe, Ron McNair and Ellison Onizuka died in the breakup and crash of the spaceship.

May their souls rest in peace and guide those who work to carry on their dreams of the high frontier.

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5 comments to Second day of remembrance (1)

  • Walter E. Wallis

    And may the idiot who said “Take off your engineer hat and put on your management hat” burn in hell.

  • Dale Amon

    We are imperfect beings in an unforgiving frontier. If it isn’t one thing that kills us, it will be another. It is right to make people see their mistakes in hopes they will learn to not make the same mistake again. But there will always be a new and different mistake to make. If you shoot for zero defect and zero risk, you will go nowhere.

    I’m one of thsoe with a harsh frontier outlook. You slap your butt on top of a rocket and you takes your chances. If you want to live forever, stay on Earth.

    As Ben Bova said; “The meek shall inherit the Earth. The rest of us shall have left for the Stars.”

  • Dale,

    I’m with you one hundred percent on risk taking. People die on frontiers. That’s the simple truth.

    But those “managers” should also be hung out to dry. The decision to launch Challenger that day reeked of avoidable stupidity.

    People who settled the American West didn’t encourage their children to play with rattlesnakes.

  • I don’t know about the propriety of posting something here I put on Rand Simberg’s Blog last week. But since I’m the author and the piece is relevant, I thought I’d put it here as well.

    I wrote last week:

    My most interesting Challenger story comes a few years after the tragedy.

    During the 70s and 80s I did lots of dance photography. I was good enough at it that professional companies actually paid me for my work. People in the dance world knew I was into that “space stuff” but we didn’t discuss it all that much. While I’ve done my bit to promote a space based civilization, it’s not the be all and end all of my life.

    I was delighted to learn in ’88 that Dermot Burke of the Princeton Ballet (now known as the American Repertory Ballet) had choreographed a tribute to the Challenger astronauts. The ballet was quite good, even according to dance critics. What was Dermot’s connection to aerospace? Well, he’d grown up in Florida. He also had the interest many creative people had in space exploration. No obsession, but a significant interest.

    I naturally photographed the ballet and interviewed Dermot about why he did the piece. One thing sticks in my memory about that interview. Dermot wanted to know why NASA was dragging its feet about getting the shuttle flying again. I couldn’t offer any sort of explanation at the time.

    After getting the photos and interview, I approached the editor (forgotten his name — not Leonard David, though) of whatever magazine the NSS was publishing at the time (Space World? or had it switched to Ad Astra?). Their normal cover photo was usually some sort of NASA handout. I thought they’d be quite interested in this ballet tribute.

    I got a half assed brushoff.

    Later on, I did manage to peddle said photos and interview to the U.S. Space Foundation. And I did manage to get an award out of the NSS for Dermot and the company eventually.

    But that initial reaction spoke volumes about how insular and ignorant the aerospace establishment was. And Dermot’s thoughtful comments showed how the more interested general public was already reacting to the stumbling NASA bureaucracy.

  • I have an entry in my pilot’s logbook for a training flight I took that day in a Cessna C150 from a airport on Florida’s Gulf coast (Crystal River, designated X31).

    The CFI, retired Navy Capt. Tom E. Davis, was PIC on that flight (I’d not yet soloed). I was student, left seat.

    It was a beautiful clear day, and I was sweating it out “under the hood” doing power-on departure stall simulations, power-off approach stall simulations, and other exhausting maneuvers.

    Capt. Davis at one point told me to take off the hood and relax. We’d done our maneuvering inland, toward central Florida, away from Crystal River.

    Capt. Davis had taken the controls and set us up for a gradual cruise climb, without explanation. I remember seeing a pillar of white smoke ahead, far in the distance but distinct – you can see clear across the state, especially as we were passing through 4300 feet at that moment – followed by more than one twisting trail of smoke.

    I didn’t know what I was seeing. I’d seen a Shuttle launch once before, from the ground in Orlando, but didn’t make the connection. Capt. Davis at that point immediately turned the plane around and put it into a descent for Crystal River, without explanation, and with a look that told me he didn’t want to talk I didn’t try. On arrival in the standard traffic pattern (it was an uncontrolled field), he gave a curt advisory to airport traffic, then took the plane in for a straight-in landing.

    We taxied to the FBO, him still silent, then stopped the plane. He said nothing, walking grimly into the FBO, where we were greeted with what for me was the first truly jarring sight of the day, one I finally understood: a room full of crying pilots sitting in front of a television.

    At that point I understood what I’d seen.

    I haven’t told this story to many people, and never publicly. Now I’ve done both.

    I don’t believe in God, and I can’t say “Rest In Peace” for their souls. Their employer killed them through a confluence of negligence and politics. This memory is still raw for me, and I don’t expect it to soften with time.