Thursday, January 28, 2010

It's sad, really.

January 28th always had a bigger impact on me before STS-107.

I was 18 when Challenger blew apart, and it was another seventeen years before Columbia disintegrated. That kind of safety record makes it easy to forget that riding the fire is still a risky gig.

32 comments:

New Jovian Thunderbolt said...

History class. Mr Hinkledey's. Dr Dumais, the principle, came on the public address speakers and told us.

Yes, my High School Principal's name was Doctor Dumbass.

Anonymous said...

Yes, easily forgotten in a world consumed with the 'now' and no desire to remember that pushing the envelope is fraught with danger.

Gmac

Tam said...

NJT,

We were out of school that day. Went to the mall with a friend, and was walking through the electronics section at Sears. Watched it on fifty-eleven television sets...

reflectoscope said...

I seem to distantly recall watching it on the little tiny TV my parents had, not at all comprehending what it was that I was watching, but understanding that it was pretty important.

Jim

Moriarty said...

I was walking through the Student Union building at the university. The lounge area had a teevee blaring and I still remember the Y-shaped smoke plumes.

(Now, ask me where I was 43 years ago yesterday.)

Anonymous said...

I was out of school for a snow day in Middle TN.

Chris

Bitter said...

I wasn't in school yet. It's weird because most of my friends who were just a year or two older remember it clearly since they were all watching it.

The Raving Prophet said...

I was in 3rd grade. I heard about it from the janitor.

Tam, you ought to read Riding Rockets, by Mike Mullane, one of the shuttle astronauts. He points out that the shuttle was not a very good design- there was absolutely no system to safeguard the lives of the occupants, unlike every previous space vehicle. If everything did not work perfectly, the people inside were essentially screwed.

In short, in both the Challenger and Columbia losses (but especially Challenger), the people died because of the arrogance of the designers (aided and abetted by the arrogance of the bureacracy).

Hunter said...

Germany. Just took my boots off, sitting in front of the televisor. Took me some long nano-seconds to recognize that we were looking at another Grissom/White/Chaffee moment.

And yes, I do remember Apollo One.

joe said...

I, too, was home from school that day. We came inside for a break from running around and our mother pointed to the tiny TV.

NMM1AFan said...

First year of college, just back from lunch when a friend on our hall yelled "Get in here, the shuttle blew up!"

Jon said...

Just because its worth mentioning, the Raving Prophet has a point... but those escape plans?

Yah. In general they were to make you feel better about strapping what was basically a few million pounds of highly volatile explosives to your posterior. At the average acceleration any of the various systems we've used to hurtle a man into space, ejection tends to kill, and the escape doors... well you have under 3 seconds to realize you have a problem... and then you're dead.

Its risky business, always has been always will be until we come up with a better methood for breaking out of earth's gravity, while lifting a useful payload.

Stretch said...

Columbia: Driving to work and hearing CapCom's repeated calls that would never be answered.
Challenger: Telephone closet on 6B corridor, CIA Headquarters.
Apollo 1: basement listening to WMAL when they broke into "That Happy Feeling" by Bert Kaempfert.
How the Hell do our minds enable us all to remember such details?

Ed Foster said...

Lunch at a pub with guys from work, big screen in back of the bar.

What Astronaut was it who quoted Heinlein afterwards? "We pray for one last landing, on the globe that gave us birth...".

I hope their sacrifice was worth it, and someday some of us do get out there permanently.

Dave said...

Challenger - watched it in second grade. Many replays.
Columbia - watched it from a towboat on the Mississippi. When they "lost radar contact" I knew it was a goner.
Just reread "The Right Stuff" last week.

HerrBGone said...

I started to write a comment, but it turned into a full length post.

http://herrbgone.livejournal.com/147527.html

Thank you for reminding us.

Moriarty said...

How the Hell do our minds enable us all to remember such details?

Search for "flashbulb memory".

(Back when most people still knew what flashbulbs were, I almost did a thesis on it.)

Anonymous said...

Standing on my sales lot. Crisp, cold blue Florida sky was the backdrop for the tiny flame and familiar smoke trail that we'd seen several times from 100 miles away.

Except this time, suddenly there were several smoke trails, some still going upward, others trailing crazily down. Knew something was wrong, but it just didn't compute.

Went inside the office and the girls there were crying and saying that the shuttle had exploded.

Came back outside and told the customers (octogenarian snowbirds) what had happened.

They said well, that's bad, but what about the problem with the trailer they were buying?

Haven't felt the same about octogenarians or snowbirds since.

Bob in Houston said...

I was classmate and friend of Scott Smith son of Capt. Mike Smith Pilot STS-51-l, it was not a happy time around Clear Lake High School that's for sure. It seems all of our big space disasters happened right around this time of year, Apollo 1's anniversary was yesterday, Challenger's is today and Columbia's in 4 days.

Anonymous said...

Walking down a hallway in a .gov classified satellite program when a secretary poked her head out a door and spilled the news.

No access to TV's, so had to go to a friend's house that night to watch it on the news. He related that the Northrop B-2 program had shut down their entire phone system 45 seconds after it happened, but it was too late to keep everyone there from finding out also.

We'd all worked on the orbiter, and were debating all the various high-probability failures. Then we saw what happened.

It turned out to be cold-weather induced propellant slump in a solid rocket motor leading to a motor crack-equivalent flame front cutting through the rocket casing (You can see the cutting torch flame in the video right on the launch pad), and eventually right through the 17 inch main oxygen feed line leading to the top of the main tank. The oxygen in the 17 inch feed line recombined with everything in it's path and pretty much opened the external tank full of Hydrogen fuel like a zipper, converting everything to it's component atoms in the process.

The crew compartment, actually a double pressure shell construction, was blown off the top of the rest of the orbiter, and survived basically intact all the way to ocean impact.

Cracks in solid rocket motors are a standard failure method, and solid propellant rocket motors have a 4% failure rate (observed over many thousands of launches). If you want to blame this failure on someone/something, then the prime suspects are:

1) The Shuttle Program funding being cut in half at least twice during it's development, leading directly to the use of solid rocket strap-on boosters instead of liquid fuel engines, and

2) The politically correct stupidity of having a non-astronaut teacher on board that was so publicized in advanced that every news outlet on the planet wanted to see her go into space, making rational launch/no launch decisions career-enders that nobody wanted to chance (the two engineers who said they shouldn't launch for exactly the right reason were both fired after the fact).

BoxStockRacer

Divemedic said...

My high school was only 50 air miles to the Cape. I watched Challenger blow up live and in person from the outdoor lunch area of the school.

Being 17 at the time, my best friend and I used the event as an excuse to skip the rest of the day.

Jay G said...

Challenger I was in high school. Heard about it in Mr. Boyle's pre-calculus class.

Columbia I heard about it on the radio on the way to Circuit City (remember them) to buy a printer.

9/11 kinda replaced the Challenger disaster in my mind as the defining moment...

Nathan said...

Challenger: On a Metro bus (pre-IndyGo) riding back home from downtown. Turned on CNN when I got home and saw the replays.

Columbia: Sitting in a hotel room in Florida getting ready to go over to the in-laws.

9/11: Sitting in my office sipping a cup of coffee when an email came through from work that made absolutely no sense until I went to the living room and turned on Fox News...

Anonymous said...

I was picking a friend up for lunch in NYC. He had the TV on.

When the Columbia exploded I remember thinking that looks bad. Then after a second or two I understood the flight was destroyed. You could tell the NASA commentator was confused and hoping somebody would give him the word that everything was all right.

It seemed to be minutes long but I guess it lasted less than several seconds.

Gerry

jeff said...

Challenger: I was in my 6th grade class, watching the launch on TV. We still did that every time back then.

Columbia: I had just finished outproccesing, I was at the in-laws and followed it on TV.

I still have no words that can be used in polite conversation for what NASA has become.

Robert said...

Sitting in the workshop on my ship, the USS Guam. Then we sailed south from Norfolk and picked the nose cone for the booster that exploded out of the ocean, and a NASA heli came and picked it up off the deck.

Anonymous said...

I was tooling up the Gulf Freeway here in Houston when I heard the news about Challenger on the radio. Jumped off the freeway at a Stop 'n' Go and called the now ex-wife, and told her what I heard. She turned on the TV and all I could hear her say was "Oh, my God...oh dear God"...

Columbia--I was home recovering from surgery when it happened. I callled a friend and asked if he had his TV on. He said no, and then I said "Columbia broke up on reentry". I heard a mad scramble ass he searched for the TV remote while telling his wife the news...

9/ll--I was working nights, and had just woke up. I heard the DJ reporting that a second aircraft had just flown into the World Trade Center; that something serious was happening and they wouold say more ass the story developed. I went in and turned on the TV, and watched as the towers came down. I cried for most of the day, and have had a deep "disaffection" for Malicious Mo and his doctrines of hate ever since.

cap'n chumbucket.

ParatrooperJJ said...

I had been wondering how old you are...

Tam said...

ParatrooperJJ,

I'm pretty sure it says in my profile. ;)

Ian Argent said...

Home (presumably sick - as the school wasn't closed; but I honestly don't recall) listening to a portable radio for Challenger. Sitting at my desk reading Instapundit for Columbia. Standing in the doorway between the imaging room and the laptop repair bay at work when I heard that a plane hit the Pentagon (my mother worked there at the time, so it had rather more impact on me than did the WTC news despite being able to see the smoke plume from WTC later that day and having seen TV images of same. OTOH, she was on the entire other side and quite safe)

Good news - turning on the radio in my car after a job interview to hear about SpaceShip 1 (and since I got the job, a double bonus).

Anonymous said...

Like JFK moment for many the where I was moment is still crystal clear in my minds eye.

I haven't seen the film but I started a "Bucket List" just this week and no. 1. was to get up to Cape Canav and witness one of the last few launches. I've seen a few of the night launches, flaming streak. I've always been a NASA fanboy.

T.

B.S. philosopher said...

I was in the Library at Stone Middle School in Melbourne, FL. Shuttle launches were routine enough that no one was terribly excited about this one. I ran outside after the radio said there was an explosion in time to see the two SRBs shooting off in different directions and spiraling out of control.