Category / Space

Twenty eight years later, do we still remember? January 28, 2014 at 13:50


Twenty eight years ago today, the Space Shuttle Challenger made its final flight.

As young as I was when it happened, it still had a profound impact on me. At that time, my family tended to watched every launch, and I can still remember where I was in the living room about the time the stack came apart on the television screen, not quite sure what had happened until I saw the tears in my mother’s eyes.

It still leaves me saddened when I think about it at length.

Then the sadness will pass, and I will immediately become angry. Angry because, while the road to the stars is hard and sometimes will be costly, we need not make it any harder than it has to be.  The Challenger crew need not have died, it was a completely preventable incident.

It was -8 F when I woke up this morning here in Michigan, which is fitting on today of all days, because it was a similar record freeze at Cape Kennedy that caused the O-ring failure, which lead to the SRB leaking rocket exhaust at the SRB support struts, the failure of those struts, which caused the Space Transportation System Flight 51L’s stack to break apart.  This was a failure that was predicted and documented.  That engineers had brought to their management their concerns and were  ignored for political expediency, time and time again.  Management forgot their lessons.  They forgot accountability, standing up for what’s right, making the truth known.  That you’re supposed to listen to the people working for you.  That losing face is always better than losing lives.

They’d been given these lessons before, you see, when the Apollo 1 fire claimed Grissom, White, and Chaffee.  They knew better due to that sacrifice, but decided to go out and win one for the Gipper anyway.  As a result, Scobee, Smith, Onizuka, Resnik, McNair, Jarvis, and McAuliffe were all lost to that fire in the sky.

Today, on this coldest of Southeastern Michigan days, we should remember these things in our own lives, that accountability, the truth, and doing what’s right are what we should live by.  To show that the Challenger crew’s deaths were not in vain, for they paid the coldest, hardest cash possible to teach us lessons that in many ways  we really already knew, but often chose to ignore. That the truth (especially in physics!) does not care, and will play out no matter what spin we place on things.

If we remember this, and live this, then we will not discount that price, and their memory will still be honored.

“For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.” -Richard Feynman