Thursday, January 28, 2010

Lest We Forget - Challenger 1986.

Exactly 24 years ago, at 11:38am EST on 28th January 1986, the space shuttle Challenger blew up 73 seconds into it launch from the KSC just up the road in Florida. All 7 astronauts on board were killed and as we know now, some were still alive after the explosion and may have been alive for most, if not all, of the descent before the crew section hit the water. Tragic.

In 10 days time, on Feb 7th at 4:39am EST, space shuttle Endeavour (STS-130) is due to blast off once again to supply parts to the International Space Station. There are 4 more launches due this year and when Discovery lifts of in mid September, it will be the end of an era as she will be part of the last planned shuttle mission.

As reusable workhorses, and despite 2 tragic accidents, the space shuttles have been a fantastic success story. If all the miles they have covered were laid end to end, they'd stretch all the way to the end and back !

Well, as you know, I hate those stupid comparisons. Stretch to the moon and back. Stretch 3 times around the world. I mean if you can't accept that 460,000 miles is quite a long way, I don't see how knowing that it's the distance of a return trip to the moon is going to suddenly make you realise that. I look up at the moon at night and it doesn't seem THAT far away so if anything, using that as an example of something 230,000 miles away is pretty crap.

And another thing, the distance to the moon varies from 225,622 miles to 252,088 miles thanks to its elliptical orbit around the Earth and also, no flight from terra firma to the lunar surface ever goes in a straight line as both are moving objects.

Jeez I thought yesterdays digression was bad but I'm at it again today ! Sorry.

So there are 2 shuttle launches due before I go back to England and although I'll be in bed when Endeavour takes off on Feb 7th, hopefully I'll get to see Discovery take off at a much more sensible time of 1:34pm EST on March 18th. It's such a luxury to be able to see it from the park here and even though this means getting in the golf cart and going to the park entrance to see it best, under ideal conditions, I COULD actually see it from my chair here in the house. Cool as that would be, I'll not be taking the chance of missing MY last launch and so I'll be out by the park entrance as usual.

The shuttle program, as with all space related programs, has had its fair share of critics over the years but no one can deny the guts needed to sit atop a potential bomb as the countdown approaches the 8 second mark and those main engines fire up. I still get nervous as my plane takes off so I just can't imagine how I'd feel strapped into my seat only a few inches from a massive tank of highly inflammable fuel that is about to be set on fire. A controlled fire of course but nevertheless, once that fuel is lit up, there is NO turning back.

So right now as I think about the 7 who died EXACTLY 24 years ago, I'm sure the crew of Endeavour are doing the same as they prepare for their launch.

And praying that in a few days time, they'll not go down in history for similar reasons.

Challenger Crew : RIP


rhymeswithplague said...

Good post, Ian.

You should really try to see a night launch, though, especially if you have never seen one. I will remember Apollo 17 as long as I live, and I was 175 miles south of it in Boca Raton.

Silverback said...

Well this is due to be the last night launch so I might get up early for it. Can always go back to bed !

Daphne said...

That photo of Challenger exploding will always be in my memory, and the photo of the crew too - but it is good, in a poignant way, to see them again. I find it hard to believe that it was so long ago - it made such an impression on me at the time and I'll always remember it.

Juanita said...

I will never forget that day......and where I was. We saw the Atlantis launch in Nov "up close and personal". It was awesome and yes, probably will get up to see the night you said, soon they will all be history.....

rhymeswithplague said...

Mrs. RWP and I saw -- and felt -- one daytime shuttle launch from the middle of the Indian River, having ridden down from New Smyrna Beach with others on a "luncheon cruise" with leaping dolphins for company and an occasional cormorant standing on a post drying its outspread wings.

We must have got within two or three miles of the launch pad, very close, but we were stopped by Coast Guard gunboats at the edge of the Space Center property and we could advance no further. What an awesome moment it was to feel the sound waves from the shuttle launch pass through one's body with a roar, entering the chest and departing at the shoulders.

Jay said...

I bet they are. And no doubt saying a few prayers for their souls.

It was a tragedy. Let's hope that the current program ends well, so as not to give any more fuel to the anti-space travel lobby. Hope you get a good view and enjoy the launch!

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