Thirty years ago today, 74.130 seconds after liftoff, the Challenger fell.
I want to write a long story about this – to tell the story of the people aboard and the people on the ground, of the crew and of the people who studied what happened, of the things that we learned and changed, of all the things we should remember about that day. But thirty years later, it still hurts too much for me to write it.
I can still see the two SRB's spinning out of control after the airframe disassembled, forming two horns coming out of an oddly round cloud, if I close my eyes. I can still remember the utter confusion and disbelief that followed, as nobody could even tell, at first, if they had actually seen what they thought they saw. I remember being so upset, that night, not being able to fully wrap my heart around it. And nightmares still sometimes wake me, of rockets falling out of a perfectly blue sky.
To the seven who gave their lives that day – CDR Francis R. Scobee, pilot Michael J. Smith, mission specialists Ellison S. Onizuka, Judith A. Resnik, and Ronald E. McNair, and payload specialists Gregory B. Jarvis and S. Christa McAuliffe – you are not forgotten.
Photo: STS-51L as it cleared the tower, approximately T+2.7 seconds, 16:38:02 UTC, January 28th, 1986, seventy seconds before it began to disintegrate. The fatal failure of the O-ring on the right booster had already happened. Image KSC-86PC-0081, from NASA.