Saturday, January 28, 2006

Remembering Challenger

Like everyone else of a certain age, I remember exactly where I was when Challenger exploded in 1986. I had just returned from class to my dorm room at NC State. As a junior mechanical engineering student, the disaster really registered with me. Several of our faculty members played significant roles in the early space program, and one played a primary role in the development of the space shuttle. Their history with the space program was woven into the curriculum.

I recall that a freshman uber-geek named Darrell in the dorm room next to mine correctly diagnosed the Challenger o-ring problem immediately after the explosion. I thought Darrell was talking out of his ass, but he was proved right over time. I often wondered what happened to him.

I also remember the explosion occurred on my parent's 20th wedding anniversary. That a national event occurred on a significant family day has become a common through the years. Elvis died on my 11th birthday, and Len Bias died on my sister's 15th birthday. Bobby Kennedy was assassinated on my mother's 21st birthday, and Ronald Reagan died on her 57th birthday. The launch pad fire that killed three Apollo astronauts occurred on my dad's 20th birthday. You might want to lay low on August 16 this year when I turn 40.

I have written previously about Roger Boisjoly, the engineer who tried to prevent the Challenger disaster, and a good friend of mine whose company is a major NASA contractor today.


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