Challenger and Me

Challenger, the second Orbiter, and the only one I never had a personal encounter with. I arrived at JSC a little too late to catch her stopover at Ellington as she was delivered to KSC, and I never visited KSC or saw an operational Orbiter until after she was destroyed.

Despite that, in the early part of my career Challenger was my favorite Orbiter. I started work on the SMS on June 13 1984, and Challenger launched on the STS-7 mission just 5 days later. I was super impressed, because this was the second flight of the second Orbiter! We had a fleet here at NASA! This mission was famous for being Sally Ride's first flight making her the first US woman in space. This was also the first mission on which the Orbiter was photographed in space by another vehicle (in this case the SPAS which had been deployed from the Orbiter). This iconic picture, with the arm placed in the shape of a 7, is still one of my favorites from the entire program.

Challenger was important as well because many improvements had been incorporated into her design since Columbia was built. Just the fact that there was a second, different Orbiter forced a lot of changes into the simulator so that the proper Orbiter could be simulated for each mission.

When Challenger was destroyed in early 1986 I had left the SMS and was working on Air Force simulators. The shock of the accident made me reconsider what I really wanted to do and I went back to the SMS contract, which had just been awarded to a new contractor. While the SRB design was being fixed, NASA implemented many other safety fixes and design improvements into the Orbiter fleet. We were kept super busy simulating all these changes. This picture shows me in my office late in the launch campaign for STS-27, the "Return to Flight" mission. The whiteboard behind me lists various dates and events leading up to the launch. I would end up leading the effort to redesign the SMS main engine model during this time, which when we started, still only simulated the de-rated engines that had been used on the first Columbia missions. This was a wonderful, busy, rewarding time for me and it's ironic that it resulted from a tragic and completely avoidable accident.

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