30 years ago today, NASA was forever changed.
The U.S. space agency’s space shuttle Challenger launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
But shortly after liftoff, with live cameras rolling, the shuttle broke apart and dropped Atlantic Ocean, killing all seven crew members. It was the celebrated U.S. space agency’s first inflight tragedy. And like the assassination of President John F. Kennedy or 9/11, Americans remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when it unfolded.
The tragedy was probed and many questions asked. But in 2003, the space shuttle Columbia broke apart while re-entering the atmosphere, killing all seven crew members on board.
Despite the grave losses, NASA pulled itself out its institutional trauma and looked again to the future.
In the three decades since those disasters, the agency has put multiple rovers on Mars and completed the International Space Station – just two examples of triumph over tragedy.
Challenger Disaster 30 Years Later
Francisco Polidoro Jr. – The Monitor
We would think that after the Challenger explosion, a similar failure at NASA would not be an option. But learning waned as meeting deadlines and the desire to avoid launch delays became increasingly important. This gradual forgetting was at the root of the [space shuttle] Columbia disintegration. Once again, management started viewing potential problems as acceptable and shifted attention to launch schedules and cost-cutting measures.
Internally, avoiding new failures for a certain period creates a false sense of security in the organization. What used to be cause for concerns starts to be seen as normal. Attention shifts to other goals, such as launching new products or increasing sales. Cost-cutting measures resume. Employees leave the company, new executives take the helm. These changes add up and the organization gradually forgets what it has learned at great expense.
“I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery.” President Ronald Reagan
Watch Reagan’s remarks to the Nation after the Challenger Disaster:
30 Years After Space Shuttle Challenger Exploded, Kids Still Inspired
Beth Kasaab – Orlando Sentinel
Today grade schoolers can tap into astronaut Scott Kelly’s Instagram account with a few thumb swipes for real-time updates from the space station….
Today’s kids can also take part in life-like space simulations at schools in 27 states and four countries made possible by the Challenger Center, a group started by the families of the Challenger astronauts….
Challenger and, later Columbia, certainly exposed flaws in NASA’s culture and procedures. Nothing, though, can dampen the passion for taking people farther than they have ever been before.
“We as humans are explorers and even if you look back to our most ancient civilizations we looked to the stars,” said Bush of the Challenger Center, which is also supported by the families of the Columbia astronauts. “That is an inherent part of us.”
We Never Should Have Mothballed the Space Shuttle
Leroy Chiao – Scientific American
In the aftermath of Challenger, there was never any doubt about continuing, never the thought of quitting. After the Columbia accident almost seventeen years later, however, the program was wound down over the next eight years. Once construction of the International Space Station was completed, the Shuttles were grounded and the shuttle program ended.
I think that was a mistake.
Nothing like this had ever been proposed before, let alone actually built or operated. Nothing has replaced it since. We gave up on this wonderful machine, because it was deemed too risky and expensive. But we knew about the risks going in. As for cost, take a look at the astronomical costs of current space vehicle programs and tell me that Shuttle was too expensive to continue to operate.