In 1986, I was working about 45 miles south of Cape Canaveral. I am
not a conspiracy theorist but there are certain things that raise the
eyebrow and to this day do not really have answers, nor do they appear
in any conspiracy theories. Why?
1. How did the escape door get fixed so quickly from the scrubbed launch on January 27?
2. Why did NASA launch in sub freezing weather?
3. Why was film confiscated from guests viewing on NASA property?
4. Why did it take so long to recover the bodies?
5. Why do conspiracy theorists never ask these questions?
I'll have to set the scene: In January 1986, The public was bored with space travel.
NASA Select was not carried by most cable companies, there was one cable news channel,
and the Internet did not exist, people listed to music on vinyl albums and cassette
tapes, and cameras used film. Remember these points as you read on.
On January 27, 1986, Challenger stood poised on the launch pad ready for launch.
Do you school kids of '86 remember that? After the crew entered the shuttle the door
was secured using the handle which resembles large wheel similar ones on a bank vault door.
Then the nightmare started. The handle, which had to be removed prior to launch
could not be removed. The bolt securing the handle was corroded and was stripped in place.
NASA really wanted to launch. They still had several hours left in the window.
They decided to bore it out with a drill.
Since launch was imminent, nothing was close by. The closest portable drill was
five miles away in the VAB. It took about 20 minutes to get a drill up to the white room.
And what? It had a low battery and could not produce enough torque to drill out the bolt.
Another 20 minutes and another drill was delivered. If you watched it on NASA
select you could see flying shrapnel as the drill devoured the bolt.
Normally a bolt with a counter sunk head is reinserted in the hole after the handle
You cannot fly with a hole in the door. NASA was concerned that the leading edge
would present a problem during reentry. So it was covered with thermal tape. By then
the launch window ran out and the mission was postponed.
So did they replace the whole door? I remember thinking that it would take a couple of
weeks to fix it before the launch was attempted. Silly me.
In 1986, I was an electrical engineer at a large industrial company and
by night I was a silent partner at a record store. One of the part time record store
employees had a friend who recorded NASA Select and showed the video of the drilling.
Did anyone see this live from their classroom?
I woke up freezing the morning of January 28, 1986. It was the coldest morning
of the year. A front came through overnight. I was late for work and to be honest
I had forgotten completely about the launch. New door, better weather. Two weeks tops.
I flipped on the radio and hear the countdown in progress (T-2 hours or something).
I was flabbergasted!
That morning a 9 am meeting was scheduled to discuss the integration of
a new product. The vendor was it. The meeting wrapped up about 1130. As we walked into
the hallway, someone said 'The shuttle just exploded'. I chuckled and turned to the
vendor, who was not a local, and said, "He probably means it just launched. Lets go
look, we should be able to see the contrail."
We braved the cold and walked outside. Sure enough there was a contrail. But it ended in a Y in mid sky. It looked stranger than other launches. It wasn't until I went back inside
and saw a crowd huddled around a radio that I fully realized that it had "exploded".
I moved to Brevard County, Florida in 1980. In April 1981, I was fortunate to
get a car pass to view the initial shuttle launch from the NASA Causeway on KSC property.
These were initially available to contractors. The general public views it from
other causeways and locations.
We piled 12 people into a van and camped out overnight. A public address system was set
up and carries the voice of mission control. You can see the shuttle on the pad. It
had an eerie feeling like that reminded me of Devils Hill scene in Close Encounters.
I kept waiting of the announcement: "There is a negative gravity region below the ship".
I had my 35mm Nikon with 85-205 Vivitar zoom lens. There were many, many others with
telescopes and huge lenses.
Did you know that after Challenger exploded, the NASA causeway was shutdown and
a scene from Men in Black occurred. Every camera was confiscated. Film was removed.
People did get their film back. That was several weeks later. It was processed by NASA (free of charge). People were told that NASA needed to see if someone had caught
something on film that their multimillion dollar optics tracking system missed. Huh?
Do you remember President Reagan speech in Houston at the memorial a week later?
There were no bodies. They had not been recovered yet.
I knew several people who had commercial diving and skipper licenses
and ran fishing and diving charters out of Port Canaveral.
After the disaster NASA put top priority on finding the Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs)
which were the "smoking guns". The Navy and NASA subcontracted local mariners and divers
including some that I knew.
After the bodies were recovered, one told me that on many occasion while searching
the debris field his boat came close to the grid where the crew capsule was eventually
found. Every time they got close, the Navy sent them to another grid to search.
It was like they were saving the bodies for last.
Years later, I was at Jetty Park which was on the southside of Port Canaveral.
I met a retired person who said he witnessed the crash. He said he visually
tracked the crew cabin until it impacted the ocean. Using dead reckoning
skills he learned in scouting and boating, he took a bearing and noted landmarks.
He gave this information to someone and watched. And watched. Day after day, he would say
"They are searching in the wrong place". When they finally search that grid,
he told his friends on shore "That's where it is". That night, under the cover of darkness,
flag draped bodies were brought in. Why did it take so long?
The employee from the record store showed me NASA Select video from January 28. There are ice all over the launch complex.
The broadcast feed went off the air abruptly after the explosion.
When President Reagan delivered the State of the Union Address, which was
originally scheduled for the evening of January 28, 1986, he announced a mission
to develop a National Aero Spaceplane called the Orient Express.
It would have been nice to
have a shuttle in orbit for that. It should have been in orbit on January 27.
Two postponements would have looked bad for NASA. Conspiracy? I think NASA was
eager to launch. I don't think the White House ordered them to launch,
but I think they knew that had to perform.