(NOTE: The following is a fictionalized account of the 15 days in January 1986 leading up to the Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster. The character’s account is fictional; however, the details of weather and Space Shuttle events are based on known historical facts.)
Thursday, January 16, 1986
High Temp: 69° F Low Temp: 52° F
They waved off the Columbia landing today. Weather conditions here and at the backup landing site at Edwards AFB were unacceptable. It was drizzly here today and cloudy in California. Personally, I think that landing at Edwards should only be an emergency. When an Orbiter lands at Edwards it costs over $1.5 million dollars to get it back here and we lose a week in turnaround time. If we can’t land because the weather at Kennedy Space Center we could wait for several days and still save money and time on the recovery of the Orbiter.
Atlantis (STS-61-B) was the last mission and it landed at Edwards on October 7th and it was October 12th before it was back here. Once it got back here we had the fastest turn around in the history of the program. Atlantis was out to the launch pad by November 12th. Had it landed here at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) it would have been ready to go by November 7th. The only reason to land at Edwards is if the next launch for that vehicle will be from Vandenberg AFB, and our first launch from there isn’t going to happen until July.
Of course, delays have their costs, too. Every time we scrub a landing or launch we are wasting money because we all get paid whether the Orbiter comes or goes,…or doesn’t. Still, if we are going to prove the value of the program we need to be able to get the Orbiters back in the air as quickly as possible, and that means landing at KSC.
Fortunately, tomorrow will be warmer and hopefully dryer. It should be a good day for a landing. Columbia has been a pain in the neck. It should have been up and down by Christmas and now were almost a month later and still waiting for it to land. Once Columbia is back home we are scheduled to launch Challenger next week.