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(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.)

Titusville, Florida
Friday, January 17, 1986
High Temp: 72° F  Low Temp: 62° F

STS-61C launches a satellite from cargo bay

For the second day in a row weather caused Mission Control to cancel Columbia’s landing. Weather was better here, but it was cloudy both here and at Edwards. They really have to land it here at KSC if we have any hope of getting the program back on schedule.

I wonder if the suits in the control room are being too cautious. The pilot has some of the most sophisticated navigation tools available in the world and he doesn’t even actually fly the Orbiter until just before the approach and landing. He just monitors the computers, and if he wanted the computers could land it for him. Visibility should not be a reason to wave off a landing.

My guess is the caution is due to the VIP on board. Nobody wants to make a bad call when a politician life is at stake and I’m sure he’s perfectly happy to have extra time in space. Still, we’re not running a tourism service and I think everyone knows Columbia has to get its wheels back on the ground as quickly as possible.

STS-61C Columbia-Representative Bill Nelson peels grapefruit

We are scheduled for 15 missions this year and no one really expects that is possible. I would guess that we could do 12 missions, but even that will not be possible if we keep having these delays. Our next launch is scheduled for next Thursday, but with the delays, I don’t see how we can be ready. 

This year is when we ramp up the program to go from exploring to occupying space. Orbiting outposts that are living and working environments are next in America’s advancement into to space. From there, bases on the Moon and Mars are not far behind. The Space Transportation System (STS) program will pave the way and I’m excited to be a part of it. We just have to get our ‘sea legs’ on launches and landings and it will all fall into place. We have 24 successful STS missions (assuming Columbia ever comes home) and the next launch will be our 25th. Space travel may never be routine, but we’re starting to understand what it will take to be the space port for the world.