(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.)
Monday, January 20, 1986
High Temp: 66° F Low Temp: 48° F
We are now four days from the launch of Challenger on the STS mission 51L. The decision was made to push back the date to Friday the 24th. I think that will be a great way to end our week.
Challenger is our second space-qualified Orbiter. Columbia was the first. Challenger has been responsible for nine of 24 completed missions, and at times Challenger has been challenging.
While most civilians know Challenger by its name, we know it as OV-099 (technically: Orbiter Vehicle-099;) however, that was not its original designation because initially it was not intended to fly.
Because of the lack of computer simulations, STA-099 (Structural Test Vehicle-099) was built to be a full-scale test model to determine if the design would meet stress expectations without failing. The contract to build it was awarded on July 26, 1972, but construction didn’t begin until November 21, 1975. After a year of testing was decided that it would be quicker and less expensive to refit STA-099 for space flight rather than rebuild the original air-flight test vehicle we know as Enterprise (OV-101.) The conversion of STA-099 to OV-099 began on January 28, 1979, which, in eight days, will be exactly seven years ago.
Challenger rolled out of the Palmdale assembly facility on June 30, 1982 and arrived at KSC on July 5th. Challenger was prepped for its first flight, which was scheduled for January 20, 1983, but while it sat on Launch Pad 39A testing revealed a hydrogen leak in one of the main engines. Subsequently, Challenger had to have her main engines removed for repairs while sitting on the launch pad. One of the engines had to be completely replaced.
Challenger problems did not end with the engines. A severe storm contaminated the payload while she sat on the pad. The payload had to be decontaminated. Challenger finally was successfully launched on her maiden flight on April 4, 1983, 51 months after the conversion began.
More on this ship’s history tomorrow.