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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; however, the details of weather and NASA events are based on known historical data.)

Titusville, Florida
Wednesday, January 22, 1986
High Temp: 72° F Low Temp: 46° F

Challenger main engines during STS-51F abort

It’s too bad the launch of our 25th mission was moved from today. The weather was good for most of the day. We are still go for the launch of Challenger on Friday. After Challenger we have a break until March 6th, when Columbia is scheduled to launch again.

As I’ve said, this will be Challenger’s 10th mission; however, the most problematic mission we’ve ever had in the program was her 8th mission. She was scheduled for launch on July 12, 1985 and the countdown was proceeding as planned. At 6 seconds the Orbiter’s main engines (SSMEs) began their firing sequence; however, just before the Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) were fired the computers detected a problem with one of the engines and aborted the launch. While it is a safe procedure, any abort makes everyone’s heart beat a little faster.

Launch of STS-51F - Before one Main Engine failure

Once again the Challenger had her main engines replaced while at the launch pad, which took us two weeks. Problem solved…or at least we thought.

Challenger was then rescheduled for a liftoff on July 29th. After a technical issue delayed the launch by 97 minutes Challenger finally left pad 39A on her way to orbit. Less than six minutes into the flight one of Challenger’s main engines shutdown and another engine was reaching a potential automatic shutdown, which would have caused a serious high-risk abort issue. Quick work by Mission Control and the crew overrode the computer and kept the remaining two engines burning. Unfortunately, the Orbiter could not make its planned orbit; however, the crew was able to fulfill the mission in a lower orbit.

The launch of a Space Shuttle is never routine, but by the end of this year we will be showing the world how close space can be to those who reach for it