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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 on the 28th of that month; however, the details of weather and NASA events are based on known historical data.)

Titusville, Florida
Sunday, January 26, 1986
High Temp: 66° F Low Temp: 48° F

Launch Rats working on the hydrogen fuel line

What’s next? One of the people on the launch pad team (we’re known as ‘Launch Rats’) likes to say, “What’s next?” He rarely stops moving. Once he’s completed one task he wants to move on. That is a great philosophy to have at NASA. We are constantly facing a new task or issue as we prepare for each launch and in order to address them all we have to keep moving.

That’s also what we have done in the American space program. It was a major achievement to get to the Moon and back, but that was only one task. We started out behind the U.S.S.R. in space technology, but we now are in the pilot’s seat in determining the future of space exploration. U.S.S.R is copying our Shuttle design so they can also have a reusable space vehicle, but they are at least a decade behind us.

Our family of Orbiters have the capacity to build a massive space station, much larger than the Soviet space station that is rumored to be launched sometime this year. Once we have a platform in space we can prepare for extended missions to the Moon or Mars without the current limitation of a single rocket’s lift capabilities. That is what’s next for America’s space program.

Tomorrow, pending good weather, we will send Challenger on its way, and before they are in orbit we have a Launch Rat that will be saying, “What’s next?”