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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
Monday, January 27, 1986
High Temp: 55° F Low Temp: 36° F

Flight deck wide-angle view of STS-51L crew all dressed up and ready to go

It is frustrating when minor issues become show stoppers. Today’s first launch from Pad 39B was thwarted by a simple tool that wouldn’t come off the hatch on Challenger as we locked the crew in the Orbiter. We finally sawed it off and then drilled out a bolt to replace it. By the time we had solved the issue the winds were unacceptable for a landing if we had to abort and bring the Challenger back. We are now scheduled for launch tomorrow morning, January 28.

The weather was cold this morning. We’ve never launched in conditions this cold, but it is a lot colder than 36 ° F only 20,000 feet above Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and the Challenger will be there about 30 seconds after launch. I guess we shouldn’t be complaining down here.

STS-51L mid-deck with rest of crew strapped in

Tomorrow’s forecast is for clear skies and temperatures to be cold overnight and not as warm tomorrow during the day. The big issue on the Launch Pad for us is whether or not the temperatures will drop below freezing tonight. We have a lot of water piped in and around the pad area and if the water in the pipes freeze and break the Challenger might not go up for several days. One option being discussed is to open valves tonight and let the water flow to keep it from freezing. Trying to heat the entire pad area is not a realistic option and any open heat source is dangerous considering the fuels we have in and around the Shuttle.

If everything goes smoothly tomorrow we will finally get Challenger on its way for its 10th mission. We are now almost a week behind on this launch because of the delays of Columbia and the weather, both here and at other abort landing sites. After the launch we have to clean up the chemical residue from the Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) and inspect the launch pad area for damage. Repairs and  maintenance will be scheduled and addressed, which is currently underway at Launch Pad 39A after Columbia’s January 12th launch. 

By this time next year we will be more like the gate at an airport with a continuous process of preparing for launch, repairing from launch, and preparing for next launch, with three active pad crews (two here at KSC and one at Vandenberg AFB.) President John F. Kennedy gave our country a dream to reach for the stars and it is exciting to watch the dream become a reality.