All those years ago...29 to be exact... I was driving home after a 27-hour shift as commander of a Titan II ICBM crew in Little Rock, AR, when I heard it on the news. The shuttle Challenger had exploded.
I raced home, and my wife had the TV on. I watched the launch about three times, thinking in missile-man terms about what was happening with the engines, boosters, etc. Then I pointed to a pink-orange glow between the solid-fuel booster and the main tank. "That shouldn't be there," I said. I wasn't sure what it was: I just remember saying repeatedly, "It shouldn't be there." Then I decided, "It's either a burn-through from the booster or some kind of hydrogen leak." A few more viewings and the stream of expert and non-expert commentary narrowed it down. I wondered if the solid fuel had been mispoured or mishandled so there was a crack in it. It didn't occur to me at first that joint was bad: I'd seen a lot of solid-fuel rockets and missiles, in person and on TV, and I'd never seen or even read about a problem with a joint.
It turned out almost no one suspected the joint. Almost.
Goodbye Ellison, Christa, Greg, Judy, Mike, Dick, and Ron. It may be presumptuous to call them by their first names when I never met any of them. But we all knew them.
They were us.