This afternoon as I watched a documentary about a tragedy. I
whispered an expletive followed by, “And you can go to hell. For real.” It was
after William Lucas a former director of NASA Marshall Space Flight Center stated
many years later in a documentary of 2020, “I would have made the same decision
to launch as I had back then….” Lucas continued, “I did what I thought was
right in light of the information I had, and if I were going over it with the
same information I had. I’d make the same decision.” Yet it was clear that he
had knowledge that the launch could be compromised if the outside temperatures
were below 53 degrees Fahrenheit. It was 38 degrees at the time of the launch
of the shuttle Challenger on January 28th, 1986. Lucas repeated in
the documentary that they needed to stay on schedule. I then whispered to
myself, “Who were we still racing? The Russians?” I knew that they weren’t
fairing well in general in January 1986.
I sat back and watched as William Lucas who had repeatedly
talked about accepting risks. I now saw William Lucas as not only a stubborn
old coot, but someone who’d also harmed the people of the United States
financially, physically, and emotionally. Also, too a large extent I saw Lucas
as a murderer. I worked for the chemical company that had made the fuel for the
shuttle Challenger, they were downsizing and merged with a French company. I
lost my job. I then worked in defense contracting and knew when pay freezes and
layoffs would arrive a handful of years later, we’d lay off people from nearly
I remember looking at the numbers, and knowing we were ready
to layoff many in Research and Development. Marching down with the financial
budget planning papers in my hand to meet the engineering director and his
underling. I was all of about age 29. They had to lay off about 25 white collar
workers in engineering. I was sent by my director. He knew these two older men
would be freaking out and would scream at him, so he sent me. I was fine with
it. Why? I despise deadwood greatly. But what hurt me was seeing us having to
require laying off some of our Research & Development (R & D) guys. I
knew why. Yet, I’d always felt they were perhaps some of the most important
people in the success of defense contracting companies.
So, today as I watch “Challenger: The Final Frontier” series
now on Father’s Day. I wondered what drew me to watch it at this particular day
and time. I normally would be working but am off for the federal holiday today.
Tuesday, January 28th, 1986, my husband and I were in Stowe Vermont.
It was one of the coldest days I could ever remember there. It was 80 below or
worse with windchill factor on Mt. Mansfield, he got two ski runs in and ended
up with frostbite. I went out for five a mile run near the mountain base, which
was about 45 below with the windchill factor. I got hypothermia. Then dragged
my shivering butt back as my face went numb. I thought it was fifteen degrees
above. I can handle ten below. But this I was not ready for.
After recovering in our hotel room, I passed out with the
television on and awoke two hours later to Dan Rather’s special report. It was before
noon, as the devastating news arrived about the Challenger disaster. My husband
soon arrived and heard the news.
I realized today why I chose to watch this documentary, it
is Father’s Day and my husband loved anything about Space, Rockets, and the
like. He was a sort of Trekky if you will.---Jody-Lynn Reicher