Jan 28 1986. Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster. A day that changed my life.
I was the PM for the GBU (Ground Base Unit) for the Gamma Ray Observatory or GRO. being built at Fairchild Space Systems in Frederick MD. Shortly before lunch that day, around 11:30, the Challenger launched. We had it on the intercom at work, Houston Control Center, like we always did. We really didn’t pay much attention, as launches had become ‘old hat’. Suddenly, it became quiet in the offices and we all realized something had gone horribly wrong. The intercom was shut down and we ran to the tv’s and radios to find out what had happened. We were horrified. Grown men begain crying, hell I was crying.
No one who worked in aerospace was ever the same again. Our lives changed forever. The space program changed forever. The Challenger Disaster changed the course of space flight forever and in many ways, it changed it for the good. Safety was never taken for granted again. Manufacturing Sub-contractors were held to tighter controls and check and balances were put into place and not just signed off anymore.
Because lives were lost due to something so damn fucking simple failing…too many precious live were lost in a second, in the blink of an eye. And thousands if not millions of lives like mine were changed in that second as well.
The Space program was put on hold for what seemed like forever but was really three years. By thanksgiving of that year, the layoffs started taking place. I was layed off right before Christmas and moved back to California with my young son. It was a blessing as his health was alway bad on the east coast, he was an asthmatic and the damp weather was horrible for his condition.
I never again worked in aerospace, a job I loved so much. I never again held I job I loved as much as I loved that one. I never again held a job that was as interesting, as fun, as eye opening and ground breaking as that one.
So today, I think about where I would be if that space craft had made it’s journey. I had been slated for a big promotion. The space program had been set to move all launches to Vandenberg AFB on the coast of Central California and I was going to be part of that. I had lived there and graduated high school there. I had been so excited about the promotion and move.
I wonder how different my life would be…then I smile and sigh…and move on to something else to do with my time to take my mind off the ‘what if’…