Saturday, January 28, 2017

Thirty-one





S
I remember the day, the hour, the moment. I remember with the kind of crystal clarity reserved for such moments. I do not know why it is, but for me the sharpest, most vibrant memories I own are those moments when I stood safely by and watched, helplessly, as shipmates, friends, acquaintances, slipped the surly bonds.

I briefly met and worked with Mike Smith and Judith Resnik ("I'm J.R.," she said, shaking my hand). It was at an Oceana conference to update plans long in place to use the Master Jet Base as a divert field for the shuttle. I'd grown, perhaps, too accustomed to rubbing shoulders with giants, thinking that meeting and working with such people was normal and routine and even my right as an exalted member of an elite community.
Jan. 9, 1986, the Challenger crew takes a break during countdown training at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Left to right are Teacher-in-Space payload specialist Sharon Christa McAuliffe; payload specialist Gregory Jarvis; and astronauts Judith A. Resnik, mission specialist; Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, mission commander; Ronald E. McNair, mission specialist; Mike J. Smith, pilot; and Ellison S. Onizuka, mission specialist. S

I wish I could remember those few hours with the same sharp clarity that seems to be reserved for tragedy alone, but I cannot.

Today I'll share the transcript of Challenger's voice recorder during the last few minutes of the STS-51L mission on January 28, 1986. As you read the last words of these men and women, I hope you can get a sense of how very large they lived, how they embraced the adventure of life and wrung every gram of zest out of experience. To paraphrase the voice -over at the end of the movie Brian's Song, the crew of Challenger had a great many loving friends who miss them and think of them often. But when they think of them, it's not only how they died that they remember, but also how they lived. How they did live.


TRANSCRIPT OF THE CHALLENGER CREW COMMENTS FROM THE OPERATIONAL RECORDER

CDR..........Scobee
PLT..........Smith
MS 1.........Onizuka
MS 2.........Resnik
(The references to "NASA" indicate explanatory references NASA provided to the Presidential Commission.)
Time Crew Crew
(Min:Sec).........Position Comment
T-2:05............MS 2..... Would you give that back to me?
T-2:03............MS 2..... Security blanket.
T-2:02............MS 2..... Hmm.
T-1:58............CDR..... Two minutes downstairs; you gotta watch running down there?
(NASA: Two minutes till launch.)
T-1:47............PLT..... OK there goes the lox arm.
(NASA: Liquid oxygen supply arm to ET.)
T-1:46............CDR..... Goes the beanie cap.
(NASA: Liquid oxygen vent cap.)
T-1:44............MS 1..... Doesn't it go the other way?
T-1:42............ Laughter.
T-1:39............MS 1..... Now I see it; I see it.
T-1:39............PLT..... God I hope not Ellison.
T-1:38............MS 1..... I couldn't see it moving; it was behind the center screen.
(NASA: Obstructed view of liquid oxygen supply arm.)
T-1:33. .........MS 2..... Got your harnesses locked?
(NASA: Seat restraints.)
T-1:29............PLT..... What for?
T-1:28............CDR..... I won't lock mine; I might have to reach something.
T-1:24............PLT..... Ooh kaaaay.
T-1:04............MS 1..... Dick's thinking of somebody there.
T-1:03............CDR..... Unhuh.
T-59..............CDR..... One minute downstairs.
(NASA: One minute till launch.)
T-52..............MS 2..... Cabin Pressure is probably going to give us an alarm.
(NASA: Caution and warning alarm. Routine occurrence during prelaunch).
T-50..............CDR..... OK.
T-47..............CDR..... OK there.
T-43..............PLT..... Alarm looks good.
(NASA: Cabin pressure is acceptable.)
T-42..............CDR..... OK.
T-40..............PLT..... Ullage pressures are up.
(NASA: External tank ullage pressure.)
T-34..............PLT..... Right engine helium tank is just a little bit low.
(NASA: SSME supply helium pressure.)
T-32..............CDR..... It was yesterday, too.
T-31..............PLT..... OK.
T-30..............CDR..... Thirty seconds down there.
(NASA: 30 seconds till launch.)
T-25............PLT..... Remember the red button when you make a roll call.
(NASA: Precautionary reminder for communications configuration.)
T-23............CDR..... I won't do that; thanks a lot.
T-15..............CDR..... Fifteen.
(NASA: 15 seconds till launch.)
T-6...............CDR..... There they go guys.
(NASA: SSME Ignition.)
MS 2..... All right.
CDR..... Three at a hundred.
(NASA: SSME thrust level at 100% for all 3 engines.)
T+O...............MS 2..... Aaall riiight.
T+1...............PLT..... Here we go.
(NASA: Vehicle motion.)
T+7...............CDR.............Houston, Challenger roll program.
(NASA: Initiation of vehicle roll program.)
T+11..............PLT..... Go you Mother.
T+14..............MS 1..... LVLH.
(NASA: Reminder for cockpit switch configuration change. Local vertical/local horizontal).
T+15..............MS 2..... (Expletive) hot.
T+16..............CDR..... Ooohh-kaaay.
T+19..............PLT..... Looks like we've got a lotta wind here today.
T+20..............CDR..... Yeah.
T+22..............CDR..... It's a little hard to see out my window here.
T+28..............PLT..... There's ten thousand feet and Mach point five.
(NASA: Altitude and velocity report.)
T+30............ Garble.
T+35..............CDR..... Point nine.
(NASA: Velocity report, 0.9 Mach).
T+40..............PLT..... There's Mach one.
(NASA: Velocity report, 1.0 Mach).
T+41..............CDR..... Going through nineteen thousand.
(NASA: Altitude report, 19,000 ft.)
T+43..............CDR..... OK we're throttling down.
(NASA: Normal SSME thrust reduction during maximum dynamic pressure region.)
T+57..............CDR..... Throttling up.
(NASA: Throttle up to 104% after maximum dynamic pressure.)
T+58..............PLT..... Throttle up.
T+59..............CDR..... Roger.
T+60..............PLT..... Feel that mother go.
T+60............ Woooohoooo.
T+1:02............PLT..... Thirty-five thousand going through one point five
(NASA: Altitude and velocity report, 35,000 ft., 1.5 Mach).
T+1:05............CDR..... Reading four eighty six on mine.
(NASA: Routine airspeed indicator check.)
T+1:07............PLT..... Yep, that's what I've got, too.
T+1:10............CDR..... Roger, go at throttle up.
(NASA: SSME at 104 percent.)
T+1:13............PLT..... Uhoh.
T+1:13.......................LOSS OF ALL DATA.

At T+15 MS2 (JR) said, "(Expletive) Hot." I have no doubt I know which expletive was uttered. I take a lot of comfort from that.


6 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. It's good, though painful, to remember. I wonder what enormous 1880's tragedy has long been forgotten?

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  2. That was back in my truck driving for the Post Office days. I had just left the Friendship,WI, PO,and was headed for Dellwood,WI,when the news was announced on Wisconsin Public Radio. So, I heard it in the cab of a Ford Louisville.

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    Replies
    1. I'm surprised how many grownups tell me "I remember watching that happen at school!" I mus be getting olden.

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  3. Damn the dust in this room I'm in.

    Paul L. Quandt

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Paul. It's one of those gut kicks.

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