That time stamp may not mean much today to today's generation. However, to those who were alive twenty-five years ago, this time stamp, on the twenty-eighth day of January, in the Year of Our Lord One Thousand Nine Hundred Eighty-Six, the time stamp does reflect a time where people ask where they were twenty-five years ago that time.
Coming up on the 30-second point in our countdown...T-Minus 30 seconds and we've had a go for auto-sequence start...
The solid rocket booster hydraulic power units have started...T-Minus 21 seconds...and the solid rocket booster engine gimbal now underway...
T-Minute Fifteen Seconds. T-Minus ten, nine, eight, seven, six, we have main engine start, four, three, two, one, and liftoff! Liftoff of the 25th Space Shuttle Mission (51-L) and it has cleared the tower.
Good roll program confirmed . . . Challenger now heading downrange . . .
Engines beginning throttling down now at 94 percent. Normal throttle for most of the flight is 104 percent, we'll throttle down to 65 percent shortly. Engines at 65 percent . . . three engines running normally . . . three good fuel cells . . . three good APU's . . . Velocity 2,257 feet per second, altitude 4.3 nautical miles, downrange distance three nautical miles. Engines throttling up . . three engines now at 104 percent
The word was innocently given to me as an afterthought after lunch at the parochial school I had attended by a kindergarten teacher who is the mother of a friend from school at the time. When I did my homework that afternoon I had the radio tuned to the local radio station, where ABC Radio (now Citadel Radio) broadcast non-stop news coverage on the local station.
Mission Control: Challenger, go at throttle up.
Commander Scobee: Roger, go at throttle up.
Back then, the local radio station offered ABC News on the hour, Paul Harvey at 8:30, 12:06, and 5:30, Ned Jarrett at 12:20, farm updates at 12:25, South Carolina News Sports Talk at 6:05, and Bruce Williams at 8 along with Gamecock sports – which is vastly different than today's local radio stations which only play junk music.
One minute, Fifteen seconds . . . Velocity 2,900 feet per second . . . altitude nine nautical miles . . . Downrange distance seven nautical miles.
Flight controllers here looking very carefully at the situation . . . Obviously a major malfunction . . . We have no downlink.
We have a report from the Flight Dynamics Officer that the vehicle has exploded. Flight Director confirms that. We are looking at checking with the recovery forces to see what can be done at this point.
After homework and dinner, along with a continuous pipe of WDIX radio (now defunct) to catch updates on the disaster, it dawned on me that it was a disaster like no other I knew. After homework and dinner, the television was on the disaster for the whole evening. It was the first time I had witnessed a national tragedy of this proportion. And it was devastating to a nation in a fight against the Soviets.
Contingency procedures are in effect.
We will report more as we have information available. Again, to repeat, we have a report relayed through the flight dynamics officer that the vehicle has exploded. We are now looking at all the contingency operations and awaiting word from any recovery forces in the downrange field.
This is Mission Control Houston. We have no additional word at this time. Reports from the flight dynamics officer indicate that the vehicle apparently exploded and that impact in the water at a point approximately 28.64 degrees north, 80.28 degrees west. We are awaiting verification from . . . as to the location of the recovery forces in the field to see what may be possible at this point, and we will keep you advised as further information becomes available. This is Mission Control.
This is Mission Control Houston. We are coordinating with recovery forces in the field – range safety equipment, recovery vehicles intended for the recovery of the (solid rocket boosters) in the general area. Those parachutes are believed to be paramedics going into that area. To repeat, we had an apparently normal ascent with the data coming to all positions being normal.
Up through approximately the time of main engine throttle back up to 104%, at approximately a minute or so into the flight there was an apparent explosion, the Flight Dynamics Officer reported. Tracking reported that the vehicle had exploded and impacted the water in an area approximately located at 28.64 degrees north, 82.8 degrees west. Recovery forces are proceeding to the area, including ships and a C-130 aircraft. Flight controllers reviewing their data here in Mission Control. We will provide you with more information as it becomes available. This is Mission Control Houston.
It was horrific and was something to a ten-year old was seriously wrong. And it was tragedy that I had never known. I was not born when Kennedy or King were assassinated, and I was never knowing of the death of Presley. But this was a disaster, one of three major “breaking stories” that have stood as major points to me. There would be two more such “breaking” stories, and they occurred within months of each other. Those will be discussed later in the year. But on this day, we remember those names. Francis Richard Scobee. Michael J. Smith, Ellison S. Onizuka, Judith A. Resnik, Ronald E. McNair, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Gregory B. Jarvis.
All lost twenty-five years ago on this day we remember.
There was only one live broadcast of this flight. The networks were airing their daytime programming as regularly planned, believing these were normal and successful.
NASA Film: Backup Barbara Morgan observes 51-L:
The Missing Man Flight
On the ten-year anniversary of the disaster, on January 28, 1996, a Missing Man formation was flown during the flyover for Super Bowl XXX. The flyover was led by the son of Challenge commander Francis R. Scobee as a tribute to his late father.
On August 8, 2007, after an attempt in 2003 was scrubbed because of another tragedy in the sky, redemption had finally come for a goal of 51-L, twenty-one years later, on STS-118. This time, backup Barbara Morgan finally had her chance, and this time she would serve all two weeks and come home safely. It took over twenty-one years, but NASA's Teacher in Space mission was finally complete.
The shuttle landing.
One more archive: Inside 51-L that day. ◙