Shuttle Challenger, January 28, 1986
For those that don’t recognize this, this was an Air Force vehicle pass. It took you to a great viewing area just south of the launch pads. To me, they were better than the NASA vehicle passes and we were definitely closer, only the VIP viewing area was closer. This was the last time the Air Force would issue vehicle passes, the day was January 28, 1986 and it was for the launch of the shuttle Challenger. It was the 25th shuttle launch and the first from LC-38B. It would also be the first loss of a shuttle.
I would get these passes from my father who worked for Martin Marietta. When I got these passes I would walk along US-1 and try to find people who came the greatest distance and convince them I wasn’t a serial killer and take them along with me to view a launch up close. I’ve taken people from Alaska, Canada, and Germany and many states in-between. That morning though, I didn’t want to find anyone. Maybe it was the cold or maybe it was something else but for some reason I didn’t want to take anyone with me and that was a first. I’m glad I didn’t.
You could tell those who had never seen a launch before. When the shuttle first exploded I heard…..there is always a bright light when the boosters come off. My reply was “It’s too soon and it doesn’t look like that, it blew up.” Speakers still rattled off the flight information and then came the announcement of a serious malfunction.
I remember this day well. I was there when it happened. The Air Force stopped their vehicle passes after that day for fear of the danger of falling debris if it ever happened again, but it didn’t stop me from continuing my missions. I soon started to receive NASA passes from an ex-brother-in-law and was there again 32 months later for the Return to Space launch of Discovery. People wore green ribbons–green for go and I was even interviewed by a local TV station. I continued to take people out for launches until my source stopped working for NASA.
Some may view the space program as a waste of money. I beg to differ. All one has to do is look about their home and innovations initially developed by NASA are all around. These range from scratch-resistant lens coating on glasses, mattresses, pillows, chair lifts and ergonomic chairs to water filters and improved air conditioners.
The smoke detectors that save thousands of lives a year were developed for use on Skylab; cordless power tools; appliances and telephones that now have become everyday household items were first made for the Apollo missions. Radial tires and the Global Positioning System (GPS) to find a destination or favorite fishing hole are also the result of NASA research. For play, there are golf clubs and balls, sporting goods lubricants, and automotive insulation used by NASCAR.
Firefighting gear developed for the launch pads now protect race-car drivers and firefighters worldwide. In the area of health care, innovations include an infrared thermometer, body imaging and mammogram breast biopsy. The sensors that told NASA that John Glenn’s heartbeat was A-OK during the Mercury mission are now used in intensive care units around the world. A pump designed for the Mars Viking Lander has evolved into insulin pumps used by some diabetics. Live coverage on TV showing news as it happens, weather both current and forecasted, and sports events isn’t from just the local cable company but from many space satellites. The first laptop computer also was developed for the space industry.
NASA is one of the few government agencies that has a return on money spent. For every $1 spent on NASA, $10 is returned to the economy because of their innovations. We need to remember those who gave their life in pursuit of science. Few people realize just how much NASA has had an impact on their lives and some may owe their very life to their innovations.