Tag Archives: shuttle

Shared History

Challenger Memorial at Arlington
Challenger Memorial at Arlington

Twenty-nine years ago today, the space shuttle Challenger was destroyed in a horrific explosion just a minute into their mission.  And I have almost no knowledge or memory of what happened after that.

You see, that was the day I joined the US Air Force.

I was in Knoxville TN, at the MEPS station, awaiting time to ship out to San Antonio TX and six weeks of basic military training.  I watched the launch, and stepped away to the restroom, returning to the news that Challenger had been destroyed.

A few hours later, I was on a plane to Lackland AFB, and for six weeks, I heard no news about Challenger.

During my basic training, there was flow of news, and that was by design.  We were supposed to focus on becoming members of America’s fighting machine.  And we did.

In those weeks of isolation, rumors ran rampant among those of us learning to march, shoot and obey orders.  The story we heard the most:  The Russians.  They destroyed Challenger.

I can remember one afternoon when we were in the dorms, and heard the base air raid sirens go off.  We began putting mattresses in the windows (as we were instructed to do), until the all clear was sounded.  With the heightened rumors about the potential Russian influence, we definitely took the sirens seriously.

Every now and then, we’d find an instructor who would tell us some news of the investigation, which helped squelch the rumors for a while, before they spun up again.  It seemed the lack of information was a breeding ground for misinformation.

And now, almost three decades later, I still hear things about the mission and investigation that I’ve never heard before.  It’s as though I was in a coma during much of the first quarter of 1986, and occasionally, it’s all new to me.

Today, I won’t get on my soapbox about our country’s seeming lack of dedication to space exploration, and the benefits we’ve garnered from that.  I won’t pontificate on my view that we may need a way to escape this planet someday, and might find ourselves with no way out due to shortsightedness.

It’s all about the Challenger astronauts today, and the memory of those souls taken home far too early.

Where Were You?

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Challenger disaster in 1986. For folks of my generation, this was likely the biggest “where were you” events — although I’d contend, from a personal perspective, that the assassination of John Lennon in December 1980 was also a “where were you” event for me.

For me, I was sitting in the MEPS station in Knoxville TN, awaiting transportation to Lackland AFB TX for the beginning of my military term in the US Air Force. I saw the shuttle launch, and seeing it off the platform, I walked away to use the restroom. When I got back, someone said that the shuttle had exploded, and of course, I thought they were kidding. They weren’t.

The Challenger disaster is a surreal event for me. I saw the event itself on TV, but in just a matter of hours, I was dropped into a news blackout. You see, in basic training, we didn’t have access to television news or the newspapers, and were blind to what happened next. There were rumors running around in the dorms that the shuttle was destroyed by the USSR. This view was so strong that one afternoon, when the air attack sirens were accidentally sounded, we started to secure the dorm against a blast. It was that serious.

When we’d get the chance, we’d ask our class instructors about the shuttle, and what was taking place, but it was news through a filter, and of course, part of being in basic training is focusing on the training, and not much else. Until I graduated from Lackland in March, I’d heard very little about the investigation, and was really in the dark about much of the aftermath.

Even to this day, when documentaries about the crew and mission are shown, I learn new things that I’d missed due to being “sequestered” for the six weeks following the disaster. For a kid raised on Apollo and Skylab, being in the dark during this event was definitely troubling, and a part of the “where were you” for me.


There’s an scenario out there called The Slashdot Effect. This is driven by the mention of some website in a story on Slashdot, and is the effect of the subsequent flood of traffic to the site mentioned in the story. Frequently, this crashes websites, and is more than a little irritating to the website owner and the network provider supplying its pipe.

Now, magnify that by a gazillion. That’s what NBC did tonight.

On the Nightly News, NBC reported on the floating tool bag accidentally lost during the shuttle mission, and mentioned that a website that shows the tracking of the bag was linked off their site. Like any good monkey, I swung from webvine to webvine. Apparently, I wasn’t alone, and found that the tracking site was cratered. No response. Not a whisper. (BTW, it appears — from the domain name — that this is an individual ham radio operator’s site.)

I can’t imagine the number of folks trying to hit that site, all at once, and probably at a substantially higher rate for days or weeks. I sure hope the webmaster has a lot of time on his hands. I suspect there will be quite a bit of webdust to sweep up after this little event!