January 28, the 28th anniversary of the Challenger accident will be marked this year with the publication of a new ebook titled, "Challenger: An American Tragedy" by former Kennedy Space Center Director of Public Affairs, Hugh Harris, with an introduction by former center director and astronaut Robert L. Crippen.
Several dozen KSC employees were interviewed for the book. Many will find their names in it. "My biggest regret is that it is a short ebook and everyone couldn't be included. Every NASA and contractor employee who worked so hard to recover from the accident deserves credit," Harris says. "The space program is about people. Their hard work and dedication are what make it successful. The discoveries and advances in science and technology are only undertaken to benefit humankind."
In his introduction Crippen says, "This story, told by Hugh Harris, tells about the Challenger accident as only an insider could tell it. Hugh Harris was the public affairs commentator in Launch Control during the accident. He saw the whole event in vivid detail from the launch countdown to the tragic accident and its aftermath. He knew the people involved, including the crew in great personal detail. The accident shook NASA and me personally to our very core."
Within minutes after the accident, the NASA investigation into its cause got underway. The Joint Chiefs of Staff authorized significant military resources for the search for the Challenger crew and debris that might help pin point the source of the accident.
President Ronald Reagan cancelled the State of the Union message to Congress scheduled for later that day and instead addressed the nation that evening. Vice President George H.W. Bush flew to KSC to comfort the families and reassure the launch team that the program would continue.
The dedicated work force, along with the help of a Presidential Commission, quickly found the cause of the accident. Fixing it took a bit longer. But after two and a half years the space shuttle was flying again.
Before it was discontinued it made the construction of the International Space Station possible. The space station is a major national laboratory for research on problems affecting life and health on Earth, and is helping enable us to venture farther from Earth. It has had a crew on-board continuously for 14 years now. Harris adds, "Unfortunately, there was a lapse in lessons we thought were learned when Columbia was destroyed on re-entry in 2003. But the important thing is we honored the lost crews by moving forward.
"One of the goals of the book," Harris says, "is to emphasize that the real tragedy of an event like Challenger is the loss of people and the accomplishments and inspiration they would have contributed to humankind. This thought applies not only to the astronauts but also to the many managers, scientists, engineers and technicians whose work was delayed or sidetracked for more than two years.
The Challenger accident slowed down the building of the International Space Station and a number of other programs. However, the book points out the work continues today and even the lessons learned are taught in engineering classes across the country to help numerous professions.
The book concludes by detailing many contributions to our daily lives that grew out of the tragedy.