I was at work. I was pregnant with Matthew, due in about a month. It was my husband’s grandfather’s birthday.
Mama called me, knowing my desk was out of range of a radio or TV. “The shuttle exploded,” she said. “It’s just awful.”
Dad was working at McDonnell Douglas, having retired from NASA in 1980. But Dad had worked in propulsion, aeronautics and avionics at NASA most of his career. An explosion that soon after launch meant a problem with one of those, he knew.
Later, investigations would reveal that a combination of things from design and testing flaws, to a decision to launch at colder temperatures than ever attempted before, to joints and seals all played a part. “The commission decided that since Marshall officials had prior knowledge of the hazard, the accident primarily resulted from ineffective communications and management at the Center.” says the history at the Marshall Space Flight Center site. But that’s not the whole story, the history goes on to say. MSFC officials disagreed with that conclusion, saying they communicated, and tested.
Lessons learned, as this article at Space.com, http://www.space.com/10708-shuttle-challenger-anniversary-nasa-lessons.html, says, include being aware that small mistakes have big consequences. And that when you are attempting things that have never been done before, sometimes it’s hard to see everything that might go wrong.