What Was It Like to Be at NASA During the Challenger and Columbia Disasters

Answer by Clayton C. Anderson, 2-time ISS astronaut; 6-time spacewalker, 30-year NASA employee (retired)

I witnessed both of these disasters live; but in very different contexts.

For Challenger, I was not yet an astronaut. Still an aerospace engineer, working in the Mission Planning and Analysis Division (MPAD), we were devising ways for space shuttles to approach and dock with some of the new (and quite varied) space station configurations (Power Tower, Delta, SOC, etc.). I was seated in a meeting — discussing various aspects of how to safely approach and dock while using minimal fuel — on the sixth floor of NASA JSC’s building 1, the administration and “management” building on launch morning.

We took a break from the meeting to turn our attention to the television set mounted near the ceiling in the conference room’s forward right corner. As the events unfolded, nominally at first, it quickly became clear to me that something had gone wrong. But we all sat there in silence. No one spoke; no one moved. It was not until I heard screams and sobs emanating from the hallway that reality truly sunk in. My walk back —> Read More Here


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