Thoughts On Challenger: From Someone On The Inside

That "Someone On The Inside" Was Me.

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Literally.  I did more than poke my head inside the hatch of Challenger a couple of times, while they were prepping it for flight, back at Kennedy Space Center. And Columbia, before it.  I know the shuttle fleet was built here in Southern California; but I was my Florida TV station’s space shuttle reporter, before the first flight even launched.  NASA was a bit more lax about letting you get up-close in those days: as long as you didn’t stray off the metal walkways. Think of that: getting to go inside a space shuttle!

After reporting from the first 8 launches  –the most spectacular things I have ever witnessed– I came back to SoCal, initially as an aerospace reporter. And when I began morning anchoring, I pushed to continue covering launches and landings, because the shuttle was so important to our local economy (from Downey to the high desert).  And so, on January 28, 1986, I was the only  person covering Challenger’s launch live on Los Angeles TV, from a tiny studio at a station, in Burbank.

Long-time viewers –25 years-worth– still talk to me about our shared experience. Make no mistake, I have never felt that ‘narrating’ the launch, the explosion, or the immediate aftermath was about me. I just happened to be on TV. I tried to keep my emotions out of that broadcast. Yes, I said “My God, there’s been an explosion”  (no exclamation point, believe me); but after that, all I could do was talk about what I saw on screen, and various emergency options for getting the crew back to the ground. Of course, there were none.

People say ‘That must have been a tough day for you.’ My pre-canned response is “Not as tough as it was for the astronauts.”  I knew Ellison Onizuka (“El”), and Judy Resnik. Not well, but we’d run into each other at press briefings or training drills in the years before. I didn’t even think about the fact that two people I knew were onboard, until several minutes after I was off the air. The networks all interrupted programming pretty quickly after the blast, and I remember being frustrated at the misinformation they were putting out there.  That night, I was on a plane to Orlando, to descend on KSC for the aftermath.

25 years is more than half a lifetime for most people who remember that day. I’m glad when people want to talk to me about where they were: it was an important day in our history; even if, for all the wrong reasons.

  • paulstopit

    I was working at Rocketdyne at the time of the explosion. Rocketyne builds the Main Engines for the Shuttle. The phones were cut off immediately and employees were warned not to speak to anyone about the Challenger incident.
    If it was a SSME that failed they didn’t want any speculation from the eployees. It was like being cut off from the world. There was no viable internet then and no one could call you to tell you what was going on. Horrible day after all.

  • Melissa

    I was working on the 67th floor of One world Trade Center when the news. How ironic.

  • BikeRider

    I was in 8th grade… I had one of the best science teachers around. He was a big fan of all things space related. All the science teachers were on the verge of tears… There was no teaching that day, at least not from a textbook. Lots of life lessons though, especially for a very green 14 year old kid like me.

  • Bob Swanson

    The engineers that built the solid rocket boosters told launch control that the o-rings were never tested to handle freezing temperatures. NASA also had video of o-ring burn through on previous launches. The engineers’ “no-go” decision was ignored and we all know what happened.

  • Val Barrett

    12th grade high school, our class was informed by the teacher, silence was all that became of our class and tears. They lowered our school flag that day. It was that very day I became very fascinated with every aspect of the Space Shuttles. I became a nurse for Nasa and had a great chance at seeing them up close and assisting astronauts. I am very grateful for the experience before the Shuttles were set for retirement. I will never forget Challenger or Columbia crews and once the Shuttle program finally ends and the last Shuttle is done, silence and tears will once again hit home for me.

  • Jonathan Barrett

    I’m a big fan of the Space shuttle astronauts and I’ve grown to really respect them for their intense bravery facing dangerous and extreme situations, but mostly because they are also humble and down to earth. Challenger and Columbia were reminders of how dangerous a job they have every time they clock in for the day…

  • Bror Monberg

    Kent Shocknek …TY for your skilled reporting. I too remember that morning and am still stunned at the videos. There is nothing easy or forgiving with flight. May God bring peace to everyone connected with this sad morning.

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