Our nation’s space agency has experienced many incredible human feats (landing a human on the moon, walking in space, assembling an International Space Station, etc.) as well as three very public manned missions that resulted in heroes’ lives lost. In this episode, Beth and Dean continue the second part of this discussion about NASA’s Successes from Failures to include the manned missions; Apollo 1, the Challenger space shuttle, and Columbia STS-107.
Beth worked at NASA Johnson Space Center during the Columbia tragedy, and Dean worked at NASA during the loss of Challenger, and share both their unique perspectives from these events, and the changes they watched NASA implement after the extensive accident investigations. At the end of this (at times difficult) conversation, Dean and Beth look at the “planned anomalies” that NASA and commercial space flight companies will experience, working towards future missions’ safety and success.
- This is a difficult time for the NASA “family,” the employees, contractors and support teams who remember these tragedies, the astronaut crew’s families, and for the nation. On January 30, NASA will honor members of the NASA family who lost their lives while furthering the cause of exploration and discovery, including the crews of Apollo 1 and space shuttles Challenger and Columbia, during the agency’s annual Day of Remembrance.
- Dean served a significant role in the Challenger investigation by flying over the debris field and gather visual imagery data. He recalls the series of events that day, and how helping to serve NASA post-tragedy was a significant extension of working the mission.
- Beth was a Public Affairs Officer and NASA spokesperson at the Johnson Space Center during the Columbia STS-107 mission. As part of her job, along with the newsroom staff, was to report all activity from the Johnson Space Center to the public in the form of broadcast, writing, or digital media. The Johnson Space Center is the home of human space flight, the NASA location (there are 10 NASA centers throughout the United States) where the astronauts work and train. The astronauts and their families usually live nearby. On that Saturday in February, Beth and the staff assigned to work this particular mission were just as shocked as the rest of the nation when they witnessed the live coverage of the re-entry of the shuttle, and the shuttle’s break up after overheating from debris hitting the leading edge of the left wing at launch. Beth shares her memory of the event, along with the national memorial that happened shortly after on the JSC campus from her unique perspective as an employee trying to process the accident with the “NASA family” of employees during the difficult time.
- While difficult, there are opportunities to learn during times of crisis. At the end of the episode, Beth and Dean discuss a “planned” anomaly from SpaceX that recently took place last week- an abort test that resulted in an explosion of a Falcon 9 booster, and a successful separation and water landing of the Dragon capsule. This test was an unmanned success, and its demonstration of a successful abort away from the booster allows SpaceX to proceed with a crewed capsule test later this year (scheduled as early as next month!).
About Apollo 1: https://history.nasa.gov/Apollo204/
About Challenger: https://history.nasa.gov/sts51l.html
About Columbia STS-107: https://www.nasa.gov/subject/3308/sts107