The Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster is seared in the memories of many Americans, especially for those who knew the men and women on board.
“I knew all of those astronauts,” said retired NASA astronaut Robert ‘Hoot’ Gibson. “It’s a heart-break every time I think about it.”
On the day of the launch, Gibson was holding meetings about his recent Shuttle Columbia flight. The Columbia crew landed ten days prior to the Challenger lift-off.
“We were in the midst of debriefing the Columbia flight, which takes three weeks,” recalled Gibson. “Someone stuck their head in and said ‘Hey do you want to take a break and watch the Challenger launch?'”
“We went into a conference room and that’s when we saw it happen.”
Immediately, Gibson was sent to Cape Canaveral to help in the investigation.
“Our whole world was turned upside down,” he said.
Every winter, NASA mourns the astronauts who were lost in three separate tragedies: The Apollo Fire (1/27/67), the Challenger explosion (1/28/86), and the Shuttle Columbia disaster (2/1/03).
“It’s a time you remember friends who lived great lives and were great people,” Gibson said. “All we can do now is cherish their memory.”