- Posted January 28, 2013 by
Challenger Crew Remembered - my personal encounters
Challenger crew on 51-L
Michael J. Smith
I moved to Houston 29 years ago to work at the NASA-Lyndon B. Johnson Center (NASA-JSC) in the space shuttle program. My office was in Building 4 -- the same building as the astronauts and flight controllers. I had moved from a small town in New Jersey to being in the heart of human space exploration! During the next 2 years I encountered two of the astronauts who, eventually, became part of the Challenger crew for the 51-L mission. Around midnight on one of the nights I was working in Building 30 (Mission Control Center). I went to a vending machine to get a snack. I recognized astronaut Ron McNair at the same machine. It was just the two of us. I was in awe. All I could say was: “Hi!” I recall seeing Judy Resnik one day in the Building 4 lobby to watch a TV showing space news for a few moments.
On January 28, 1986 people gathered in conference rooms across NASA-JSC to watch the space shuttle launch. It was also the beginning of a new phase of human space exploration with the first Teacher in Space. We watched the launch with excitement. Seconds later we were horrified at what we saw. We knew the launch procedure so we had no doubt what had just occurred. Shock and tears filled the room. I wrote everything in my journal the entire day. I didn't leave because I needed to be with my NASA family for comfort. A few days later I attended the memorial service at NASA-JSC.
When the Challenger Park was officially opened in 1986, I attended the dedication ceremony. It was a rainy day with the dedication held under a tent near the memorial stone monument. It was a small gathering open to the public. The dignitaries included astronauts and NASA-Lyndon B. Johnson Center administrators who attended to honor and support the family and friends of the Challenger astronauts.
I attended a unique international event in Houston in April 1986. Jean-Michel Jarre held his Rendez-vous Houston: A City in Concert. It was a live performance of music while slides were projected upon the city’s skyscrapers. The Challenger crew and NASA were honored in the slide presentation and music. Ron McNair -- former jazz musician -- was to play his saxophone while in space as part of a track for the concert in addition to playing live at the concert. Ron’s track was recorded by another Houston musician and the song was retitled "Ron's Piece."
all photos © Candy Torres