On wake-up, July 22, 1999, I was just not in a good mood. I asked
Dr. Jay how he was and he was worried too. If we didn’t launch
tonight, we would have to move to a September or later launch. The
shuttle Columbia was going in a refit after our launch. This was the
only shuttle that could fit our telescope and once it went in for
refit, our telescope wouldn’t fit. A delay in launch would delay the
refit and NASA didn’t want that.
Back in Cambridge, our guys did some serious math and determined how
long the launch window could be. They gave a drop dead time of 2:20
a.m. Ok, that gave us a 2 hour launch window. Better than the night
We spent the day at the beach, resting, panicking, feeling sick. It
was amazing how nerve racking a launch can be. At this point, I just
wanted to see Columbia get up safely.
That evening, we went back to Cocoa Beach, got back in our
busses. There was one less bus as some people had left to go home
already. We were not ready to give up.
The weather was calm, like on the 20th. The start of the launch window
was 12:24 a.m. We were ready. Columbia was ready. Would we go?
We got past the T-9 hold, then got the camera all ready (again) at the
Down to 30 seconds…20 seconds…T-10 seconds,
9…8…7…6…5…4…3…2…1 We have LIFT OFF!
At T+8seconds, the control passes from Kennedy Space Center to Mission
Control in Houston. As we were celebrating on the ground, we heard
Cmd. Collins report an error. They were showing a problem with the
hydrogen sensors. There was a brief discussion of launch abort and
turn around, but that was nixed quickly. It was later determined there
was a hydrogen leak on launch. Columbia ended up 700 miles short of
where it should have because of the leak.
We watch and as we got close to T+60 seconds, we all get quiet
again. Around T+70 seconds, the command of "Throttle Up" is
given. This was the last command given to the crew of the shuttle
Challenger. We all held our collective breaths.
"Throttle up" And a good acceleration happened! Whew! We watched the
solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) fall away from shuttle (at this point,
the shuttle was a bright star and the SRBs were two points that fell
When Columbia had reached orbit some 8 minutes after lift off, we all
cheered and got back to the busses. Now the real work was to begin!
For more photos of the launch, please follow this LINK.