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Featured Story: The Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

I have always been fascinated by space travel.  When I was growing up my family and I watched every televised launch of the Mercury and Apollo missions.  When the USA began the space shuttle program I continued to watch most launches, but the idea of going into space was becoming almost routine.

The Space Shuttle Challenger was set to launch on January 28, 1986.  Unfortunately, it was a Tuesday and I had to work.  I was a pharmaceutical sales representative, and was scheduled to call on an office of four doctors at about the time of the launch.  As I waited in the reception area, I heard what I thought was a gasp coming from the back area of the offices.  A few minutes later I was escorted back to the nurses station.  As the physicians and nurses came toward me it was obvious by their expressions that something terrible had happened.

My initial thought was that a patient might have died.  There was no reason to suspect that anything might have happened to the shuttle.  It was unthinkable that American technology might suffer a catastrophic failure.  That was for other countries, whose manned rockets blew up on the launch pad or crashed into the ocean.  Unfortunately, I was wrong.  The office staff explained what had happened and invited me to watch the news reports with them.

As I watched the coverage of the tragedy, it reminded me that space exploration is not routine.  No matter how successful we may be in launching and returning these spacecraft, the sheer complexity of the technology, and fact that humans are involved, creates the potential for mistakes.

As time passed and we resumed shuttle missions, every launch, every docking with the international space station, and every return to Earth, has caused me to pause and think about the danger and the possibility of something going terribly wrong.