High Frontier – 1980’s Style

| October 19, 2007

April 12th, 1981. I was still in high school in Illinois. I was a young nerdy guy engrossed with all things having to do with space and man’s conquest of the heavens.

I vividly recall the launch. It was the 3rd day they had tried to launch, each time there was some technical problem that halted the count down before the “Moment of Truth”. I had watched every Apollo mission I could, starting at age 4 when my parents sat me in front of the TV early in the morning to watch the lift off, and then kept me up far past my bed time to see the brave Astronauts step out onto the surface of the Moon.

For those of you who don’t recall or maybe never saw a Saturn launch, they were vast enormous tanks of fuel with a tiny capsule on top. The massive F1 engines (there were 5 of the first stage) were taxed just to lift the enormous weight of that machine from the pad.

This morning I had gotten up even earlier than normal (I grew up on a farm, and the animals always had to be taken care of before taking the bus to school) to see them “try it again”. I could barely contain my excitement as the countdown clock rolled through 31 seconds and CAPCOM declared that Columbia had control of the launch.

With 5 seconds to go they lit the 3 liquid fuel motors on the orbiter, and it was time to see what this new Shuttle could do. What surprised me first was the ignition of the solid rocket motors and the way that the shuttle seemed to leap from the pad, as if it were in a hurry to reach orbit. Again, as someone used to seeing the slow, majestic liftoff of a Saturn V, the way that Columbia “peeled out” and burned its way to orbit only added to the excitement and sense of wonder of the dawning of a new age.

Unknown to most of us was that Columbia was at that moment exceeding its design parameters in many ways, and that the first flight nearly ended in disaster several times. Interesting to not that Young and Crippen were in fact the test pilots of this new spacecraft, and they were there precisely to think on their feet and take action to keep the system together when thing did not go as planned or designed.

The sense of awe and amazement is wonderfully captured in the song “Countdown” by Rush

On the morning of February 1st, 2003, Columbia was lost with all hands upon re-entry somewhere over the desert skies of New Mexico.

Be Sociable, Share!

Category: Science, Space, Video

About the Author ()

Bruce Henderson is a former Marine who focuses custom data mining and visualization technologies on the economy and other disasters.

Comments are closed.