NASA pressed launch of Challenger, book says

September 08, 1993|By William J. Broad | William J. Broad,New York Times News Service

Christa McAuliffe, the high school teacher who died in the fiery explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in January 1986, told her family the day before the launching that NASA had decided to push ahead the next day no matter what, her mother writes.

That account, in a new book by Mrs. McAuliffe's mother, Grace George Corrigan, lends weight to arguments that NASA pressed ahead with the high-profile flight to win mention of it in President Ronald Reagan's State of the Union message.

The address was scheduled for that day, Jan. 28, but then postponed after the spacecraft exploded, killing the seven crew members.

Investigations showed that NASA managers had ignored warnings that the weather was too cold for a safe launch.

The book, "A Journal for Christa," was published by the University of Nebraska Press yesterday, which would have been Mrs. McAuliffe's 45th birthday.

In 1985, Mrs. McAuliffe was chosen from 114 candidates to become the first teacher in space. At the time she was a social studies teacher at Concord High School in New Hampshire, the wife of Steven McAuliffe and the mother of two children.

The launch had been delayed repeatedly, once by a prediction of bad weather that turned out to be wrong. The morning of the Jan. 28, Mrs. Corrigan wrote, was "cold, cold cold," with groups ++ of people awaiting liftoff, huddled together, stamping their feet.

"Everyone wondered why a liftoff should be scheduled in such freezing weather," she wrote. "We could see icicles hanging from the shuttle. How could they lift off like this? But the night before, Christa had told us they had been given a positive go-ahead for the morning."

Mrs. Corrigan emphasized the point in the book, saying: "The word was out that today was the day -- definitely."

The shuttle exploded 73 seconds after liftoff because the seals on a booster rocket failed, allowing flames of blowtorch-like intensity to escape the rocket and touch off the conflagration.

Later, the cold weather was blamed for the failure of the seals.

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