I worked NASA's Kennedy Space Center for a few months (roughly Sept84-Jan85), as a consultant employed by Science Management, working for the Center's logistics contractor (they ran the warehouses, security, fire stations, etc.).
I saw a couple shuttle launches. The first one (STS-41-G Challenger) was from the standard public viewing station. The launch was just around dawn, and the shuttle passed through a cloud, its flume lighting the entire thing. The 2nd time (STS-51-A Discovery) was just as I was walking between buildings on the job. Further away, later in the morning, so not much to see. But surprising how much sound/vibration there was from so far away.
At the time, few shuttle landings took place at the Center, because of animals like hogs and alligators potentially getting onto the runway. I once saw an alligator next to a parking lot at the Center.
One day I was passing through a warehouse belonging to Lockheed. I saw a control rack that included a number of valves. I recognized those as coming from the tiny NJ company I'd worked for during 4 college summers. It's possible I assembled or tested those valves. That was surreal...
Semi-related tangent: I watched the first moon landing on TV (July'69). I was 7. My recollection is that I considered it an amazing achievement, but I wasn't clear on what the point was, since it didn't look too inhabitable...
Chronology of shuttles.
a 1980 article about the challenge of building the shuttle.
Richard Feynman's personal observations on the reliability of the Shuttle following the explosion of the Challenger in Jan1986. (Gads, this is scary.)
I hadn't heard that the Challenger astronauts were alive until they hit the ocean. Yuck.
a 1996 essay The space shuttle represents the worst of both worlds: 1970s vision (and technology) at 1990s prices. (lots of broken links)
The Columbia exploded during re-entry in Jan2003. This was its 28th flight (and the 113th flight for the shuttle program).
Edward Tufte critiques some of the analysis reports. The 3 reports have the following weaknesses: It now appears that the conclusions were incorrect... The fundamental nature of the Columbia analysis might be called statistical engineering: the content is engineering but the logic is exactly the logic of statistics and econometrics (issues of estimation, thin data, model sensitivity and robustness, multivariate data, error assessment). The Columbia analysis needs some high-level statistical reasoning and use of techniques from standard statistical tool-kits. The Columbia analysis would have been a perfect problem for the great applied statistician Cuthbert Daniel. (Suggesting the involvement of dead people seems like a case of bad information design to me!)
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