The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on January 28, 1996 · Page 8
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 8

Salina, Kansas
Issue Date:
Sunday, January 28, 1996
Page 8
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A8' SUNDAY, JANUARY 28, 1996 CHALLENGER: ID YEARS LATER THE SALINA JOURNAL 10 years have passed quickly as father of astronaut Greg Jarvis draws closer to son than he did in life "And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon, little boy blue and the man in the moon. 'Whenyou comin' home, Dad?' 'I don't know when, but we'll get together then, Son. You know we'll have a good time then.' " — the song "Cat's in the Cradle," by Harry Chapin. By MARCIA DUNN .The Associated Press ORLANDO, Fla. — They were entertaining friends and relatives when rang that January night. It was Greg calling to say hello — his father and stepmother hadn't heard from him in a while — and to tell them tomorrow appeared to be The Day. After months of being bumped from flight to night and enduring multiple launch delays, Greg Jarvis felt sure he finally would be heading into space aboard the shuttle Challenger. The call lasted only a few minutes. The other astronauts were waiting to use the phone at the Kennedy Space Center, and Greg had to be brief. He waited until he was ready to hang up, and then he said it: "I love you, Dad." He'd never told his father that before. Right then and there, in front of his wife and their out-of-town company, Bruce Jarvis, normally unemotional, broke down in tears. "I love you, son," he replied. He'd never said that before, not in all of Greg's 41 years. That was their last conversation, their very last words to one another. An omen, Bruce Jarvis now feels. On Jan. 28,1986, at 10:39 a.m. Central time, Gregory Bruce Jarvis and his six Challenger crewmates died in a fireball in the sky. Ten years later, his father is still heartsick and bitter about the decision by NASA and booster-maker Morton Thiokol Inc. to launch Challenger that fatally cold morning, despite engineers' warnings about the now-infamous O-rings. He no longer dwells on it, though, and is trying to make amends for his son's lost life, and their lost relationship. At age 78, he figures it's now or never. This is his story. A father's mission It's a sunny Orlando morning and, as usual, Bruce Jarvis is prowling his neighborhood and nearby, shopping-mall parking lots in search of Challenger license plates. He used to go by foot, striding up and down the endless rows of cars and leaving blue thank-you cards on the driver's-side windows of vehicles with the commemorative plates. Nowadays, Jarvis has trouble walking, so he bikes. Even though he's slower and doesn't get out as much — "I just don't have the health" — he won't stop. He can't. He's always on the lookout for the fund-raising plates, even when he goes down to the lake on the edge of his condominium complex at daybreak to feed the ducks. "I got so that I could spot one of these things a half- mile away," he boasts. Jarvis never leaves the house without a pocket full of the business-size cards, even though there seem to be fewer and fewer Challenger plates around these days. The cards are signed by Jarvis and his wife of 20 years, Ellen. They read: "On behalf of Greg Jarvis and the crew, Bruce and Ellen Jarvis thank you for purchasing a Challenger plate. Your continued renewal is appreciated." Jarvis has been cursed on occasion and left standing in engine exhaust; the drivers thought he was peddling something. But for the most part, motorists are touched and grateful. He figures he and his wife, also 78, have handed out some 5,000 cards since the first ChaUenger license plates were issued to Florida residents a year after the accident. (The couple got the first two; his bears Greg's birth date.) The commemorative plates have raised $16 million for the Astronauts Memorial Foundation at the Kennedy Space Center, paying for a huge granite monument bearing the names of the 16 Americans who have died in the line of space duty, and a space education center. It is Jarvis' passion, and mission in what's left of his life. He and his wife see it as a way to keep the memory of the Challenger Seven, and especially the memory of Greg, burning bright. The forgotten crew member Of the seven crew members, Greg Jarvis is, perhaps, the one most overlooked, the one most easily forgotten. There was Christa McAuliffe, the schoolteacher from Concord, N.H., who was going to use Challenger as an orbital classroom. Schoolchildren everywhere tuned in to watch her soar; their joy quickly turned into anguish. There were commander Francis "Dick" Scobee and pilot Michael Smith; Judith Resnik, the second T NASA'S FUTURE 'Major malfunction How a leaking roc Oxygen tank Orbiter Challenger 0.678 second after ignition Dark smoke can be seen puffing from a joint in the shuttle's right booster rocket. Cold weather before launch had weakened rubber 0-ring seals in the joint, which were supposed to prevent leakage. Exhaust plume Right- side Solid Rocket Booster 58.8 seconds A small flame (circled) appears in the area of the leaking joint. The plume of hot exhaust spills across the bottom of the shuttle's main fuel tank. 6M.7 seconds The exhaust uel tank plume breaches the fuel tank. 72.2 seconds The base of the right Solid Rocket Booster breaks away from the shuttle's fuel tank. 73.12M seconds The bottom of the fuel tank breaks away and the liquid hydrogen inside is dumped out.The tip of the loose booster impacts the oxygen tank, bursting it. 73.137 seconds Oxygen and hydrogen mix and burn rapidly. Challenger disintegrates. The two rocket boosters, still firing, fly onward until they are ,^ J\, destroyed by ' w a radioed • T!* .,**** command. Source: NASA; "Report of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident" AP/KarlTate The Associated Press Bruce Jarvis places a thank-you card on a car displaying a Challenger license plate in an Orlando, Fla., parking lot. File photo Greg Jarvis leads the astronauts as they leave for the launch pad on Jan. 28,1986. American-woman in space; Ronald McNair, the second African-American in space; and Ellison Onizu- ka, the first Asian-American in space. And there was Greg, a Hughes Aircraft Co. engineer who had been bumped from Discovery by a senator and from Columbia by a congressman, and was going to conduct fluid experiments in orbit. He designed and managed satellites, but was not a professional astronaut. "This is my one chance," Greg had said. Neither Bruce nor Ellen Jarvis was concerned about his safety. After all, NASA's winged space planes had been flying since 1981. Shuttle flight had become almost routine, in fact, and was generating less public interest. For Greg, though, this was "the ultimate .trip." It lasted 73 seconds. Challenger ruptured 8.9 miles above the Atlantic Ocean while traveling at 1,460 mph, or nearly twice the speed of sound. The pressure seals, or O-rings, in a critical joint of the right solid-fuel rocket booster had given way in the cold — it was 36 degrees at launch time — and failed to contain the combustible rocket gases. It was like a blowtorch, fast and furious, creating a hole in the external fuel tank, which collapsed. At the same time, the tip of the leaking booster rotated and crashed into the upper part of the external tank, the final blow. Bruce and Ellen Jarvis watched in disbelief from the launch site as chunks of shuttle rained onto Earth. "Obviously a major malfunction," Mission Control reported amid all the confusion. The couple were hustled away by NASA officials, along with the other astronauts' families. Jarvis, then 68, required medical attention; his wife feared he'd gone into shock. Greg Jarvis' remains were the last ones found, three long months after the accident. His widow, Marcia, scattered his ashes into the Pacific Ocean, off the Southern California coast where the two had lived — they had no children — and cut off contact with her in-laws. Making up for lost time For Bruce Jarvis, peace, such as it was, lay in the Astronauts Memorial Foundation, established shortly after the accident, and in the thank-you cards. "Greg would appreciate what we're doing, what they're doing, what we're helping them do, much more than anything else I can think of," he says. It helps Bruce and Ellen feel closer to Greg and, maybe, just'maybe, Jarvis says, makes up for all the time he should have, and could have, spent with his son over the years. "I wish I'd had more time for all of them," he says of his three sons. "But now that I've got the time ..." His voice trails off. He cannot finish. He explains it another day, this way: The Jarvis family wasn't particularly close while Greg and his two younger brothers were growing up in Mohawk, N.Y. Like his father before him, Bruce Jarvis was too busy running the family pharmacy to dote on his children. So it was only natural that after Greg left for the State University of New York at Buffalo, he returned home less and less, especially after he married Marcia and his parents divorced. Bruce Jarvis' subsequent marriage to Ellen, who encouraged him to be a more expressive father, gradually improved the relationship between father and son. Greg kept his father abreast of his growing number of achievements in the satellite world, first with the Air Force and then with Hughes Aircraft in Los Angeles, as well as all his outdoor adventures with Marcia — 100-mile bike rides, white-water rafting, cross-country skiing. Greg's selection as a space shuttle payload specialist in 1984 was, for father and son, a professional pinnacle. His phone call to his father the night of Jan. 26 or 27,1986 — Bruce and Ellen Jarvis disagree which night it was — surpassed that, at least in the eyes of the father. "Oh God, I was ecstatic," Jarvis recalls. Dreams snuffed out But in one horrific instant, all the! dreams-come- true and dreams-to-be were snuffed oiiit. A commission appointed by President Reagan . blamed the accident on a frightening Dumber of mistakes rooted in history — a faulty rocket-joint design, unrelenting pressure to meet the) demands of an accelerating flight schedule, a silent safety program, poor communications, slack management. The findings rocked NASA and forced changes. Even unwitting members of the launch team were ashamed and felt guilty. Some still do. "There are some who today are not totally over the Challenger event," says shuttle operations director Bob Sieck, who was in the launch control center that fateful morning. "Nobody who was a member of the team will ever forget it." Especially heart-rending for Jarvis was — is — not knowing precisely when his son died. He suspects Greg was alive when the crew cabin slammed into the Atlantic and possibly aware of what was happening. "I'll never forgive them," Jarvis says. Like other relatives of the Challenger crew, Jarvis sued. He received an undisclosed sum from Morton Thiokol, enough, he says, to live comfortably. No matter how much it still hurts, Bruce and Ellen Jarvis go to every Challenger memorial to which they're invited. They feel obligated. "It can be devastating, really," he says. "You cry at every one." Life has calmed down But finally, mercifully, life has become calmer for the Jarvises. There are fewer ceremonies, fewer people telling them where they were when Challenger exploded and how very sorry they are, fewer tears. Last January, they sent piles of newspaper clippings, cards, letters and other mementos to the Weller Library in Mohawk, N.Y., population 2,986, for a permanent display dedicated to hometown hero Greg. Still, plenty remains. Framed photographs of Greg, the entire crew, even the aftermath- of the explosion adorn the Jarvises' living-room walls (seven birds are shown flying out of the plumes of smoke). Tables and shelves hold plaques and other commemorative gifts, and snapshots of the couple at various memorials. Hoping time heals wounds "Time helps," Jarvis says. "But, unfortunately, it doesn't seem like it was 10 years ago." "It doesn't," his wife agrees, barely audible. "Here we are still living," she goes on, "and all these people had such dreams and that vision and had so much to contribute. ... It's just not in sequence. It should be the other way around." Shuttles have flown 49 times since the Challenger accident, each time with Jarvis at home holding his breath. The score so far is 73 successes, one failure. NASA estimates the odds of a disaster at about one in 100 missions. This is a best-guess. For many reasons, those odds included, Jarvis will never go back for a launch. Ever. But he's changed his mind, mellowed if you will, on another emotional matter. He wants to reconcile with his daughter-in-law, who still lives in California. "I don't want to be dead before I've made amends," he says. So he's going to try. After 10 years, he says, it's time to live and let live. Hawley: Space program maintains dedication to safety oaNnan SflX/S aRtmnSllltC BnBBim^nBBBHBiBBBMMI^MMBi Hma on that tv,^^ „;+.,„+<„>,» «~j.—. i___i_-, Salinan says astronauts today are better trained, have more experience By DAVID CLOUSTON The Salina Journal Obliterated. A flash, and pinwheeling columns of smoke, and they were gone. Flying into space was always a calculated risk, sure, but this was the worst. Challenger crew members weren't just colleagues, they were Steve Hawley's friends. Judy Resnik had been a fellow mission specialist aboard his first shuttle flight, in fact. What he and the rest of NASA did next was what they'd always done. What they did when the three-man crew of Apollo 1 burned to death when fire swept the cockpit during a countdown rehearsal. Find the problem. Fix it. Get back in the saddle. "If you're the sort of person that's fixated on fear of personal safety, you're not going to do well in this job," said Hawley, who since 1992 has served as the deputy director of flight crew operations for the National Aeronautics and Space Agency in Houston. "You can't say it's never going to hap- File photo Salinan Steve Hawley is NASA's deputy director of flight crew operations. pen, but you can dedicate yourself to the discipline to overcome the specific problems you had," Hawley said. "The other part is maintaining the discipline, over time, so that those situations wiU not redevelop." Salinans know Hawley as a hometown youth who became an astronomer and a NASA astronaut, going on to fly three shuttle missions. The last, in 1990, was the flight that launched the Hubble Space Telescope. Another former Kansan and former shuttle commander, Joe Engle of Chapman, also lives in Houston, where he works as an independent consultant, doing analysis and review work for future space missions involving the shuttle and the Soviet space station, Mir. Today, Engle said he is reluctant to speak on the Challenger disaster, preferring to look ahead to future space accomplishments. Yet, he was part of the team that helped with the investigation of the explosion and made safety recommendations. As a result, a limited ejection seat system was installed, allowing crew members to jettison only if they were unable to land the craft at the end of the mission. It's still impossible for astronauts to bail out during liftoff, when the solid rocket boosters are burning. Not that such a system could not be designed, but present technology would increase the weight of the shuttle so much that it couldn't carry satellites and other payloads into space. Astronauts today have more experience and are better trained than in the past, which has helped make the program safer, Hawley said. Most crew members have already flown into space at least once. CD-Rom technology allows the astronauts to train for some tasks at their desks, and computers have enabled flight simulators to realistically depict what missions are like. America's space program, Hawley said, continues to be important for three main reasons — technology spinoffs, inspiring others and national prestige. Shuttle crews are modern-day heroes. "I think it makes you feel good there are people who can do those sorts of things," Hawley said. Astronauts also inspire youths to study math and science, he said. And future generations conversant and comfortable with science and technology will make better informed decisions about such things as the national budget, health care and military spending. But maybe the biggest intangible is the prestige space travel accords the U.S. Working in South America at one point in his life. Hawley said he was approached by a Chilean man who recognized him as an American. "He didn't know me from anyone, but he told me how television had come to Chile in 1969, and the most memorable event in his life was watching men walk on the moon. The most memorable event in that man's life was something America has done. "It's hard to put a price tag on those things. My prejudice on that is it's worth the limited money we spend," Hawley said For the future, NASA officials look forward to more joint missions to the Mir station, in preparation for development of an international space station. Construction of the space station is to begin in 1998, with completion set for about 2002. "And then, of course, we'll begin to use the facility to develop the techniques we really need, to truly be dedicated as a country to doing business in space," Hawley said. In the meantime, the nation's shuttle fleet is being enhanced and improved with new engines, new computers, and lighter and more heat-resistant materials. "It (the shuttle) is extremely reliable and functional," Hawley said. "It's been refined to where we almost never have problems. I think it will be a very, very capable launch vehicle well into the next century."

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