In July 2011, the nation will close the chapter of space exploration tied with the Space Shuttle program. While the entire nation has felt pride in its achievements and loss in its tragedies, few states have had the close attachment to the program that Utah has had. From the days when the Space Shuttle was a blueprint on a drafting board to the final flight, people, programs and locations in Utah have figured significantly in the Shuttle program. As the program comes to an end after 30 years, KUED offers a half-hour retrospective of Utah's amazing connection, To the Stars: Utah and the Space Shuttle."
The Brigham City-based Morton Thiokol Corporation was intimately involved in the development of the solid rocket booster that propelled the shuttle through its three-decade history. The corporation, currently known as the ATA Launch Systems Group, was also the center of a national dialogue following the tragic explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986.
In the wake of the Challenger disaster, former University of Utah President James C. Fletcher, who previously had served at the head of NASA, was recalled to service by President Ronald Reagan. Fletcher's charge was to restore public confidence in a space program deeply shaken by loss of life.
But of most lasting memory for many Utahns was the space journey of U.S. Senator Jake Garn in 1985. The first sitting member of Congress to go into space, Garn participated as a full member of the crew of Shuttle Flight STS-51-D. Garn traveled over 2.5 million miles as he orbited the earth more than 100 times, logging more than 150 hours in space. He also set a new standard for space sickness, which since his flight has been known as "1-Garn" for the highest possible level of illness. In honor of his service, the mission simulating and training faculty of NASA was named for Garn.
Utah's role in the Shuttle program extends to remarkable levels of scientific experimentation that range from astrophysics to biomedical research. In the end, Utah's role in the space shuttle program is a reflection of the very motto of NASA, Per Aspera ad Astra, "Through Hardships to the Stars." Reported by Ken Verdoia, produced and directed by Al Cutler, the KUED production draws on 30 years of KUED archives documenting Utah's amazing connection to the Space Shuttle program.
"When we reviewed our archives, we were truly impressed to find the history of the Space Shuttle program so thoroughly documented over the past 30 years," says Verdoia, who also serves as the station's director of production. "It's a testimony to KUED, recognizing the importance of the space program to the nation and to Utah."
T-minus 10...9...8...7...6...5...4. We've gone for main engine start. We have main engine start.
On April 12th 1981 the Space Shuttle era thundered to life as Columbia rocketed from the Kennedy Space Center into the Florida sky.
For thirty years the familiar image of the Space Shuttle would define much of American exploration in space.
The Shuttle era draws to a close in 2011. A true national enterprise, the Shuttle program would have deep roots in Utah.
Astronauts would step forward from our ranks. Utah locations would shape the program.
Utah-based experiments would provide landmarks in space science.
Utah would experience soaring highs and devastating lows.
The experiences of one state becoming the embodiment of a motto frequently used to define the Nation's Space Program.
"Per Aspera...Ad Astra." - "Through Hardship...To The Stars."
Long before there was a Space Shuttle flight, there was a Space Shuttle program at work in Utah.
In late 1973 the Thiokol Corporation landed the contract to build the solid rocket booster system that would send the Shuttle into orbit.
The company operated two rocket testing sites in Utah, one outside of Brigham City near the spot where the Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869.
Two hundred years later, they forged a new definition of transportation.
Crowds would gather to cheer and temperatures from the tests would soar over three thousand degrees and turn the barren Northern Utah hills to glass as they cooled.
Thiokol had been building rocket motors for more than twenty years, but the Space Shuttle program was different.
Not only would the Space Shuttle be reuseable and fly again, but the solid rocket boosters manufactured by Thiokol would be reclaimed and reused as well.
For thirty years, the Shuttle program would be powered into space by rocket motors built in Utah, leaving staff with a lingering sense of turning a page of history.
The space ship going into space with human beings aboard, exploring other planets, perhaps, that has some unique aspects to it. To be part of a national endeavor, to actually contribute to something that the whole world is going to watch is what really drove me to pursue that career. To be part of something grand where I could make a difference in something that was changing the planet, changing civilization, changing people.
After almost three days in space and thirty-six orbits with two astronauts, the Space Shuttle Columbia provided a sight never seen before, gliding back to a landing in the high desert landscape of Edwards Air Force base in California in the spring of 1981.
Welcome home, Columbia. Beautiful, beautiful.
The success of the first Shuttle flight resonated with the public, and commander John Young and Columbia Pilot Robert Crippen were in high demand.
One of their first stops on a national tour paid tribute to the role of Utah in powering the Shuttle into orbit.
In the Salt Lake Tabernacle, Utah celebrated the birth of a new era in space.
We're specially convened tonight to welcome and to honor our very special guests, commander John W. Young and captain Robert L. Crippen, who, as they lifted off in the Space Shuttle Columbia, lifted our souls and who, as they soared in space, sent our spirits soaring.
Another one of the speakers on that may night in Salt Lake City was a United States Senator who knew his way around aircraft.
An experienced military pilot, Jake Garn made it clear that he had set his sights on space.
And although I have been counseled in this place most of my life to avoid being jealous, I must admit that I've had jealousy in my heart all day long and I have not been able to subside it at all.
But it wasn't envy, it was a determination.
Within two years, Garn would find his own name called to join the Shuttle program.
I was actually conducting a committee hearing with NASA and I was kiddingly saying to them, I'd talked to them about it before, but I said, 'When do I get to go on the Space Shuttle?'
And they said, 'Well, you are going to go and we'll sit down with you and discuss a date.'
And I was absolutely speechless, because I was just toying with them and just utterly shocked.
And I said, 'tou're serious?'
'Oh, yes, we're serious. We'll get together and pick a date and work on your training, so that you'll be able to fly.'
Actually, I received a lot of criticism from some of the national press on not having nearly as much training as some of the other astronauts. And that was true. But they didn't want to print that I was a retired Air Force Brigadier General with more than ten-thousand hours of pilot time. And so I didnt need to go back to basic training. A lot of the basic classes, I used to teach as a military pilot. So I really didn't need to go back to kindergarten.
So the criticism was correct in the fact that I missed a lot of the basic training because I didn't need to do that, and started much further along than most of the non-pilot, non-military astronauts.
On April 12th, 1985, four years to the day of the first Shuttle flight, Jake Garn readied himself as part of the seven member crew of the Shuttle Discovery.
After all the months of training reality had arrived. And it was just so exciting to think that I was actually going to have the opportunity to orbit the Earth 110 times. And on the countdown, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6 - at 6.8 seconds prior to launch, the main engines ignite. Million pounds of thrust, you're laying on your back, shaking like this, and I looked down at the monitor, and my pulse was 155, proving you get aerobic exercise lying flat on your back, doing absolutely nothing.
It was just so exciting, to feel that incredible thrust and power. And in two minutes you're 25 miles down-range, 160-thousand feet above the Earth, so you've averaged 80-thousand feet a minute rate of climb for the first two minutes and accelerating.
At eight and a half minutes, inserted into orbit, in zero or microgravity, and then that view of the Earth.
My wife says someday when I have Alzheimers, don't remember who she is, I'll remember every detail of my space flight, and she's right.
But there was work to be done, even for the first sitting member of Congress in space. Mission specialist Jake Garn drew the assignment of studying motion sickness.
For the first day and a half I was really disappointed because I felt just fine and I thought, 'Oh, I 'm going to fail. I won't be able to do the Experiments, because I feel just fine.'
And so when I started to feel a little bit nauseous, and I didn't take any air-sickness medication, 'Oh great! Now I can do the experiments!' [laughs]
Others said the sickness experiments created a new system of measurement. When motion sickness reached its absolute worst point, it was designated achieving "one Garn."
Senator Garn, I know that you're taking part in the health experiments and jake, how are you doing? You're doing a fine job up there, but I could use your help down here right now getting the Federal budget under control.
Discovery traveled nearly three million miles in the spring of 1985, logged close to 110 orbits, deployed communication satellites, and profoundly touched the life of Jake Garn.
And so you immediately realize it doesn't make any sense, the way we treat each other. It doesn't matter where you live, it doesn't matter what language you speak, it does not matter the color of your skin. We're all children of God, travelling on spaceship Earth together, and we ought to treat each other a great deal better than we do.
1985 would also deliver to space two other astronauts with deep Utah ties.
Just weeks after Garn's flight, Utah native donald lind served as a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger, logging almost 170 hours in space.
And Mary Cleave, with two graduate degrees and a research appointment at Utah State University, would cap 1985 with the first of her two Space Shuttle flights.
Aboard Atlantis, Cleave would log almost seven days in space around Thanksgiving.
The flights were coming very fast. The public was starting to lose track of who was flying, and which craft was carrying them. It had started to seem so routine.
Those heady days of 1985 built a strong public interest in Utah in the first anticipated Space Shuttle flight of 1986.
Building on the success of Senator Garn's flight, NASA announced it would innovate in the Space Shuttle program by bringing a citizen on the January 1986 Space Shuttle flight of Challenger.
The citizen they selected was a school teacher; and no ordinary school teacher. Christa Mcauliffe of New Hampshire was a bright, vivacious, energetic, dedicated public school teacher who planned to teach lessons for school children throughout the United States live from the Space Shuttle when she flew.
I don't think any teacher has ever been more ready to have two lessons in my life. I've been preparing these since September and I just hope everybody tunes in on day four now to watch the teacher teaching from space.
In anticipation KUED made arrangements in late 1985 with a number of Utah School Districts to record students participating in those lessons plans with Christa Mcauliffe. It was an exciting time.
And so on the morning of January 28th, 1986, I went into the operations center of KUED, and asked an engineer to dial in the NASA satellite feed of the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger.
When we recorded the liftoff, things were uneventful. In fact, they were monumental. It was a glorious liftoff from Florida.
Engines throttling up, three engines now at 104 percent.
Challenger, go at throttle up.
Roger, go at throttle up.
One minute, 15 seconds. Velocity 2,900 feet per second altitude 9 nautical miles, down-range distance 7 nautical miles
Challenger had exploded.
Quickly my colleagues at KUED started to gather around the monitors, as the tape continued to record the tragedy that was unfolding before our eyes.
Flight controllers are looking very carefully at the situation; obviously a major malfunction.
Well, it's very difficult for me to talk about it because these were my friends.
Mike Smith, the Pilot, was my mother hen the first month that I trained. They assigned him to me, to go to my classes and help brief me. And I don't know of any time that I have been more shocked or more moved than when my first wife was killed in an automobile accident.
And so it's been very, very difficult for me this morning.
I knew all the crew members. We were training, not for the same flight, but we were training at the same time together.
So I knew each one of them very personally, from that learning experience. So it went beyond the issue of having a Shuttle go down. My friends died.
Astronauts had died before in the Nation's Space Program, but never on live national television; never at the moment of lift-off. And a nation sat in stunned silence.
And then, turned, in resolve, to find out what went wrong.
People need to remember that there has never been a draftee in space. Everyone who has ever flown was a volunteer. We knew what we were doing; we were willing to take that risk. And people need to understand that, that nobody has been forced, or drafted to go into space. I'd go again tomorrow morning if they would let me.
President Reagan empaneled a commission under the leadership of former Secretary of State William Rogers to investigate the Challenger disaster. The group publicly probed NASA management and operations, as well as Thiokol Corporation's role in the solid rocket booster development and management. Hearings revealed the pressures within the Space Program to keep the Shuttle flying.
People refer to that as other people would refer to the war or the great depression. They refer to "The Redesign." it was an emotional period. People were working long days, long hours. People reinventing solid rocket motor design and manufacturing processes. Understanding that company engineers are kind of reticent, and like to seek out these dark cubbyholes, and understanding that there was a certain magnifying glass on A.T.K. to get this thing fixed and to fix it right.
Part of the Rogers Commission Investigation, the Space Shuttle program was put on hiatus, suspended, if you will, for almost two full years.
If the investigation was designed to ask some tough questions and get answers, there was another part of that hiatus that troubled people in Utah and throughout the nation. Had NASA somehow lost its magic? Had it lost its spirit of success and achievement? Had something gone wrong with the spirit of NASA?
To deal with this, President Ronald Reagan turned to a NASA veteran.
A physicist by training, James c. Fletcher had served as President of the University of Utah in the late 1960s. In the early 1970s, he was appointed by richard nixon to be an administrator of NASA and it was at that time, under Fletcher's guidance, that the Space Shuttle went off the drawing board and into concrete planning and testing for an eventual lift-off.
Fletcher went back to the private sector in the late 1970s and had been serving as a consultant.
But with the call of President Ronald Reagan, James C. Fletcher was called back to the helm of NASA. A simple instruction: get the management house in order, return the spirit and re-earn the confidence of the American people.
For him to come in and examine all of the procedures, programs that they have, you couldn't have found someone better qualified at that point in time to take over NASA and put it back together after the accident.
In that spirit I sat down with James C. Fletcher in his Washington office to discuss, back in the 1980s, what would be the future of NASA and the Space Shuttle.
Well, it was a new experience, for NASA and actually for the nation, to have that kind of an intensive review of a whole Agency. And NASA, it was a particularly difficult time because we had never been in an adversarial role before. We'd never been in a court of law, to any great extent, where we had to advocate our position. In Congress, it's different. You have to state your position, then you're quizzed and so forth. But this was really an adversarial thing. "The system is flawed." those were the words that really turned me off and made me angry. And that was a new experience for NASA. And by the way I think it may have been unique in government. I don't know of an Agency that underwent that kind of very deep, intensive scrutiny over such a long period of time. And that took a little bit of getting used to, by the whole of NASA. We began to doubt ourselves. Are we really as good as we think we are? Are we as bad as they are expressing or seem to make us?
Fletcher, NASA, Thiokol and the Shuttle program were all back on track by September of 1989, when the Shuttle Discovery returned the program to operational status.
In his brief second tour as head of NASA, Fletcher also reaffirmed the fundamental role of scientific experimentation in space. He viewed the Shuttle as more than public transportation or a delivery system. He viewed it as a laboratory where man would learn more about space, the Earth and himself.
During his first stint as head of NASA, Fletcher had committed the Space Shuttle to play a role in carrying educational and private sector payloads into space. It was a means of holding public interest and also holding support for the Space Program.
The first person to seize the opportunity was Gil Moore, a space scientist at Utah State University. Out of his own pocket, Moore purchased the first payload reservation for Utah State, five years before lift off.
Eventually, hundreds of university and private experiments would ride as part of the Shuttle's program.
Moore was an advocate, he was a cheerleader, and an advisor for dozens of space experiments.
While many experiments had Utah ties, one in particular had a unique connection to the state.
In december 1982 surgeons and biomedical engineers at the University of Utah teamed to implant the artifical Jarvik-Seven heart in Seattle dentist Barney Clark. The procedure commanded international attention as clark survived for 112 days.
Among many issues arising from the pioneering effort, a young scientist at the University of Utah had questions about the impact of gravity on the diaphragms used in the artificial heart.
Soon a statewide collaboration was in the works to test the weightless qualities of space on artificial heart performance, the embodiment of James Fletcher's dream that we would learn more about life on Earth from science in space.
It was the birth of a "Get Away Special" experiment known as "Hearts In Space."
The Hearts In Space project tried to find out the role of gravity in helping the heart fill. And to do that, we had an artificial heart hooked up to a mock circulation that would create pressure and flow conditions, just like you would have in our bodies. And we would measure pressures and flows, and record that on the ground and then we'd compare the data in zero-g when it was in orbit. And see if, in fact, we were correct, that gravity helps the heart to fill.
The experiment's removed from the canister, you know, it's been out in space, and there's that special anticipation, that it's got this aura or glow about it, and in fact you realize, it's still the same piece of hardware that left the ground. But what's happened is the experiment didn't change, but you, individually and collectively as a team, went through a special transformation; because you had accomplished something very, very special.
Many students from Utah and Utah State that worked on the project had a tremendous sense of accomplishment working on the project, both seeing it through to the point where it was ready to fly, going down to be present for the launch, and then looking at the data that came back afterwards, the fact that they'd actually been able to go through the whole thing and succeed was a sense of accomplishment that's hard to describe.
And many have gone on in professional careers in engineering and other fields, but when I talk to them, they still say the Hearts In Space project is the best project that they've ever worked on.
The "Get Away Special" program came to a sudden halt in the wake of the second Space Shuttle disaster; that was the disintegration of the Shuttle Columbia as it returned from orbital flight in February of 2003.
Payloads on subsequent Shuttle flights have been reserved for expansion and maintenance of the International Space Station. While considered functionally complete in the summer of 2011, the space station will expand with the addition of a Russian laboratory unit to be installed in 2012.
The end of the U.S. Space Shuttle program focuses attention on the International Space Station which will be heart of American space endeavors for some time to come. And opinion is split on the very future of the Nation's Space Program.
NASA points to the deep space constellation program and to the Orion crew exploration vehicle as the next steps, carrying crews to space. But even the best case scenario leaves a noticeable gap between the Shuttle and the Orion C.E.V.
It is a gap that will require the United States to purchase a ride for its astronauts on the Russian Soyuz rocket.
What bothers me now is stopping the Shuttle and the United States having no ability to get into space without paying the Russians 50 to 55-million-dollars per passenger to get up there.
And Soyuz isn't big enough to take some of the parts necessary to keep the space station going. So we endanger the space station.
So it doesn't make any sense to me whatsoever to stop the Shuttle until we have a replacement vehicle. It will have impact on, not just jobs, like up at A.T.K. Thiokol and so on, two or three-thousand jobs across the country, highly skilled engineers and scientists and so on, it takes away an incentive for our young people to study engineering and science and think about their ability to go into space someday.
3...2...1...fire. [rocket roaring]
The Thiokol Corporation has been redefined many times since it first established a Utah presence in the 1950s.
Now it is A.T.K. Aerospace Systems. With the end of the Shuttle program, the rangeland of northern Utah still roars with the testing of bigger and more powerful solid rocket motors, in anticipation of the day when manned space flight will, once again, originate within the United States.
I think it literally raises the vista of human beings. It takes us out of all these, this finite planet, with its finite resources and host of challenges, and burgeoning population. It takes us out of that, and lets us look beyond. I believe the answers to a lot of those problems are going to come from reaching out.
Doctor George Pantalos continues his biomedical research, now at the University of Louisville, where he is engaged in developing pediatric heart-and-lung assist devices for children born with congenital heart defects; all benefitting from his time and work on the Hearts In Space Program.
But the Shuttle was really unique, in that it gave many, many people access to space. That the Space Programs, you know, Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, SkyLab, did not create. I never cease to be amazed at the can do spirit that made - that first got us into space - is still alive and well, whenever I 'm down at one of the space centers. And we can't afford to lose that.
James Fletcher died just two years after ending his second tour as administrator of the Nation's space agency. He left NASA confident man had a special purpose in space.
Man is a phenomenal creature, and he can do phenomenal things. There's no limit to what he can do and once you've decided on that, and you get a group of people together, they can do almost anything.
The final Shuttle astronauts prepared for the final flight of the Space Shuttle Atlantis in the NASA "Jake Garn Simulator and Training Facility" in Houston, Texas. The Training Center's namesake remains a fierce advocate for the Space Program.
I will never forget the first time I had the opportunity, we were flying upside down, and you have the big windows, so that you become a glass bottom boat and I looked down at the Earth, and I saw Spain and Portugal and Gibraltar and North Africa and France and Italy and Greece and the Greek Isles, and I actually got tearful about that view and thinking, 'Oh, we do have to treat each other better. That's where this really came to me we are all children of God travelling on spaceship Earth together.'
And beyond the scientific achievements and all the spin-offs that come, the most important thing about space flight is changing the attitudes of human beings travelling on spaceship Earth together.
Per Aspera...Ad Astra.