Grapeland man reflects on his role in the Challenger mission

Walter "Scotty" Scott, retired NASA engineer
Walter "Scotty" Scott, retired NASA engineer

By Whitney Grunder - bio | email

GRAPELAND, TX (KTRE) -- Retired NASA engineer Walter Scott recalls standing next to his division chief, monitoring the Space Shuttle Challenger as it took off into the clear Florida sky.

73 seconds later, January 28, 1986 became a day Scott said would forever be in his memory. "I was watching the data screens and he was watching the monitor and I heard him say she blew. She blew up and that was the first thing I knew. And of course the room went quiet."

Seven crew members perished in the accident, including the first teacher in space. "The challenger was a shocker. Nobody expected it," explained Scott. "Everything was chugging along just fine and 73 seconds later it was gone."

Challenger wasn't the only accident witnessed by Scott. 16 years earlier, he aided in the rescue of the Apollo 13 astronauts.  Years later in 2003, Scott remembers when the Space Shuttle Columbia broke up over his now-home.

He says the lives lost were not in vain. "You can't dwell on it. You can't look back. You have to profit from your mistakes and move on." Scott said the space agency learned valuable lessons from the accidents. "We learned better about how to coordinate things. We learn better about how to work together and not think that just because we're NASA we're better than anyone else; because we're not."

With that humility, the former engineer admits failure. He says NASA has failed in adequately educating the public of the benefits of space exploration. "They've failed to beat their own drum," said Scott. "They don't publicize what they've done or what they can do."

Challenger's legacy lives on, according to Scott. He said he believes the later shuttle missions pushed for better education, as well as inspiring young minds to pursue science. "We should be pressing on. The shuttle should still be flying but it won't be," said Scott.

Three missions remain before the space shuttle fleet is retired. That is why Scott says the Challenger disaster's 25th anniversary is crucial in remembering the value of man in space. "Thirty years of flying a shuttle has captured the imagination of a whole generation. The next generation isn't going to have that," said Scott.

Walter is now retired but volunteers by lecturing about NASA and the space education. He hopes NASA will encourage young people to pursue not just research, but science and exploration.

©2011 KTRE. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.