Sunday, January 30, 2005
Dr. Sanity: Challenger - A Flight Surgeon Remembers
Dr. Sanity: Challenger - A Flight Surgeon Remembers: The next 12 hours were something of a blur. I had read about mass hysteria in textbooks, but that description was far too mild for what I found when I reached the place the crew called home prior to a launch. All the members of the immediate and extended family were there. Women were screaming; babies crying. People thronged around me, wanting to know if the crew had parachuted to safety. I was stunned that they had not yet grasped what had happened. One family member was certain that a rescue plane would find the crew in the ocean somewhere. Several people fainted. I needed help to medically manage the 30 or more family members who were there, but George Abbey, the dictatorial head of Flight Crew Ops would not permit me to call in any other doctor. He was in full damage control mode, and wouldn't permit any TVs or radios to be turned on either. Certainly, no phone calls. I needed to hospitalize one person, who had become disoriented and confused. Abbey said no. I said that I couldn't accept that, and did it anyway (that moment, I realized much later, ended my chances of becoming an astronaut myself--a dream I'd had most of my life). Abbey didn't want anyone to leave and head back to Houston (where everyone lived; and where their entire support was) until after Vice President Bush arrived. The Vice President arrived at about 8:00pm that night. By then I was exhausted and could hardly stand up. I barely remember being introduced to Bush and shaking his hand. The closest I came to crying was when I heard the wife of the Shuttle Commander (Dick Scobee) say in a quavering voice to Bush that her husband would not have wanted space exploration to be halted because of what had happened that day. I realized that beyond the grieving was a fear that we all had at the time that this would hurt NASA.

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