Friday, January 28, 2011

Challenger Shuttle Disaster: 25 Years Later

Space Shuttle Challenger: 25 Years Later

Space Shuttle Challenger: 25 Years Later

Space Shuttle Challenger: 25 Years Later

Space Shuttle Challenger: 25 Years Later

Space Shuttle Challenger: 25 Years Later

Space Shuttle Challenger: 25 Years Later

Space Shuttle Challenger: 25 Years Later

Space Shuttle Challenger: 25 Years Later

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — For many, no single word evokes as much pain.


A quarter-century later, images of the exploding space shuttle still signify all that can go wrong with technology and the sharpest minds. The accident on Jan. 28, 1986 — a scant 73 seconds into flight, nine miles above the Atlantic for all to see — remains NASA’s most visible failure.

It was the world’s first high-tech catastrophe to unfold on live TV. Adding to the anguish was the young audience: Schoolchildren everywhere tuned in that morning to watch the launch of the first schoolteacher and ordinary citizen bound for space, Christa McAuliffe.

She never made it.

McAuliffe and six others on board perished as the cameras rolled, victims of stiff O-ring seals and feeble bureaucratic decisions.

It was, as one grief and trauma expert recalls, "the beginning of the age when the whole world knew what happened as it happened."

"That was kind of our pilot study for all the rest to come, I think. It was so ghastly," said Sally Karioth, a professor in Florida State University’s school of nursing.

The crew compartment shot out of the fireball, intact, and continued upward another three miles before plummeting. The free fall lasted more than two minutes. There was no parachute to slow the descent, no escape system whatsoever; NASA had skipped all that in shuttle development. Space travel was considered so ordinary, in fact, that the Challenger seven wore little more than blue coveralls and skimpy motorcycle-type helmets for takeoff.

In a horrific flash, the most diverse space crew ever — including one black, one Japanese-American and two women, one of them a Jew — was gone. The name of NASA’s second oldest shuttle was forever locked in a where-were-you moment.

"You say ‘Challenger’ and then we see that figure of smoke in the sky," said Karioth, who teaches death and dying classes.

There has been a growing list of calamities since then.

Waco. Oklahoma City. Columbine. 9/11. Shuttle Columbia. Katrina. Virginia Tech. And now, Tucson.

With so much carnage, another space catastrophe wouldn’t have the same impact as Challenger, Karioth noted. "We’re used to everybody dying now," she said.

Surly bonds of Earth

The death of a young, vivacious schoolteacher, combined with NASA’s stubborn refusal to share information about the accident and the realization that America’s space program was fallible, added to the nation’s collective pain.

President Ronald Reagan’s poetic tribute soothed the day’s raw emotions.

"The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives," Reagan told a grieving nation after canceling that night’s State of the Union address. "We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of Earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’"

NASA safely had launched shuttles 24 times before, and a sense of routine and hurry-it-up had crept in. The space agency wanted to pull off 15 missions in 1986. Repeated delays with Columbia on that year’s first flight and then with Challenger were spoiling the effort.

The first federal Martin Luther King holiday had just been observed. NASA’s Voyager 2 probe, flying farther than any previous spacecraft, had swung past Uranus, discovering 10 new moons. "That’s What Friends Are For," the AIDS charity anthem, topped the music charts. And a 37-year-old schoolteacher from Concord, N.H., was about to rocket into orbit.

"Imagine a history teacher making history," McAuliffe observed before the flight. She got an apple from a technician atop the ice-encrusted launch pad, before boarding Challenger one final time.

In the 20s at daybreak, the temperature had risen only into the mid-30s by the time Challenger blasted off at 11:38 a.m. "Go at throttle up," radioed commander Francis "Dick" Scobee.

What happened next was unthinkable, his widow says.

"It was really a shock wave that went across our country and around the world," June Scobee Rodgers said in an interview this week with The Associated Press. "People witnessed the loss of Challenger over and over on their televisions."

Dick Scobee. Michael Smith. Ellison Onizuka. Judith Resnik. Ronald McNair. Christa McAuliffe. Gregory Jarvis. The first of the shuttle astronauts to die on the job.

Columbia and beyond

Seventeen years later, almost to the day, seven more astronauts were killed, this time at the end of their mission. Instead of booster rockets and freezing launch weather, fuel-tank foam insulation was to blame. The similarities between Challenger and Columbia, though, were haunting. Another multiethnic crew lost, more poor decision-making, an intolerant work culture, drum-beating pressure to launch.

This week, as NASA observes the 25th anniversary of the Challenger disaster, the shuttle fleet is grounded once more. Fuel tank cracking is the latest culprit.

NASA hopes to get Discovery flying by the end of February. Endeavour — Challenger’s replacement — will follow in April. It will fly with or without commander Mark Kelly, who’s tending to his wounded wife, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot Jan. 8 in Tucson. Atlantis will close out the 30-year shuttle program with a summertime flight, No. 135.

Shuttle program manager John Shannon prefers not "to compare and contrast" the Challenger era and now. But he points out that he’s felt "zero pressure" to rush the remaining flights, even though "we kind of get beat up a little bit" in some quarters for all the delays.

Roger Launius, a senior curator at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, says: "When we look back 50 years from now on the shuttle program, we are going to view it as this remarkable technological achievement. The one and only reusable human space vehicle in the world. And it had a remarkable run for 30 years. Some tragedies along the way, but enormous successes as well."

For their part, the families of the lost Challenger crew dwell on the good that came out of the accident: a network of education centers. The 48th Challenger Learning Center opens Friday in Louisville, Ky.

Widower speaks out

On Thursday, Steven J. McAuliffe, the widower of Christa McAuliffe, said in a statement that remembrances by people across the country are "both comforting and inspirational to our family."

McAuliffe, a federal judge in Concord, N.H., said, "Christa confidently and joyfully embraced life, no less than her friends and colleagues on Challenger, and no less than the crews of Columbia, Apollo 1, and all of those people who courageously follow their own paths every day. I know Christa would say that that is the most precious lesson — ordinary people can make extraordinary contributions ..."

He said she would be especially pleased by the Challenger Center for Space Science Education. Dick Scobee’s widow, June Rodgers, is an educator and founding board chairman of the center.

As she has on every Challenger anniversary, Rodgers will visit a learning center to watch the children in action. First, she will take part in NASA’s public memorial service Friday morning at Kennedy Space Center, some 10 miles from Challenger’s grave. The remains of the spacecraft — what was retrieved from the ocean — are buried in a pair of abandoned missile silos on Air Force property.

"I wonder if it’s because the image is so ingrained in our brains, that it seems like yesterday," Rodgers said.

Almost as many years have passed since the accident, as the span of her 26-year marriage to Dick Scobee.

"Isn’t it interesting about the number 25?" she asked softly. "Challenger was the 25th mission. This is 25 years."

A full generation has come and gone.

Check out the article at MSNBC.

25 YEARS??? Has it really been that long? I remember very well sitting in my fourth grade classroom watching on TV... what a sad day that was.

I found a very interesting article worth reading: 7 Myths about the Challenger Shuttle Disaster.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Optimism Building for 2011 Tiger Football!!!

LSU 75th Cotton Bowl Trophy

LSU 75th Cotton Bowl Headline

LSU's Patrick Peterson wins 2010 Thorpe Award

In the LSU football history book, the 2010 season will be remembered for a lot of things.

An 11-2 record that included single-digit road losses to two BCS bowl teams and ended with a convincing victory against Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl followed by another top-10 national ranking, the conclusion of the careers of a handful of players who etched their places in Tigers history, a head coach reaffirming his commitment to the program and an embattled offensive coordinator walking away and opening the door to a new beginning.

Now with his LSU tenure entering a new phase and a new offensive wingman at his side, Les Miles is ready to move onto a new season.

And 2011 — while there are questions and uncertainty to navigate — sets up as another potential watershed season for the Tigers and Miles.

Miles didn’t shy away from those expectations Friday when he made reference to big games in New Orleans and LSU playing in them recently. The BCS title game will be in New Orleans next January — and LSU won the 2003 and 2007 BCS national championships in the Superdome.

Is there reason for Miles to set lofty goals for his team that next fall has to replace three starters on offense, four on defense and three primary contributors on special teams?

Apparently so.

Writers from and have pegged the Tigers No. 1 in preseason polls.

And after affirming his ties to Baton Rouge after the chance to coach his alma mater at Michigan passed for the second time in four years and by hiring Steve Kragthorpe as the new offensive coordinator, Miles seems emboldened when he talks about the future.

It doesn’t hurt that the Tigers head into this offseason of high hopes off one of their best performances since the 2007 BCS national championship game, a 41-24 win over Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl.

“Our team plays (well) in big games, and that was a big game,” Miles said.

Now the transition begins, with several young players poised to jump into new roles and Miles ready to adjust to Kragthorpe as the two take aim at reinvigorating an offense that has been a rusty wheel most of the last two seasons.

Kragthorpe is emblematic of a fresh start, but Miles said his philosophy is the same. He said an optimal offense would generate 250 passing yards and 200 rushing.

The last two seasons, the Tigers have been off-kilter on what Miles desires. Last fall, LSU rushed for 185.7 yards per game and passed for 155.6. In 2009, those numbers were reversed and worse overall: 122.8 rushing and 181.8 passing.

“I have always had an offense that had balance, both the run and the pass,” Miles said. “In every meaningful down and distance, it’s always been, for me, the opportunity to throw and to run.

“It was never about run first, and throw second. I’m going to be the first one to tell you, when you’re down 14 and it’s late in the game, we’ll throw damn near every down. And when we’re up 14 and it’s late in the game, many times we will use the clock and eliminate the opponent by running the football. Those are the things a quality offense has the ability to do.

“In a season where you win 11, I think the opportunity to close out some games like we did running the football probably skews the view a little. I am a balanced run-and-pass guy, and it shouldn’t be looked at any other way.”

For the Tigers to approach the 250/200 goals Miles set, Kragthorpe’s role will be key.

The new coordinator and quarterbacks coach will have veterans to work with, but veterans Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee have been inconsistent and newcomer Zach Mettenberger has yet to take a snap at the FBS level.

“I think it’s a great hire,” Miles said about Kragthorpe. “I talked to an offensive coordinator in the NFL (Friday) morning and he said ‘Man that’s a great hire. He’s a guy that has a great reputation for the ability to improve your quarterback.’ Now that is just what we need.”

Jefferson has started 27 of the last 28 games and has thrown for 3,996 yards and 28 touchdowns. Lee produced 1,873 yards and 14 TDs in 2008 and contributed 573 yards in spot duty this season. Mettenberger, who began his college career at Georgia, spent the 2010 season at Butler County (Kan.) Community College and passed for 2,678 yards and 32 scores in 12 games.

“To me, there’s going to be some competition at the quarterback spot; there’s no question,” Miles said.

“I think I’ve always been a guy who enjoys competition. I do recognize the experience that Jordan Jefferson has. … We’re going to go into the spring to improve our football team at quarterback and at every position.”

It’s also possible LSU could again operate with a two-quarterback system.

“The issue becomes is that quarterback that stays on the field the entire time giving you all the abilities to win the game, period?” Miles said. “And is it best for your football team to have him to take every snap, period? Those are the questions we have to ask and then answer as we move forward in the spring and then next fall.”

Quarterback isn’t the only focus for Miles and Kragthorpe.

With Stevan Ridley’s early departure to the NFL draft, the running back position is wide open.

Ridley plowed for 1,147 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2010 and when the Tigers needed tough yards — and when the defense knew a running play was coming — he was almost always the ball carrier.

Now that role is open, with rising sophomores Michael Ford, Spencer Ware and Alfred Blue in the running. Incoming freshman Kenny Hilliard will also get a shot.

“The tailbacks that are on campus will have a great opportunity to play, including those guys in the freshman class that are coming in,” Miles said. “The need for a quality back to step in there and come out of the freshman class is very sincere.

“It’s going to be interesting to see who the best tailback is.”

Revamping a defense that loses Kelvin Sheppard, Patrick Peterson, Drake Nevis and Pep Levingston will be a different challenge. But having the defensive coaching staff intact for a third year in a row is a benefit.

Miles’ eyes lit up when he rattled off the names of the next wave of defensive leaders, many of whom jumped into the thick of things this season: Ryan Baker, Sam Montgomery, Mo Claiborne, Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid and Tharold Simon.

One of the players who has moved on understands Miles’ excitement.

“I’m going to be watching those guys,” Peterson said earlier this month when he announced he was leaving for the NFL. “They’ve got a chance to be really good. When you lose guys like Shep and Drake and Pep and me, that’s tough. But they have a chance to be just as good or better, because those are some talented guys.”

Talented guys ready for the next challenge, just like their coach.

Check out the article at The Advocate.

Can't wait 'til next season!!! GEAUX TIGERS!!!

Friday, January 07, 2011

Tigers and Aggies finally meet in Cotton Bowl!

LSU vs Texas A&M in the 75th Cotton Bowl

LSU vs Texas A&M in the 75th Cotton Bowl

LSU vs Texas A&M in the 75th Cotton Bowl

LSU vs Texas A&M in the 75th Cotton Bowl

LSU vs Texas A&M in the 75th Cotton Bowl

ARLINGTON, Texas - LSU will be after its fourth 11-win season under head coach Les Miles tonight when the 11th-ranked Tigers face Texas A&M in the 75th AT&T Cotton Bowl here at Cowboys Stadium.

Kickoff between the Tigers and the Aggies is set for 7:29 p.m. and the game will be broadcast to a national audience on FOX with Kenny Albert and Daryl Johnston on the call.  The game can be also heard on the LSU Sports Radio Network as well as in the Geaux Zone on with Jim Hawthorne, Doug Moreau and Jordy Hultberg calling the action.

LSU brings a 10-2 overall mark into the contest, while the Aggies are 9-3. Tonight's meeting is the first between the teams since 1995 and the 50th overall between the schools. LSU leads the overall series 26-20-3, but the Aggies have won five straight and six of the last seven games between the teams. LSU's last win over Texas A&M came in Tiger Stadium in 1990 by a 17-8 count.

LSU is making its school-record 11th straight bowl appearance with six of those coming under Miles. The Tigers are 4-1 in bowl games under Miles, which includes a pair of victories in BCS bowl. Miles ranks second in school history in bowl appearances (6) and bowl victories (4), trailing on Charles McClendon, who led the Tigers to 13 bowl games and seven bowl wins during his 18 seasons in Baton Rouge.

Tonight marks the end of a week that has seen the Tigers enjoy great hospitality from the Cotton Bowl in a city that has rolled out the red carpet for LSU.

"This has been a great week and a tremendous experience for our team and the fans," Miles said. "The Cotton Bowl has gone out of their way to provide a great bowl week for the players and families. We are grateful for the wonderful hospitality that we've been shown this week by the Cotton Bowl and the city of Dallas.

"Now it's time to go out and do what we came here for and that's to play well against a very good Texas A&M team"

Tonight's game marks the culmination of a month's worth of preparation for the Tigers, one that has seen LSU practice five times in Cowboys Stadium.

"We've had really good preparation," Miles said. "I like our game plan and I think the players are ready to go out and execute our plan. The focus this week has been really good. I think our players are focused and ready to go out and lay it on the line for victory in the Cotton Bowl."

If the Tigers are going to have success tonight, they will have to do it with balance on offense and with a defense that must be ready to stop a high-powered Aggie offense. The Aggies go in to tonight's game having won six straight, which includes victories over Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska, Texas Tech, Baylor and Kansas.

"This Texas A&M team is very good in all phases of the game," Miles said. "On offense, they can throw it and run it and on defense they are very physical and do a good job of getting to the ball. We are going to have to be sound in all three phases of the game to have success."

Offensively, the Tigers will likely look to running back Stevan Ridley to set the tone early as the junior leads the team and ranks fourth in the conference in rushing yards with 1,042 and 14 touchdowns. Ridley and the rest of the Tiger runners should get a boost from the offensive line as Alex Hurst (ankle) and Will Blackwell (ankle) are both back at full strength after missing time late in the year due to injuries. Hurst will start at right tackle, while Blackwell and T-Bob Hebert will split time at right guard.

Quarterback Jordan Jefferson will make his third consecutive start in a bowl game tonight against the Aggies. Jefferson, who also started bowl games against Georgia Tech and Penn State, has thrown for 1,253 yards and four scores this year. He's also added 383 yards and six rushing TDs for the Tigers.

Jefferson and the Tiger offense will face an A&M squad that is allowing just 20.3 points and 357.5 yards per game.

When the Aggies have the ball, they will face a Tiger defense that ranks in the top 10 in the nation in three categories - scoring (17.8), total defense (301.7) and pass defense (165.8).

Linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, a first team All-SEC pick, leads the Tigers with 108 tackles, while second-team All-America Drake Nevis is first on the team in both tackles for losses (13.0) and sacks (6.0). LSU's all-everything cornerback Patrick Peterson has 36 tackles, four interceptions and six pass breakups to his credit as he's the leader of the LSU secondary.

The Tiger defense will have to find a way to slow Texsas A&M running back Cyrus Gray, who has rushed for 1,033 yards and 12 touchdowns. Aggies quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who started the year at wide receiver, has flourished since changing positions midway through the year. Tannehill has thrown for 1,434 yards and 11 scores in leading the Aggies to a 5-0 mark as the starting quarterback.

No LSU game would be complete without some type of special teams highlight. Kicker Josh Jasper, a first team All-America, leads the nation with 26 field goals and he's also successfully executed three fakes - one field goal and two punts - this year.

Peterson, who also doubles as LSU's return specialist, has returned two punts for touchdowns and ranks among the national leaders with 16.1 yards a return. Peterson set the LSU single-season record for kickoff returns yards with 851 and a 29.3 average.

"We excited to finally get the game here and play," Miles said. "It seems like it's been forever since we last played a game. I know that our team is ready to go out and finish this season with a strong performance."

Check out the article at LSU