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Eyes Turned Skyward
A star gazing, rocket riding, moon walking quote collection

Space Shuttle



An entirely new type of space transportation system designed to help transform the space frontier of the 1970's into familiar territory, easily accessible for human endeavor in the 1980's and '90's.

— President Richard M. Nixon, announcing the Space Shuttle program, 5 January 1972.

The shuttle tomorrow is truly like laying the last spike on the transcontinental railroad, only much more so. And whether or not we're going to see in in the next 10 or 20 years, there are people alive today who will see manufacturing in space from moon materials or from asteroids.

— Jerry Brown, Governor of California, 1977.

The fourth landing of the Columbia is the historical equivalent of the driving of the golden spike which completed the first transcontinental railroad. It marks our entrance into a new era.

— President Ronald Reagan, regards the final test flight of the Space Shuttle, STS-4, 4 July 1982

As chairman of the Senate subcommittee responsible for NASA appropriations, I say not a penny for this nutty fantasy.

— Senator William Proxmire, 1977.

And as we know now, and as I pointed out many times, the great plume of fire at the bottom of the Space Shuttle is actually dollar bills burning, and the most efficient method of destroying American dollar bills as has ever been devised by man.

— Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, during fiscal year 1998 NASA authorization hearings, 4 March 1997.

The Shuttle is to space flight what Lindbergh was to commercial aviation.

— Arthur C. Clarke

Anyone who sits on top of the largest hydrogen-oxygen fueled system in the world; knowing they're going to light the bottom&mdashand doesn't get a little worried — does not fully understand the situation.

  — John Young, after being asked if he was worried about making the first Space Shuttle flight.

Let's face it, space is a risky business. I always considered every launch a barely controlled explosion.

— Aaron Cohen, NASA administrator.

The powered flight took a total of about eight and a half minutes. It seemed to me it had gone by in a lash. We had gone from sitting still on the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center to traveling at 17,500 miles an hour in that eight and a half minutes. It is still mind-boggling to me. I recall making some statement on the air-to-ground radio for the benefit of my fellow astronauts, who had also been in the program a long time, that it was well worth the wait.

— Bob Crippen, STS-1 astronaut, regards first flight of the Space Shuttle, 12 April 1981.

Space Shuttle

This vehicle is performing like a champ. I've got a super spaceship under me.

— Bob Crippen, STS-1 astronaut, regards the Space Shuttle Columbia, 12 April 1981.

The dream is alive.

— John Young, after landing the first Space Shuttle STS-1 at Edwards Air Force Base, 14 April 1981.

Through you, we feel as giants, once again.

— President Ronald Reagan, to the crew of Columbia after their completion of the first shuttle mission, 14 April 1981.

May well have been one small step for Neil, but it's a heck of a big leap for me!

— Bruce McCandless, first untethered spacewalk, during STS-41-B, 7 February 1984.

Bruce McCandless Backpacking 1984

Bruce McCandless talked to Smithsonian magazine in 2005 about his famous picture: "I have the sun visor down, so you can't see my face, and that means it could be anybody in there. It's sort of a representation not of Bruce McCandless, but mankind."

Unacceptable - Tang can move outboard and cause excessive joint clearance resulting in seal leakage.

— Leon Ray, NASA technician, memo regards the option of making no change to the original design of the Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) clevis joint. SRM Clevis Joint Leakage Study, 21 October 1977.

SRM Clevis Joint Leakage Study 1977

This letter is written to insure that management is fully aware of the seriousness of the current O-ring erosion problem in the SRM joints from an engineering standpoint… . If the same scenario should occur in a field joint (and it could), then it is a jump ball as to the success or failure of the joint because the secondary O-ring cannot respond to the clevis opening rate and may not be capable of pressurization. The result would be a catastrophe of the highest order - loss of human life… .

It is my honest and very real fear that if we do not take immediate action to dedicate a team to solve the problem with the field joint having the number one priority, then we stand in jeopardy of losing a flight along with all the launch pad facilities.

— Roger Boisjoly, Morton Thiokol, Inc. interoffice memo to R. K. Lund, Vice President, Engineering titled SRM O-Ring Erosion/Potential Failure Criticality, sent six months before the Challenger launch, 31 July 1985.

My God, Thiokol, when do you want me to launch, next April?

— Lawrence Mulloy, Solid Rocket Booster Project Director, Marshall Space Flight Center, NASA, regards Morton Thiokol's engineers' warnings, 27 January 1986.

[I'm] appalled at the Thiokol recommendation.

— George Hardy, Deputy Director of Science and Engineering, Marshall Space Flight Center, NASA, regards Morton Thiokol's engineers' warnings, 27 January 1986.

If the primary [o-ring] seal does not seat, the secondary seal will seat… . [Morton Thiokol] recommends STS-51L launch proceed on 28 January 1986.

— Joe C. Kilminster, VP Space Booster Programs, Morton Thiokal, after a meeting in which Senior VP Jerry Mason told people to take off their engineering hats and put on their management hat, by fax to NASA, January 27 1986.

I made the statement that if we're wrong and something goes wrong on this flight, I wouldn't want to have to be the person to stand up in front of board of inquiry and say that I went ahead and told them to go ahead and fly this thing outside what the motor was qualified to.

— Allan McDonald, Morton Thikol, testimony to the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident, 14 February 1986.

CAPCOM Richard Covey: Challenger Houston, you are go at Throttle Up.
Cmdr. Dick Scobee: Roger Houston, Go at Throttle Up.
Pilot Mike Smith: uh-oh …

— last words recorded from Space Shuttle Challenger before exploding 74 seconds into its flight, 28 January 1986.

Obviously a major malfunction.

— Stephen A Nesbitt, NASA Public Affairs Officer, live on air, just moments after the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, 28 January 1986.

Space Shuttle Challenger Explosion

This is a day we have managed to avoid for a quarter of a century. We've talked about it before and speculated about it, and it finally has occurred. We hoped we could push this day back forever.

— John Glenn, first American to orbit the Earth, regards the explosion of Space Shuttle Challenger, the New York Times, 29 January 1986.

All of the people involved in the program, to my knowledge, felt Challenger was quite ready to go and I made the decision, along with the recommendation of the team supporting me, that we launched.

— Jesse W. Moore, NASA associate administrator for space flight, reported in the New York Times, 29 January 1986.

There is just no way that I can understand in God's green earth that an airline could undertake with its normal procedures the operation of the Space Shuttle… . You don't put parachutes on airliners because the margin of safety is built into the machine. The 727 airplanes we fly are proven vehicles with levels of safety and redundancy built in. The shuttle is a hand-made piece of experimental gear.

— Frank Borman, former Apollo astronaut and president of Eastern Airlines, quoted in Bell & Esch, The Fatal Flaw in Flight 51-l, 1987.

Statistics don't count for anything. They have no place in in engineering anywhere.

— Will Willoughby, NASA head of reliability and safety during the Apollo moon landing program. Quoted in Bel & Esch, The Space Shuttle: A Case of Subjective Engineering, 1989.

I know how to never have another 'Challenger.' I know how to never have another leak, and never to screw up another mirror, and that is to stop and build some shopping centers in the desert.

— J. R. Thompson, NASA deputy administrator.

All of a sudden, space isn't friendly. All of a sudden, it's a place where people can die… . Many more people are going to die. But we can't explore space if the requirement is that there be no casualties; we can't do anything if the requirement is that there be no casualties.

— Isaac Asimov, regards the Challenger investigation, on CBS television show 48 Hours, 21 April 1988.

It appears that there are enormous differences of opinion as to the probability of a failure with loss of vehicle and of human life. The estimates range from roughly 1 in 100 to 1 in 100,000. The higher figures come from the working engineers, and the very low figures from management… .
Only realistic flight schedules should be proposed, schedules that have a reasonable chance of being met. If in this way the government would not support them, then so be it. NASA owes it to the citizens from whom it asks support to be frank, honest, and informative… .
For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.

— Richard P. Feynman, 'Personal Observations on Reliability of Shuttle,' Volume II, Appendix F to the official Report of the Presidential commission of the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident, issued 6 June 1986.

Our nation is indeed fortunate that we can still draw on an immense reservoir of courage, character, and fortitude, that we are still blessed with heroes like those of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Man will continue his conquest of space. To reach out for new goals and ever-greater achievements, that is the way we shall commemorate our seven Challenger heroes.

— President Ronald Reagan

To use a Southern euphemism, our space program has been snake-bit.

— Al Gore, (then) US Senator, regards the unsuccessful launch of an unmanned rocket shortly after the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, Nightline TV show, 5 May 1986.

We fooled ourselves into thinking this thing wouldn't crash. When I was in astronaut training I asked, 'what is the likelihood of another accident?' The answer I got was: one in 10,000, with an asterisk. The asterisk meant, 'we don't know.'

— Bryan O'Connor, NASA deputy associate administrator Space Shuttle, interview in Space News, 10 January 1996.

 To venture into space we must be strong-willed and determined. We must be fully committed to its exploration and discovery; space permits no half measures and is unforgiving of mistakes.

— Henry Joy McCracken, LM, November 1997.

In the press grandstand where I watched Discovery rise against the cloudless sky, the media hit the abort button on cynicism. The Earth shook to the sounds of man, three miles away. The candle lit… only someone stripped of awe can leave a launch untouched.

— Jonathan Alter, Newsweek magazine, 9 November 1998.

The route to the target is more important than the target. We are going to go for the target, but we enjoy the route as well.

— Israeli Air Force Col. Ilan Ramon, to reporters on the eve of his Space Shuttle flight, 16 January 2003. STS-107 was lost on re-entry on 1 February 2003.

When you look at the stars and the galaxy, you feel that you are not just from any particular piece of land, but from the solar system.

— Kalpana Chawla, mission specialist, first Indian born woman astronaut. STS-107 was lost on re-entry on 1 February 2003.

So, no safety-of-flight kind of issue. It's more of a turnaround issue similar to what we've had on other flights. That's it? All right, any questions on that?
…  I don't think there is much we can do, so it's not really a factor during the flight, since there is not much we can do about it.

— Linda Ham, NASA Mission Management Team, cutting off Don McCormack, who was summarizing the progress of the Debris Assessment Team, an ad hoc engineering group charged with analyzing the foam strike. Unfairly seen by many as a turning point in the causal chain of the Columbia accident. Day six of the mission, 21 January 2003.

info: Possible PAO Event Question
Rick and Willie,
You guys are doing a fantastic job staying on the timeline and accomplishing great science. Keep up the good work and let us know if there is anything that we can do better from an MCC/POCC standpoint.
There is one item that I would like to make you aware of for the upcoming PAO event … This item is not even worth mentioning other than wanting to make sure that you are not surprised by it in a question from a reporter… .
Experts have reviewed the high speed photography and there is no concern for RCC or tile damage. We have seen this same phenomenon on several other flights and there is absolutely no concern for entry. That is all for now. It's a pleasure working with you every day.

— email written by one of the lead flight controllers to the shuttle pilots. It was there only notice about the ground concerns regards the foam strike. PAO refers to the NASA Public Affairs Office. Sent on day 8 of the mission, 23 January 2003.

The excitement that only exists when there is danger was kind of gone — even though the danger was not gone.

— Douglas Osheroff, Stanford physicist, Nobel laureate, member of the CIAB, commenting on the safety culture within NASA prior to the Columbia accident. Quoted in Atlantic Monthly, November 2003.

CAPCOM Charlie Hobaugh: Columbia, Houston. We see your tire pressure message and we did not copy your last.
Cmdr. Rick Husband: Roger. Uh …

— last words recorded from Space Shuttle Columbia, 08:00 Houston time 1 February 2003.

Columbia, Houston, UHF comm. check.

— CAPCOM Lt. Col. Charlie Hobaugh, transmitting in the blind on the UHF back-up radio system. Started about 3 minutes after the shuttle data stream stopped, and repeated several times. 1 February 2003.

The cause in which they died will continue. Mankind is led into the darkness beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand. Our journey into space will go on.

In the skies today we saw destruction and tragedy. Yet farther than we can see there is comfort and hope. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, "Lift your eyes and look to the heavens. Who created all these? He who brings out the starry hosts one by one and calls them each by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing."

The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today. The crew of the shuttle Columbia did not return safely to Earth; yet we can pray that all are safely home.

— President George W. Bush, address to the nation from the Cabinet Room. 14:04 EST 01 February 2003.

TIn the 19th Century people were looking for the Northwest Passage. Ships were lost and brave people were killed, but that doesn't mean we never went back to that part of the world again, and I consider it the same in space exploration.

— John L. Phillips, astronaut.

The route to the target is more important than the target. We are going to go for the target, but we enjoy the route as well.

— Israeli Air Force Col. Ilan Ramon, to reporters on the eve of his Space Shuttle flight, 16 January 2003. STS-107 was lost on re-entry on 1 February 2003

Some say that we should stop exploring space, that the cost in human lives is too great. But Columbia's crew would not have wanted that. We are a curious species, always wanting to know what is over the next hill, around the next corner, on the next island. And we have been that way for thousands of years.

— Stuart Atkinson, New Mars, Mar. 7, 2003.

Some things simply are inherent to the design of the bird and cannot be made better without going and getting a new generation of spacecraft. That's as true for the Space Shuttle as it is for your toaster oven.

— Michael Griffin, NASA Administrator, regards Space Shuttle safety, eve of launch of STS-114, 25 July 2005

Space Shuttle

Every one of us is aware there is a slightly increased risk if you compare it to the day-to-day risk that we might be exposed to driving on the streets or going on commercial airlines. Each of us, independent of our nationality or space agency, believes the experience we gain in terms of scientific results, in terms of just expanding our horizons, is worth the remaining risk.

— German astronaut Thomas Reiter, a few days prior to launch of STS-121, reported in the Houston Chronicle newspaper, 25 June 2006

Of course risk is part of spaceflight. We accept some of that to achieve greater goals in exploration and find out more about ourselves and the universe.

— Lisa Nowak, STS-121 astronaut, a few days prior to launch, reported in the Houston Chronicle newspaper, 25 June 2006.

In 1972 we had three guys exploring the Moon, making discoveries. In 2002 we have three guys circling the Earth, making repairs.

— Richard Fienberg, Sky & Telescope magazine editorial on the state of space flight 30 years after the last lunar landing. December, 2002.

NASA asked me to create meals for the space shuttle. Thai chicken was the favorite. I flew in a fake space shuttle, but I have no desire to go into space after seeing the toilet.

— Rachael Ray

The vast majority of the shuttle program was a success. We learned so much about how a reusable spacecraft interacts with its environment, how it agesand what to design next time.

— Col. Eileen Collins, two time shuttle commander and member of NASA's Advisory Council. Popular Mechanics, April 2011.

Space station assembly is complete.

— Mark Kelly, four-time astronaut, commander of STS-134, the last flight of the space shuttle Endeavour, 27 May 2011.

We have a home up there, and we're destined to be up there and we're destined to go beyond low-Earth orbit, perhaps set up a colony on the Moon and go on to Mars.

— Chris Ferguson, commander of Atlantis STS-135, 'Final Space Shuttle Crew Profiled,' NASA TV, 24 June 2011. 

Let's light this fire one more time, Mike, and witness this great nation at its best.

— Christopher Ferguson, Atlantis STS-135 commander, to launch director Mike Leinbach right before the lift-off of the final Space Shuttle mission, 8 July 2011


The thing I'll remember most about the flight is that it was fun. In fact, I'm sure it was the most fun that I'll ever have in my life.

— Sally K. Ride, first woman to orbit Earth aboard the Space Shuttle, 1983.



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