Science: Challenger's Agony and Ecstasy

A shuttle mission that began in near disaster ends in triumph

It was what old NASA hands affectionately call an Eddie Air Force Base kind of day: blue sky, visibility of 45 miles, perfect for a landing. And as the space shuttle Challenger touched down last week on the runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in 95° heat, kicking up petticoats of dust, a flight that had begun in near disaster ended in triumph. Declared Mission Manager Roy Lester: "Even with a rough start, we achieved excellent science."

The first big glitch occurred on July 12, when a computer detected contamination in Challenger's hydrogen fuel and aborted the launch 3 sec....

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