A Disorderly Christmas
Hoot’s second Shuttle flight, his first as Commander, was scheduled for 1985, but many delays in the Shuttle program pushed it later and later into the year. His crew was a great bunch—with several good friends from the Astronaut Corps. Three members of the crew—Hoot, George “Pinkie” Nelson, and Steve Hawley—had flown before, but it was a first for Charlie Bolden, and Franklin Chang Diaz, as well as Payload Specialists (who would only be making this one flight) Bob Cenker and United States Congressman Bill Nelson.
On their training trips to Cape Canaveral, they delighted in watching the raucous movie Animal House with John Belushi as “Bluto.” The fraternity house in the movie was the Delta Tau Chi so STS 61-C took on the nickname of the Delta House crew. Famous for silly pranks and movie quotes, they would be the last happy, carefree crew for several years.
The year passed quickly and the launch date slid into December. None of the families knew how to make holiday plans. At last, launch was set for seven days before Christmas, and the crew went into its week-long quarantine. Santa’s visit to our house was put on hold.
Off the crew went to Florida in their sleek NASA jets on December 15. The families met them on the tarmac at the Shuttle Landing Strip at the Kennedy Space Center for a brief press conference. Everyone hoped they’d have a quick launch, a short, successful flight, and be home in time for Christmas.
It was not to be.
The Delta House crew became known for its record number of launch and landing attempts. First the paperwork wasn’t complete on December 18. The next day, the launch was scrubbed at T-minus fourteen seconds because of a booster problem. When it became clear that the problem couldn’t be remedied quickly, the launch team and crew were sent home to return after New Year. Celebrations were hurried around proficiency training schedules and replanning for the trip back to Florida.
The second quarantine began on the last day of the year. Since wives were allowed to visit, we all sat around on the ratty furniture in the quarantine trailers, laughing and toasting the New Year, and planning our real Christmas vacations for after the flight.
It was off to Florida in early January. It was too cold to enjoy time at the beach. Starting on January 6, it took six days and four launch attempts to get off the ground. At the end of the mission it took three days to get Columbia home. Because of bad weather in Florida, Hoot made an unplanned night landing in Edwards Air Force Base in California while the families were still in Florida. We met later that day, January 18, back in Houston. The holiday season had been a crazy one for all of us, but it was still filled with love, laughter and the comradery that came with a Shuttle flight. The mission had been successful, her crew home safe. We were lucky.
Challenger launched ten days later in weather that was too cold.
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I had planned to only interview Bill Nelson for an article on the then-upcoming 25th anniversary of Challenger. I wound up interviewing your husband (Hoot) as well, and in the 15 minutes or so they both helped a lot, so much so that much of the interview had to be cut. To Bill, and to Hoot, I especially thank them.
My co-author recently interviewed Bob Cenker for our upcoming book on payload specialists. Great guy with some great insight and comments. Wishing all of you a great holiday season and many thanks to Dr. Seddon for this blog!