Skip to main content

Did The White House Trigger The Challenger Catastrophe?

April 2024
1min read

An awareness of public relations considerations hasn’t been lacking
in American political practice, from the time of Sam Adams and the Boston Tea Party on. Only in our own day, though, have we seen such considerations threatening to control events to an alarmingly increased extent.

Quite possibly as planned dramatic background for President Reagan’s State of the Union address, originally scheduled for January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger was sent aloft despite weather too cold for hours beforehand to promise favorable conditions for a launching. There was no disclosure then or later of what last-minute messages may have gone from the White House to NASA executives at Huntsville, Alabama, or to officials at Cape Canaveral, bearing on the takeoff decision.

For the period from noon of January 27 to 11:38 A.M. of the 28th, by examination of White House logs or otherwise, I’d like it clearly proven or clearly disproven whether word from or on behalf of the President went to Alabama or Florida bidding those in charge not to be too finicky—given the upcoming address—about getting the Challenger and its seven astronauts into the air, cold weather or no cold weather.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this magazine of trusted historical writing, now in its 75th year, and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.