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"I think that was one of the mistakes God made," Ebeling told me in January. "He shouldn't have picked me for that job."
"He said, 'The Challenger's going to blow up. Everyone's going to die,' " Serna recalls. "And he was beating his fist on the dashboard. He was frantic." Serna, Ebeling and Boisjoly sat together in a crowded conference room as live video of the launch appeared on a large projection screen. When Challenger exploded, Serna says, "I could feel [Ebeling] trembling. And then he wept — loudly. And then Roger started crying."
Ebeling retired soon after the Challenger disaster. He used his engineering expertise and what he proudly called his love of ducks to help restore a bird refuge near his home that was damaged by floodwater from the Great Salt Lake. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush presented Ebeling with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Award.
It sounds to me like NASA was trying to bury this even as the Rogers Commission was doing its investigation. But the main thing I remember was that most of the blame was laid at the feet of that sub-contractor.
Feynman wrote that while other members of the Commission met with NASA and supplier top management, he sought out the engineers and technicians, which is how he became aware of the O-ring problem.
Ebeling also heard from two of the people who had overruled the engineers back in 1986. Former Thiokol executive Robert Lund and former NASA official George Hardy told him that Challenger was not his burden to bear.
And NASA sent a statement, saying that the deaths of the seven Challenger astronauts served to remind the space agency "to remain vigilant and to listen to those like Mr. Ebeling who have the courage to speak up."
The burden began to lift even as Ebeling's health declined. A few weeks before his death, he thanked those who reached out to him.