Like most people my age, I can recall exactly where I was on Jan. 28, 1986, when I heard the news that the space shuttle Challenger had exploded and broken apart just 73 sec. after liftoff, killing all seven crewmembers. I was driving onto a U.S. Air Force base getting ready for instrument instructor pilot training. The guard at the gate asked if I had heard. I didn’t even realize there was a launch that day. The shuttle launches had become, in a word, routine. Most space aficionados ...

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