Former NASA Employee Recalls Challenger

Like most East Texans on Saturday, John Lawrence of Pittsburg watched the coverage of the space shuttle disaster.

But John understands what it was like in the mission control room as they lost contact with the crew.

John Lawrence, now retired from NASA, was working in mission control the day the challenger blew up 17 years ago.

"There is the challenger crew," says Dr. John Lawrence as he looks through old photographs of his days with NASA.

He worked as a spokesman for the space shuttle program.

The job put him inside mission control during a shuttle launch including the day the Challenger exploded.

"The initial reaction is extremely professional. People are looking at data and doing what they're supposed to do. Making the measuring, reporting, discussing, trying to understand, coping with it in a very professional way. And it's not until later when you take off your head set and get up and close your book the emotion begins to sink in."

John says watching the coverage Saturday brought back horrible memories of watching friends die before his eyes.

"It's like the loss of a family member, because they're people you know intimately. You work with them everyday. You have lunch with them, have a beer with them after work. You know their wives, their children."

"The astronaut core is composed of about one hundred people and they are the best of us. They are the brightest, the hardest working, the most dedicated, the most loyal, bravest. They are indeed the best of us. When you lose a friend and lose someone of that kind of character and that kind of ability the blow is very considerable."

"In the coming weeks people are gonna wanna know who was to blame or who the failures were what's responsible for this."

John retired from his work at NASA in 1997.

He says the Challenger explosion changed NASA forever.

Now the latest disaster will do the same again.

Amy Tatum, reporting.