Remembering Space Shuttle Challenger and the first Mac Flight Sim

Twenty five years ago today, my colleagues and I sat together and watched Space Shuttle Challenger launch itself into history. That history was not what man intended, as Challenger broke up approximately 73 seconds into its tenth flight for NASA. The seven astronauts on board were true explorers, pushing the envelope, and hoping for better things in an increasingly complex world.

For my team, watching the shuttle break into pieces had a different meaning. Our team (Aegis Development) had recently completed the first flight simulator for the Apple Macintosh, titled Mac-Challenger. My partner and Mac-Challenger author William Volk was so proud of his work – Mac graphics at the time were slow and simplistic, and to have a realistic (and it was!) rate of decent, turn, yaw, and speed was quite an accomplishment for that time. As with many flight sims, if you flew outside of the parameters, the vehicle would crash*. The realism and direct impact on our team emotionally (not to mention the world), changed us.

Space Shuttle Challenger represented something else for the United States and the world. It represented a new “live action” look at life, and unfortunately death, in a way most people had not been exposed to previously. It was the start of something that is so commonplace today, we don’t even realize it’s happening. Today, we can look into the lives, events, and challenges of our world in real-time. Connecting yourself to any event is a few clicks or taps away. The Iraq war was live. Trivial social issues are lead stories on major networks and carried live – and the unrest in Egypt taking place today is live, not only on television, but on our phones, our computers, our iPads, and Facebook.

Challenger was named after the HMS Challenger, a British corvette used as the command ship for an early (1866) global marine expedition, and also for the Apollo 17 Lunar module, Challenger. NASA knew the importance of connecting history with present day. And as we look back at January 28, 1986, we would be remiss not to think of the remarkable things mankind has accomplished in science and technology during the past 25 years. I will never forget that day, and even now, it motivates me to do a better job, and to push just a little harder when things are most important.

Ed Note: *Our team reworked the packaging and program to be a memorial tribute to NASA and the crew. After several months, we pulled the product, not wanting to promote the tragedy, nor wanting to simply change the name.

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