What a Difference Six Days Makes

By William “Doc Halliday

Actually the difference was less than 141 hours, but as they say, who’s counting?  The more important difference was not the time but the temperature.  The event was originally scheduled to take place at 14:42 on January 22, but with various delays, it did not occur until 11:38 on January 28, 140 hours and 56 minutes later. 

During that time delay a cold front that had been expected two days earlier, moved into the area.  It brought some of the coldest weather in the area’s history.  Overnight the temperature in the area plunged to 18 degrees Fahrenheit, with the wind chill hitting ten degrees below zero.  Had the event taken place when it was originally scheduled, the temperature would have been in the normal range and would not have been a factor. 

Do you know who Richard Feynman was?  Richard Phillips Feynman was a theoretical physicist.  He received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1965, sharing it with two other individuals.  Mr. Feynman had worked on the atomic bomb during World War Two in the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos where he was a Group Leader. 

Feynman was an ardent proponent of bringing physics to the general population through both books and lectures, especially a 1959 talk on top-down nanotechnology called “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom”.   He also published his undergraduate lectures, “The Feynman Lectures on Physics” in three volumes. 

But perhaps you and most Americans know him best for the important role on the Rogers Commission.  During a televised hearing, Feynman demonstrated that the material used in certain O-rings became less resilient in cold weather.  He did this by compressing a sample of the material in a clamp and immersing it in ice-cold water. 

Or, perhaps you are more familiar with the name of Sharon Corrigan, who was born in Boston, Massachusetts almost 30 years after Mr. Feynman was born.  As she matured, Sharon began using her middle name of Christa, and when she married in 1970, she adopted her husband’s last name.  That same year she accepted her first teaching position in Maryland after graduating from college in her hometown. 

In 1984, using the name Christa McAuliffe, she applied for the Teacher in Space Project, and by 1985 had been selected as one of the ten finalists.  On July 19, 1985 she was selected to be the first teacher in space.  She would be one of seven members of the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger scheduled to lift off at 14:42 on January 22, 1986 on the 25th Space Shuttle mission. 

With the various delays that I mentioned earlier, that liftoff did not occur until 11:38 on January 28, 1986.  The delay of almost six full days proved disastrous as the cold front rolled in to Cape Canaveral bringing freezing temperatures with it. 

That morning there were hundreds of icicles, some two feet long, over the craft, and a crew was sent out to dislodge them.  The walkways and guardrails were also covered in ice.  By 11 AM the temperature had warmed up to 36 degrees, but that was still 15 degrees colder than any previous shuttle launch. 

One minute into the flight, the shuttle – at 35-thousand feet – hit a speed of Mach-1.5. Then, seconds later, something unusual was noticed.  The contrail thickened; it seemed to balloon out a bit.  Then one, just one, solid rocket booster came corkscrewing out of the cloud.  Seconds later, a second solid rocket booster can be seen.  At 73 seconds into the flight the Space Shuttle Challenger appears to explode.  There is no chance for the astronauts to escape during the initial two minutes of flight. 

Crowds of spectators on the beaches below are stunned at what they have seen; and then they are horrified.  There is shock and disbelief in the television audiences around the country and the world; particularly in Christa McAuliffe’s high school in Concord, New Hampshire.  Debris continues to fall from the sky for an hour after the explosion. 

That night, President Ronald Reagan addressed the nation, and used words from a great poem; “High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.  It is one of my favorites.  Those words he used were “and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God”. 

It was more than a month before the remains of the seven astronauts were pulled from the ocean.  They were found about 15 miles northeast of Cape Canaveral and 100 feet underwater.   

Mr. Feynman was a member of the Rogers Commission which ultimately determined that the disaster of the Challenger was caused by the primary O-ring not properly sealing in unusually cold weather at Cape Canaveral in Florida. 

January 28th, is the anniversary of the Challenger disaster.  Did you watch it live on television? 

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Pulpwood Queens book clubs meet in Jefferson for 19th year

By Caleb Brabham cbrabham@marshallnewsmessenger.com

Book lovers stampeded into Jefferson this weekend as book club The Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys held its annual conference in Jefferson.

“The book club’s sole mission is to promote authors, books, literacy and reading,” Pulpwood Queens Founder Kathy Murphy said. “We also like to champion first-time authors who have not been recognized in a big way. We have a lot of New York Times best-selling authors. But we really like to help the little guys who may never get seen. There are 10,000 books published a day — how does someone even get seen? That’s our goal.

”Hundreds turned out for the event, attending lectures, author meet-ups and book-signings.

Murphy said The Pulpwood Queens Book Club has grown tremendously since its humble start in Jefferson in 2000.

“This is our 19th year,” Murphy said. “We have 767 chapters. There are three more in the works. We’re also in 15 foreign countries. I started it in Jefferson with six complete strangers. It’s grown to be the largest meeting and discussing book club in the world.”

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Sabine Pass

By William “Doc” Halliday

Sabine Lake is a 90,000 acre salt water estuary formed by the confluence of the Neches and Sabine Rivers.  Sabine Pass is the natural outlet of Sabine Lake into the Gulf of Mexico.  It borders Cameron Parish, Louisiana and Jefferson County, Texas.  The former city of Sabine Pass, Texas is now a suburb of Port Arthur, Texas. 

The Confederacy constructed a major fort there in 1861. The principal Confederate defense force at Sabine Pass during the early months of the war had been Spaight’s Texas Battalion.  In the early morning hours of September 25, 1862, Union forces under the command of Acting Master Frederick Crocker attempted to enter Sabine Pass.  As Crocker and his forces made their way through the inland passage towards Beaumont, the Confederates attacked.

When the Union squadron approached Fort Sabine, Crocker ordered his ships to begin an artillery bombardment of the enemy position. Confederate forces numbering thirty infantry and artillerists manning their artillery, additionally supported by thirty cavalrymen, were unable to effectively return fire as the outdated guns were unable to reach the Union fleet. The commanding officer, Major Josephus S. Irvine (CSA), ordered his artillery spiked and then retreated during the night.  Without a significant military presence, the town of Sabine Pass, surrendered the following day.  This became known as the First Battle of Sabine Pass.  On October 8, 1862, Galveston, Texas was captured.  At that point, the Union controlled much of the Texas coast.

In November of 1862, Confederate General John Bankhead Magruder came to Texas with the intention of altering the direction of the war in this area. Magruder was an early Confederate hero in Virginia, and was assigned the difficult task of expelling the Union forces from Sabine Pass and Galveston.  Another unit, Capt. F. H. Odlums’ Co. F, of the 1st Texas Heavy Artillery, was sent to Sabine Pass in December of 1862. 

Magruder’s efforts were soon successful. He recaptured Galveston Island on January 1, 1863 and then turned his attention to Sabine Pass.  The two units manned artillery aboard two old gunboats referred to as cottonclads.  The gunboats were the Uncle Ben and Josiah Belle, which the Confederates used to break the blockade on Jan. 21, 1863, by chasing two Union sail ships, the Morning Light and Velocity, for 30 miles at sea and capturing them during a battle.

The decks of the two Rebel ships were stacked with cotton bales. Riflemen were placed behind the bales and the ships steamed towards the two Union ships, the Morning Light and the Velocity. Some of the riflemen became seasick and had to be removed, but the voyage continued. The Confederates chased the Union ships into open water, and the sharpshooters injured many Union gunners. Both Union ships soon surrendered. Magruder’s victory reopened the Texas coast for Confederate shipping. 

January 21, is the anniversary of the recapture of Sabine Pass, Texas, and the opening of that important port for the Confederacy when two Confederate ships drove away and captured the two Union ships. 

The Union intended to recapture Sabine Pass.  They planned revenge by capturing Sabine Pass, Beaumont, and Orange. They hoped to capture all the cotton and ships in port, as well as to burn railroad bridges and ferries on the rivers. Then they planned to attack Houston along the railroad to the west of Beaumont, and then starve Galveston Island into submission.  However, the effort was thwarted when less than 50 Confederates inside the fort there held off a much larger Union force.

After that embarrassment to the Federal forces, Union Gen. Benjamin Butler of New Orleans was determined to capture Sabine Pass by sea, but he had to await the seizure of Vicksburg before enough shallow draft gunboats were available. About Aug. 1, 1863, Gen. Butler began massing four gunboats and 19 troop transports at New Orleans in preparation for the battle. 

About 6:00 am on the morning of September 8, 1863, a Union flotilla of four gunboats and seven troop transports steamed into Sabine Pass and up the Sabine River with the intention of reducing Fort Griffin and landing troops to begin occupying Texas. As the gunboats approached Fort Griffin, they came under precise fire from just six cannons. The Confederate gunners at Fort Griffin had been sent there as a punishment. To break the day-to-day tedium, the gunners trained firing artillery at range markers placed in the river. Confederate engineers drove marker posts in the oyster reefs 1,200 yards distant from the fort to mark the guns’ maximum range, and during the month of August, Lt. Dowling used a sunken schooner as a target as he sharpened his artillerymen’s gunnery prowess to the peak of perfection.

Their practice paid off. Fort Griffin’s small force of 47 men, under command of Lt. Richard W. Dowling, forced the Union flotilla to retire, and captured the gunboat Clifton and about 350 prisoners. Further Union operations in the area ceased for about a month. The heroics at Fort Griffin—47 men stopping a Union expedition—inspired other Confederate fighters.

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