In a previous thread, I asked the question of the likelihood of the STS stack surviving an early separation of the SRB using the SRB manual separation switch on panel C3:
Estimates ranged from the "Official" accepted answer of:
The Space Shuttle System was not designed to survive a failure of the Solid Rocket Boosters. There are no corrective actions that can be taken if the boosters do not operate properly after ignition, i.e., there is no ability to separate an Orbiter safely from thrusting boosters and no ability for the crew to escape the vehicle during first-stage ascent
To an estimate I received from a NASA engineer of 75% chance of successful separation. My educated guess, based upon herculean design efforts made to get maximum separation from the stack, is that a manual separation before booster burnout had a 50/50 chance of destroying the vehicle.
Suppose you are in the flight control room on January 28th, 1986. You are a support person for FIDO, perhaps abort support or range safety. (I don't want to label any specific party, so lets leave it general) You look up to John Aaron and have made a point to have lunch with him regularly at JSC. You have listened to him tell the story of how on the Apollo 12 launch he responded to an unexpected environmental condition (lighting strike). He used his extensive knowledge of how the systems work and more important how they fail. As a result of his extra effort, he was able to make a completely unrehearsed call up (SCE to AUX) that saved the mission.
In addition to a thousand other details, you have looked into the possible use of the SRB man separation switch in odd failure conditions. What if a booster suffered a case crack or insulation failure? What would that look like in the data? Would I be able to detect it? Could I respond to it? You have determined that the best way to detect a case breach would be visually. SRM engineers tell you that if it occurs it will propagate in seconds, so the response would need to be quick.
So your routine at launches has been to watch the data but to also watch the live feed tracking cameras to look for visual anomalies. ( like your mentor John Aaron, you do odd extra things because you see value, no matter what the "Official" position is). You don't know what you will do if you think you see an anomaly but you know the SRB manual separation would probably be the only chance, even if the likelihood of success is low. On 51L you are watching the following live feed.
At 16:39:01 you get the pit in your stomach moment (What the **** is that??). You know your John Aaron moment has arrived. Is that really a case breach?? By 16:39:04 you are sure. Months of thinking about it are upon you. Make the call, "FIDO, SRB MAN SEP NOW!!" "Look at the ROTI video!!! MAKE IT..."
Within 3 seconds, by 16:39:07, the trust between you and FIDO and FLIGHT has resulted in the call up to the flight crew "Challenger SRB MAN SEP, Dick, MAN SEP NOW!!"
The response takes another 3 seconds by 16:39:10, the SRB separation process has started.
In reality it was another 3 seconds before the RH aft ET attachment was destroyed and the RH Booster rotated into the ET and began the destruction of the vehicle.
Luckily the high winds aloft on that day assist in the separation. That and good design are on NASA's side and the SRB's separate and clear the accelerating stack.
Did 51L simply need a John Aaron mentor in Flight control that day??
If he had been, would the call up have been made??
Or was the official conclusion the correct one, ye who enter here abandon all hope ..at least till SRB burnout