The blogpost Lessons From NASA Disasters: When Curiosity Deficits Kill is about the importance of freedom of curiosity for members of organizations. However it contains many Space Shuttle-related images.

The one below presumably shows some area associated with the Space Shuttle's launch pad on the morning of the Challenger disaster.

  1. Where is this exactly within the launch area?
  2. Why is there so much ice? Where did all of the water vapor come from? Had icicles formed everywhere in that part of florida overnight due to the ocean or other sources of natural humidity or rain, or was there a local source of water associated with the launch facility?

enter image description here

Image's url includes "ss-110120-challenger-lookback-11.grid-7x2"

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    $\begingroup$ This is a good question. I've spent most of my life in places whose Januaries are much colder than Florida's and we never get icicles as dense as these. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 0:50
  • $\begingroup$ @RobertColumbia I once lived in an old house single story house that often collected a lot of snow on the roof (snow-drifting caused by nearby trees I think) which did not have eaves troughs, and when there was an unseasonably warm spell with the conditions just right (warm Sun, cold wind I suppose) there would be crazy icicles, some from roof to ground. Except for that, me neither :-) $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 1:20

1 Answer 1


Knowing the weather forecast, the pad crews drained the water pipes or left them running to prevent them freezing and bursting.

With sub-freezing temperatures predicted, ground crews drained most of the water pipes at the launch pad to minimize ice formation. Those that could not be drained were left running overnight, and strong wind gusts blew water onto pad structures where it subsequently froze.

Weather Channel, Weather's Role in the Challenger Accident

Also from Rogers Commission Report (linked below)

The freeze protection plan for the launch pad was implemented, but the results were not what had been anticipated. The freeze protection plan usually involves completely draining the water system. However, this was not possible because of the imminent launch of 51-L. In order to prevent pipes from freezing, a decision was made to allow water to run slowly from the system. This had never been done before, and the combination of freezing temperatures and stiff winds caused large amounts of ice to form below the 240-foot level of the fixed service structure including the access to the crew emergency egress slide wire baskets. Ice also was forming in the water trays beneath the vehicle.

Rockwell (makers of the Orbiter) were super concerned about the ice flying around at liftoff and damaging the tiles.

As John Tribe, chief engineer for Boeing/Rockwell Launch Support Services, told Popular Mechanics:

"I couldn't believe they came out of the MMT [Mission Management Team] meeting with a recommendation to launch. Based on the ice alone, I thought it would be no-go. The ice was an unknown."

https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/news/a41604/challenger-disaster-facts/ (See also the Rogers Commission Report page 115, etc.)

Consider this a partial answer, I can't tell where exactly on the pad that picture is. This picture I took shows that there are a lot of pipes on the pad. The quote from the report says " below the 240-foot level of the fixed service structure including the access to the crew emergency egress slide wire baskets" My picture shows the joint between the rotating and fixed service structures.

enter image description here

  • $\begingroup$ The block quote says "...strong wind gusts blew water onto pad structures..." any idea from where the water was blown? From puddles on the ground, or ocean spray, or blowing rain? $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Sep 7, 2019 at 15:47
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh It was from the pipes that they left running to keep them from freezing. Added another quote about that. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 7, 2019 at 15:48
  • $\begingroup$ It's late here and maybe my thinking is fuzzy, but how does water flowing inside the pipes make icicles on the outside of the pipes? $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Sep 7, 2019 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ They had opened the taps, etc and it was running out over the pad structure. New quote says "from the system". For it to run, it had to go somewhere $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 7, 2019 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ oic, got it, thanks! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Sep 7, 2019 at 15:52

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