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'Challenger' Engineer Still Regrets Launch that Killed Seven

NPR ran a heartbreaking interview with Robert Ebeling, an engineer who worked on the 1986 Challenger launch that resulted in the death of all seven occupants. In January 1986, Ebeling and four other engineers pleaded for the launch to be delayed; they anticipated the precise failure that would destroy the shuttle. That night, Ebeling even told his wife, Darlene, "It's going to blow up." The engineers' pleas were refused. Three weeks after the explosion, he and another engineer, since deceased, spoke to NPR. Ebeling was not identified by name until this past week. The NPR article continued:

Ebeling retired soon after Challenger. He suffered deep depression and has never been able to lift the burden of guilt. In 1986, as he watched that haunting image again on a television screen, he said, "I could have done more. I should have done more." He says the same thing today, sitting in a big easy chair in the same living room, his eyes watery and his face grave. The data he and his fellow engineers presented, and their persistent and sometimes angry arguments, weren't enough to sway Thiokol managers and NASA officials. Ebeling concludes he was inadequate. He didn't argue the data well enough. A religious man, this is something he has prayed about for the past 30 years. "I think that was one of the mistakes that God made," Ebeling says softly. "He shouldn't have picked me for the job. But next time I talk to him, I'm gonna ask him, 'Why me. You picked a loser.'"

Possible Preaching Angles: (1) Christ, death of ; Christ, cross of, Forgiveness, divine; Regret— Given his residence in Brigham City, Utah, odds are he is a Mormon. Although Mormons depart from Christian doctrine on a number of key points, Ebeling may have something in common with many born-again Christians: we don't really believe that God has forgiven us. It's an intellectual concept but not a felt reality. (2) Confession; Sin, confession of—I wonder what Mr. Ebeling's life might have been like this last three decades if, instead of "It's not your fault," some friend had just once opened his mouth and said, "Jesus sent me to tell you something. 'I forgive you.'"

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