Bob Ebeling spent a third of his life consumed with guilt about the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. But at the end of his life, his family says, he was finally able to find peace.
“It was as if he got permission from the world,” says his daughter Leslie Ebeling Serna. “He was able to let that part of his life go.”
Ebeling died Monday at age 89 at in Brigham City, Utah, after a long illness, according to his daughter Kathy Ebeling.
Hundreds of NPR readers and listeners helped Ebeling overcome persistent guilt in the weeks before his death. They sent supportive e-mails and letters after the January story marking the 30th anniversary of the Challenger tragedy.
Ebeling was one of five booster rocket engineers at NASA contractor Morton Thiokol who tried to stop the 1986 Challenger launch. They worried that cold temperatures overnight — the forecast said 18 degrees — would stiffen the rubber o-ring seals that prevent burning rocket fuel from leaking out of booster joints.
“We all knew if the seals failed, the shuttle would blow up,” said…