The countdown sequence began for the space shuttle Columbia on the launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center. Strapped inside the cramped interior was astronaut Franklin Chang Díaz and his fellow crew members, all tensely awaiting liftoff. It was January 1986, and the 35-year-old Chang Díaz had finally reached this moment. Born in Costa Rica, he had always dreamed of becoming NASA’s first astronaut from Latin America.
Only the dream would have to wait. At T-minus 15 seconds, with its three main engines on the verge of unleashing almost 8 million pounds of pressure, mission control stopped the countdown. Scrambling to fix a glitch, it would reset the countdown then halt it another five times, all while Chang Díaz and the crew remained inside. Weather conditions, mechanical errors, and software issues kept NASA engineers searching for solutions—until the rockets finally ignited on the sixth try. By then, Chang Díaz was almost surprised. “I wasn’t mentally prepared to take off.”