Former astronaut Frank Borman, a Gary native, is most famous for his role as commander of the first manned voyage around the moon on the Apollo 8 mission in 1968. He is one of just a handful of humans to have orbited the moon.

The Borman Expressway is named for the former U.S. Air Force test pilot and astronaut.

Prior to the Apollo 8 mission, Borman set a 14-day spaceflight endurance record on Gemini 7 in December 1965.

He was one of NASA's second group of astronauts.

Borman was interviewed by The Times' Lauri Harvey in 2001 about his reaction following the space shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986. Borman is no stranger to launch disasters; he served on the NASA review board that investigated the Apollo 1 fire that claimed the lives of Gus Grissom, another famous Hoosier astronaut, as well as Ed White and Roger Chaffee. Borman's testimony before Congress helped NASA flights resume.

As much of the nation watched the launch on live television, Challenger broke apart 73 seconds after liftoff, killing all seven crew members — flight commander Francis "Dick" Scobee; pilot Michael Smith; Ronald McNair; Ellison Onizuka; Judith Resnik; Gregory Jarvis; and Christa McAuliffe, the first participant in the Teacher in Space Program.

The Teacher in Space Program was canceled.

In Crown Point, the family of astronaut Jerry Ross watched and wept. Ross originally was slated to be a crew member on that ill-fated Challenger mission but was called to go up two flights earlier. His friends died on Challenger, friends his family had met.

Borman knew the devastation a launch disaster carries with it from the Jan. 27, 1967, fire when Apollo 1 was on the launchpad. He led the team that re-engineered the Apollo crafts after the investigation was complete.

When Borman learned of the Challenger launch disaster while watching a newscast, he said he was "disgusted."

"I just thought it was a dumb idea, causing civilians to be placed in that kind of danger," he said. "It was a stupid publicity stunt."

Borman said he followed news reports about the cause of the Challenger disaster — weak pressure rings called "O rings" on the rocket boosters — and heard those involved say they had warned NASA officials the shuttle would not hold up during liftoff in the frigid, damp temperatures.

"That was really troubling, because it didn't seem like the NASA I knew," Borman said. "When we had flight-readiness meetings, everyone was heard."

After the Challenger disaster, the families of the Challenger Seven came together to found the Challenger Learning Centers, space education facilities across the United States. Hammond's Challenger Center opened in 1999.

Borman said the Challenger Learning Centers are "nice, I guess, but they don't make sending civilians into space OK.

"To me, it's almost like saying they died doing what they wanted to do, but for me, my take on it is, it would have been better not dying at all. I think that when people try to treat this as routine, they are making a big mistake."


Porter/LaPorte County Editor

Porter/LaPorte Editor Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.