This is an 80s movie. Of course the special effects are subpar.
They were doing the best they could with a Trash 80 computer. Try living in that time, kid with head glued to an iPhone. You will never know the existential horror of having your finger trapped in the dialer of a rotary phone.
That said, the movie was pretty suspenseful from the moment disaster struck (we saw that coming several thousand miles away, didn't we, audience?), when a rocket entrepreneur wrecks the maiden flight he's on (inevitably leading to his own demise). Spoiler, sorry. The movie doesn't let up until the very last minute. The whole time I kept thinking they should redo this movie. I mean, it's got a lot going for it. There's just one major problem.
Anyone want to guess what that is? Mind you, this movie was released in 1983. Three years before Challenger was destroyed by the same greedy disregard for safety that was displayed by the owners of Starflight One at the beginning of this movie. The public weren't aware of just how limited space-shuttle flight actually was so no one in the 1983 audience probably batted a heavily shadowed eye when they saw the Columbia (God rest her sweet soul!) return to the orbit-locked Starflight One not once but three times in 24 hours! The engineer was attempting to get Columbia to return a fourth time, but that proved impossible because she was still in the midst of her third rescue operation.
In reality, each relaunch of Columbia would have taken weeks if not months to ensure she was flight-worthy. Every reentry into the atmosphere would have required a dry-dock overhaul, so to speak, to inspect the ship for damage. You will remember that Columbia was destroyed in 2003 because of a heat-shield failure due to damage suffered during takeoff. Her launch had been delayed 18 times prior to that accident, indicating the real problem with the NASA shuttle system in general and in particular. They weren't reliable. And planes needed to be to be commercially feasible.
Columbia and her brave crew were the real heroes of Starflight One. But today's audiences are too sophisticated to buy into all the NASA hype about their airplane service to the stars, because they know how vastly oversold it was to the public. The very thing that nearly destroyed Starflight One (the intense heat of atmospheric reentry) doomed Columbia herself.
I definitely recommend checking this movie out. As far as disaster films go, it's good stuff. Just don't try making any sense of the relationship drama. By the end, I still didn't have a clue who Lee Majors was married to. Was he having an affair on his second wife with his first wife? Is that an okay-to-cheat because I've been-there-done-that scenario? Who was the little girl's father? If she was Lee Majors' daughter, why weren't there any scenes with him tearfully kissing her goodbye?