Wednesday, February 1, 2012

STS-107 - the death of Columbia remembered

So I'm lying in bed on a cold February morning. I know I should be awake by now but the room is cool and under the covers it feels toasty and good. I'm in that state between awake and asleep - floating. Suddenly my (then) wife comes into the room. She says, " Sorry to wake you but you have a phone call." "Who is it?" I manage to croak - stretching and now somewhat slightly miffed that anyone would be calling me so early in the morning. "Paul Hart - she says.

Paul is a friend of mine who worked at Northrop Grumman. I grumble and roll over. "Tell him I'll call him later." She leaves but in a few seconds she comes back in - phone in hand. "Talk to him." she says pushing the phone against my face. I pick it up and in a voice still cracking with sleep I manage a raspy "Hello."

The next words I hear - hit me like a thunderbolt. "Steve, Columbia is coming apart over Texas. It should be just south of Amarillo now.

Fully awake I spring out of bed. I rush into the living room and rummage with one hand in my always ready photog bag for my camera while juggling the phone in the other. Paul says "It's tracking now just to the south of Amarillo - looks like almost over Lubbock."

I step outside in only my shorts - and it is freezing. I look to the south and see an ugly chalk mark etched into the ice-blue sky. It is Columbia and it is falling

I raise my camera and shoot a few frames - both the winter chill and the chilling site taking my breath away. I watch as the plume arcs to the Southeast towards central Texas. I tried not to imagine what was falling out of the sky near Dallas.

"It's on the TV now." my wife shouts to me.

I come in and see live video of the shower of debris that was once a great ship and a brave crew - raining down on Texas.

It strikes me as tragically ironic that Amarillo's favorite astronaut son - Rick Husband - died, along with his brave crew within sight of his hometown.

I also find it severely weird that his classmate (me) would document his tragic end from the back balcony of my apartment, standing in my underwear.

I attended Crockett Junior High- withe Rick - and although I didn't know him well - I did know him.

We both shared a passion for aviation and spaceflight and occasionally our paths would cross - his as an aviator and NASA astronaut - mine as an aviation journalist and photographer. I was extremely proud when I learned he had been selected to command STS-107.

Rick - we hardly knew ye - and I wish I had known you better. Thoughts and prayers go out to your family and friends on a day (an anniversary) of one of the most shocking days in our lives.

I remembered Rick and his crew this morning by standing on that same balcony and silently staring into a cool blue sky.

-Steve Douglass

February 1, 2012 is the eighth anniversary Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, which claimed the lives of all seven crew members.

The shuttle disintegrated during reentry after superheated gases penetrated a damaged spot on its left wing. The initial damage had occurred shortly after launch, when a briefcase-sized piece of insulating foam broke off from an external fuel tank and smashed against the wing.

Columbia disintegrated about 15 minutes before it was scheduled to touch down at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

As a result of the disaster, President Bush announced his eventual goal to retire the remaining space shuttles but assured the public that the manned space program would continue. "The cause in which they died will continue," he said. "Mankind is led into the darkness beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand. Our journey into space will go on."

Late January also marks the dates of two other dark moments for NASA and the nation's manned space program. See the following links for more images commemorating the Apollo 1 fire on January 27, 1967 and the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster on January 28, 1986.

The Columbia Space Shuttle disaster claimed the lives of Commander Rick D. Husband, Pilot William C. McCool, Payload Commander Michael P. Anderson, Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon, Mission Specialist Kalpana Chawla, Mission Specialist David M. Brown and Mission Specialist Laurel Clark.


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