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  Jan. 16-Feb. 1, 2003: Remembering STS-107

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Author Topic:   Jan. 16-Feb. 1, 2003: Remembering STS-107
SpaceAngel
Member

Posts: 121
From: Maryland
Registered: May 2010

posted 02-01-2013 07:09 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAngel   Click Here to Email SpaceAngel     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Today's marks one decade after the tragic loss of Columbia and its seven person crew on reentry; it's unbelievable how time flies so quickly.

Farewell, but never forgotten...

Rob Joyner
Member

Posts: 1292
From: GA, USA
Registered: Jan 2004

posted 02-01-2013 08:02 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Rob Joyner   Click Here to Email Rob Joyner     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Having already seen launches of Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour, I finally got to see space shuttle Columbia launch. I was living too far away when Challenger was flying and never got to see her. So the launch of STS-107 Columbia completed the checklist. It was the 7th shuttle launch I saw at Kennedy Space Center. There would eventually be 20 more. I've been asked many times, "What's it like?" What's it like, you ask? Okay, let's talk. I'm always accommodating because I realize that what people are asking about is something they never saw, and now never will. After explaining what it was like to watch people being launched into space literally right in front of you, and even after showing photos and videos, I end with, "But if you've never saw it in person, I really can't explain it to you." And that's the honest truth. It really is.

10 years ago...

It had been 16 days since I saw Columbia launch. And now she was coming home. I had never seen a shuttle landing. They're more unpredictable than a launch as they have multiple times and days in which to land. I tried twice but both landings were delayed to later days and I was unable to return. Columbia would be my third attempt. Now that I had seen all active shuttles launch, I was going to try and see each one land, and Columbia seemed like a good start. Another thing about a landing was that even if you knew for sure one was going to land, NASA could change the approach direction to the landing facility in such a short time that you wouldn't have time to travel to the oppposite area to get a decent view. And about the view - unless you were invited to the landing facility itself, (rarer than a VIP launch ticket) the best view you could get was watching the shuttle fly in and disappear behind distant trees before she actually touched down. If viewed from the north, the best view was going to be about 12 miles away in Titusville. And though those landings did occur, thankfully, most landings were scheduled to come in from the south, as was this one.

I arrived at Kennedy Space Center the day before on January 31. I spent a great afternoon on the Cape Canaveral Then & Now Tour. This tour is still operating at KSC. It takes you through the old areas of Canaveral where the Mercury, Gemini and the first manned Apollo launches took place. After the tour I picked the brains of a couple of KSC employees about the next day's landing... The best viewing spot - When to listen for the sonic booms - From what direction the shuttle would approach - How fast it would speed by. Both employees had been there for landings before and knew their stuff. So, the next morning while everyone else would be inside the crowded visitor complex, I would be in the parking lot. No people. No trees or buildings to obstruct the view. I knew from which way Columbia would approach, and she was going to fly directly in front of me, right to left.

I got up early that Saturday morning, February 1st. There would be tons of traffic going to KSC. When I arrived I found a parking place I thought was suitable for watching Columbia, far out enough to see her well, but close enough as not to have to walk too far to the visitor complex. Inside the complex at the rear was what I called the Mission Control Tent. It was a domed one room area where you could learn about and stay up to date on the present mission. (I may be mistaken, but after looking at KSC's new map it may have been done away with to make room for the Atlantis display opening this year.) When I went inside I learned Columbia was still scheduled to land from the south at KSC at 9:16am, but hung around just in case NASA decided to re-route to the northern approach. I kept my fingers crossed. Time went by and 8:55am rolled around. Columbia was still on schedule, so I left and quickly proceeded through the crowds and back out to my car.

When I got there I saw a few others who had apparently found out that the parking lot was the best viewing spot, not many though. I had with me my cheap little camera as well as my video camera. I decided to video tape instead of taking photos. But with about five minutes left I recruited two nearby ladies to take pictures with my camera while I video taped the homecoming. The day before, the employees had told me that you can't see the shuttle before you hear the sonic booms, so I had my video rolling in order to catch the booms on the audio during her approach from the south. The two ladies and I chatted briefly while waiting.

9:13am. Sonic booms anytime now!

9:14am. Anytime now!

9:15am. Mmm. Had they changed course to the north? I still would have heard the sonic booms.

9:16am. ?? Was my watch off a little? What's going on?

9:17am. ?? Still...nothing. The ladies I was with didn't know any specifics about shuttles, and I explained that since the de-orbit burn had occurred, it would have to land somewhere.

9:18am. Oh, my God...

9:19am. Oh, my God. Something is wrong. Something is definitely wrong.

We were closer to the ladies' car and I asked one of them to turn on the radio. My mind raced. Maybe Columbia somehow had landed on an interstate or some other flat surface, I thought. Or maybe she was low enough in altitude that the crew had safely ejected. All I knew is that she was not at Kennedy. One of the ladies found a good radio station: "No word from Columbia since about 9:00am." I looked up at the sky. My heart sank. Within a few minutes I heard the word 'contingency' and all those memories of Challenger came rushing in. We listened in disbelief as the horrible truth emerged.

Oh, no. They're gone. They're gone.

Those families are waiting at the runway.

No. No, not again.

After a few minutes, more news came in from Texas from eyewitneses who saw the breakup. I couldn't believe it. A few minutes later I turned the video camera off and made the slow walk back into the complex. I've been there well over 100 times for various events and launches over 20 years. That day is one that will stick in my mind like no other. It was very surreal and so sad. So very sad. Like a bad dream from which you cannot wake up. But this was real. The sadness. I could actually feel it. Some people were very upset and crying, consoling one another. Others were walking around alone in disbelief like zombies, just walking quietly with blank stares. Some sat motionless staring at the ground. Others would catch my eye with a look of complete shock. Older children, some crying, seemed scared and confused, while younger ones, not able to really understand what had happened, were playing and laughing. I can never forget that laughter, echoing through all of that pure sadness. I'll never forget that.

I had planned to travel the three hours back home after the landing, but ended up staying there all day, just walking around, speaking with a few people and attending a memorial service at the Astronaut Memorial Space Mirror. The news was all over the radio during my drive back home that late afternoon. About an hour into the drive and listening to the news it finally all sank in. The realization. Those poor families. The sadness. Those faces. The children's laughter. Thank God I was finally able to cry.

MarylandSpace
Member

Posts: 961
From:
Registered: Aug 2002

posted 02-01-2013 09:41 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for MarylandSpace   Click Here to Email MarylandSpace     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It is a very sad day for me today remembering the tragedy.

randy
Member

Posts: 1287
From: West Jordan, Utah USA
Registered: Dec 1999

posted 02-01-2013 12:24 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for randy   Click Here to Email randy     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
.

ea757grrl
Member

Posts: 555
From: South Carolina
Registered: Jul 2006

posted 02-01-2013 02:39 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ea757grrl   Click Here to Email ea757grrl     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I've written about my experience that morning (I was in Atlanta that weekend for a model show) several times before and kind of don't feel like writing it again, but I'll only say that this morning, the memories had a little more punch than they have in years past.

The only way I can describe Feb. 1, 2003 is that it was like being punched in the gut and in the heart at the same time.

Jay Chladek
Member

Posts: 2211
From: Bellevue, NE, USA
Registered: Aug 2007

posted 02-01-2013 11:06 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Even though I've been working today, when the minutes ticked by just after 8 AM Central Time this morning, my mind went back to ten years ago. I didn't see Columbia's reentry live even though I focused on the mission a little more than some others primarily due to Ilan Ramon being onboard (I had some friends living in Israel at the time). It was my mom who woke me from bed when she called me a little after 9 (an hour after it was lost) to tell me the shuttle brokeup. My reply was "that's it, the space program's over" because I sincerely felt that way. So I turned on the television and watched the breakup footage replay over and over while hoping against hope that there would be survivors when logically I knew there wouldn't be.

I thought back to the days after Challenger's loss. I got in touch with a buddy who was a film analysis individual at KSC at the time. He was also there during Challenger's loss and we exchanged a few texts the Sunday morning after Columbia's loss. I haven't been in touch with him for years as I wonder what he's been doig.

In many ways, my life changed that day. When Challenger was lost, I was in high school. While I maintained an interest in the space program after that, it did wane somewhat as those bold dreams of the Reagan years didn't come to pass and I really didn't have the drive to strive for much in my later high school years or my college ones. So I didn't do as well in math or science as I could have, nor pursue a career in a technical field (partly because I knew with my asthma I would never become an astronaut). Columbia on the otherhand seemed to reverse that as it reinforced my interest in space even further.

I visited KSC a little over a year later on vacation as I wanted to get a first hand look at the area before attempting to see a launch when the shuttle returned to flight. So I was there for STS-114's first attempt when it was scrubbed due to the ECO sensor issue. I missed its launch, but made it for STS-121, which helped me to chart my course on becoming an author (which lead to the book I am wrapping up and being on hand for Ares 1-X, STS-131 and STS-135). While I may not have gotten a chance to work in the space program as an engineer or astronaut, I knew I could at least contribute in other ways. So if my writing or model building can help to educate and inspire others, so much the better.

dogcrew5369
Member

Posts: 547
From: Statesville, NC
Registered: Mar 2009

posted 02-03-2013 12:15 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for dogcrew5369   Click Here to Email dogcrew5369     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Unlike Challenger which I witnessed on television, I got the word about Columbia second-hand. I was at work talking to someone when a fellow co-worker came over and said we had lost another shuttle. I said "what?" and I think I went into shock. My body went numb and my mind froze. It was terrible hearing those words right out of the blue. I will never forget that. Felt like news of a dear loved one dying suddenly. Such a sad time. May they rest in peace.

astro-nut
Member

Posts: 512
From: washington, Illinois USA
Registered: Jan 2006

posted 02-14-2013 08:28 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for astro-nut   Click Here to Email astro-nut     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Very sad day indeed. I remember that I was getting ready to leave for work at the fire station and to get things ready for the day. After the tragedy took place it was one of the days when I just couldn't go to work at the fire station. All I could do was reflect and remember Columbia and her crew. May we never forget our space heroes!

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