Jan. 31, 2003:
My partner lived in Fort Worth at the time. I was up there for the weekend and that night we went to Dallas to see OKGO perform.
February 1, 2003:
We got home from the concert at probably 2:30am. We were sound asleep at 8:15am when his phone started ringing non stop. His grandmother in Florida was calling, wanting to make sure that we weren’t going to go outside and not to touch anything if we did.
It was so confusing. He had to ask her to repeat it and explain more. She started going on about the space shuttle…
We turned on the TV and then we saw what had happened above the north Texas sky only minutes earlier.
There were official warnings to stay inside and lots of info being disseminated about who to call if you found shuttle debris. At least until they figured out where exactly the shuttle debris had landed, most of it southeast of the DFW metroplex.
We were in the market for a new car and we drove that day back over to Dallas to look at vehicles. All the big signs along the highway (the ones they use for traffic or amber alerts) had messages about not touching shuttle debris. It was incredibly surreal.
I grew up in Florida along what is called The Space Coast. You can/could see rockets and space shuttles launch just from my backyard. Growing up, it became commonplace. “Oh, a sonic boom shook the house. Shuttle must have landed.”
And then we moved to TX and it felt like we were so far away from the space coast, from space shuttles, from all of that.
For it to suddenly be in our backyard in such a horrific manner was, well, horrific.
I could wax poetic for a long time about what astronauts and the space program meant to me growing up, the way the idea of humans being able to travel in space lights up my imagination. I once went to a museum at the Kennedy Space Center and there is some kind of lunar module there that was once on the moon. It is encased in a thick clear plastic box but the box has holes for all the stuff that sticks off of the module. And when no one was looking, I stuck my finger into one of those holes and brushed it along the module. I had touched the moon. I had touched space.
Today I want to remember Kalpana Chawla, Rick D. Husband, Laurel B. Clark, Ilan Ramon, David M. Brown, William C. McCool, and Michael P. Anderson. They inspire me and I stand in awe of what they did and how they died. And I thank them.
Rest in peace.
And it should be noted that NASA is remembering multiple tragedies today, not just Columbia:
On Jan. 27, 1967, we lost three astronauts in the Apollo 1 fire. On Feb. 1, 2003, seven astronauts died when Columbia broke apart upon re-entering Earth’s atmosphere. And Jan. 28, 1986 is when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, killing all seven astronauts on board.
All three of these events were horrible. All three were the results of unlikely chains of events that seemed inevitable afterward. All three sparked immense debate over the dangers and value of exploring space.
And all three should show us how important it is that we carry on that exploration.