The day had finally arrived. Sixteen days after takeoff from Florida, on a bright blue beautiful morning, the shuttle was due in for an early morning landing.
I awoke to a crisp winter day just in time to see the shuttle blaze through the Texas skies escorted by the normal fighter jets, which accompany it back to the landing strip in Florida. The image of colored smoke was followed a few minutes later by a loud boom that simply made the wall rumble. The sound came soon enough to be the sonic boom that follows an object flying six times the speed of sound.
These terrifying words rang over the radio only a few minutes later. “Just after 8 a.m., NASA control lost communication with Columbia.” The next thing I heard was the news that NASA was sending out jets, declaring a contingency, which in NASA terms means a disaster.
Once the news broke and the United States had realized its worse fear, the “jets” I believed I saw were actually part of the shuttle as it tore apart at the wings and the boom. It was the sound of the shuttle as it exploded. It was later determined that the shuttle had indeed suffered its final fate some 200,000 feet above the Earth in the skies deep in the heart of Texas.
Columbia had made 27 flights into space with the final flight providing the resting place for Columbia. The final resting place turned out to be East Texas. Some of the places of East Texas looked frighteningly familiar because this is where I was raised. I saw places where pieces of the shuttle had landed and it brought the memory even closer.
Some of the places that hold the memory of Columbia’s final endeavor into space are some of the same places that hold the memory of the endeavors of my past.
The news brought back memories of a horrific day in 1986, a day I will never forget. I was 10 years old in a fourth grade classroom when the image of the tragedy of the explosion of Challenger came across the television. It is an image that will never leave my memory.
The tragedy in the NASA family reaches far beyond Challenger or Columbia. The images of both tragedies are forever etched in the hearts of the American people. The memory for the families that lost their beloved will live on forever. Their lives have changed. The memory of those who perished will live in our hearts for years to come. At least they got to see the show.
Donald Hughes Ellis
senior history major from Henderson