|February 1, 2003
In the classic
Tale of Two Cities, author Charles Dickens wrote, "It was the best of
times; it was the worst of times."
This simple statement took on a profound meaning for me on
February 1, 2003.
I live in North
Texas. On Saturday morning, February 1, 2003, I was out in my
front yard with my wife and
8-year-old granddaughter. We were hoping to be able to watch
shuttle Columbia fly overhead on its way home to Florida.
From a viewing
perspective, I did not know what to
expect that morning. At 8:00 AM local
time, the sky is pretty bright from the morning sun. I have see
two reentries of space shuttles before in Texas, but they were always
during the darkness of night.
We watched on NASA
until Columbia was well over New Mexico before
heading outdoors. At first I saw a white object off in the
distance. Was this perhaps Columbia? It was not. It
turned out to merely be a far away airplane.
appeared. My wife gets credit for the initial sighting. I
was occupied trying to point out the distant
airplane to my granddaughter.
The view of
was spectacular. At this time, I had absolutely no idea that
something was amiss. It was a marvelous
The intensity of the
light was amazing for this time of the
morning. Colors seemed to alternate between whites and
reds. There were flashes of green light that seemed to spin off
away from the main orb of light. The view reminded me somewhat of
a Fourth of July Roman candle.
I still did not
that anything out of the ordinary was
occurring. I snapped photos of the reentry pass as fast as my digital
camera could store them.
The glowing orb
traversed the sky from right to left as we were looking
south. It left behind a white contrail. Was this
unusual? At that time, and with no daylight viewing experience, I
did not know. On past reentries that I have seen there has been a
contrail left behind but it consisted of a glowing ion cloud.
The orb moved
field of view. I ran down the sidewalk
to try and get a better view. I felt such a sense of excitement
as I watched. I uttered exclamations of joy and awe. I was
like a child on Christmas morning.
We ran back into
house to view the remainder of the reentry on NASA
TV. I was awe struck by what I had just seen. I stopped
watching the NASA television coverage and ran to the computer to
images and to print them out. I wanted my granddaughter to be
able to show the photos to her Saturday morning teacher.
After starting a
I ran back to the television. The ground
track was still being shown on the television so I ran back to the
printer. At about that time a very loud sonic boom shook the
house. It was very loud.
interesting to me that the boom was louder than what I
had experienced during previous reentry passes. What was not
unusual about it however was the timing of the boom. To me, it
happen within the parameters of previous reentries that I experienced.
a second time, I
returned to the television. The scene on the
television had not changed. It seemed surreal as if time had
stopped. I was puzzled. In my mind, I knew that the
television should now be showing Columbia on the runway at KSC.
What kind of glitch in the televised landing coverage could be causing
I listened for
as to what was happening. What I heard
was an announcement by the Public Affairs Officer about securing data
in Mission Control. All of the air was sucked out of me; I
knew at that instant that Columbia and her crew were lost. But
how could this happen? The first thing that passed through
my mind was the fear of terrorist's surface to air missile.
had begun, as a
grand and glorious morning, had now turned very
cold and sinister. The photos that I had captured revealed that
Columbia had become a chariot of death. After enlarging the
images, it became apparent that the vehicle was breaking apart.
Tears began to
in my eyes. My telephone began to ring as
friends of mine from around the country and around the world began to
call. No one knew what to say, but it was a time when no one
wanted to be alone.
Sunday morning, the first thing that I did was mail off my digital
NASA. During the coverage on Saturday, NASA had requested that
the public send in any photos or videos that they might have taken of
the reentry. Being able to assist in this manner gave me some
relief from the
tragedy that I had witnessed. In some small way, perhaps my
images would be helpful for the accident investigation.
My thoughts and
go out for the seven astronauts, their
families, and NASA employees everywhere.