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STS-107

Godspeed to the crew of Columbia  on mission STS-107 I captured this image of the STS-107 reentry from my front yard. Note the two pieces (one at the far right) in this image that have broken away from the main vehicle.  Photo Credit: Mine
STS-107 Re-entryFebruary 1, 2003

In the classic novel, A 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 space 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 TV 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.

Then Columbia 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 Columbia was spectacular.  At this time, I had absolutely no idea that something was amiss.  It was a marvelous sight.

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 realize 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 beyond our 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 the 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 download my 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 print, 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.

It seemed 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 seemed to happen within the parameters of previous reentries that I experienced.

For 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 this?

I listened for some clue 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.

What 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 well up 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 images to 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 prayers go out for the seven astronauts, their families, and NASA employees everywhere.


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UPDATED : January 31, 2007
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