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107 Memorials
Mercury Boot


Godspeed to the crew of Columbia  on mission STS-107
These images are from the area in the Piney Woods of East Texas From Where Columbia Was Recovered.  Photo Credits: EarthToTheMoon.com
Train Depot At Rusk State Park, Rusk Texas
Columbia Tribute At Rusk State Park
Train Depot At Rusk State Park near Rusk Texas
Columbia Memorial At Rusk State Park,
15 Acre Lake At Rusk State Park, Rusk Texas
Lotus Plants In Lake At Rusk State Park
15 Acre Lake At Rusk State Park Lotus Plants In Lake At Rusk State Park
Columbia Memorial At Lufkin, Texas
Memorial At Lufkin With City Hall In Background
Columbia Memorial At Lufkin, Texas
Lufkin Memorial With City Hall  In Back
Columbia Memorial At Lufkin Texas
Columbia Memorial Plaque At Lufkin Texas
Closeup Of Lufkin Columbia Memorial
Columbia Memorial Plaque At Lufkin
Columbia Memorial At Nachodoches, Texas
Nachodoches Columbia Memorial
Columbia Memorial Nachogdoches, TX
Columbia Memorial Nachogdoches, TX
A Return To Flight Pilgrimage

On February 1st, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia and her crew of seven were lost over the skies of Texas.  That ill-fated day changed the lives of many people.

First and foremost, the lives of seven intrepid space explorers were extinguished.  Second, it deeply scarred the families of the lost astronauts.  Third, the accident had to bring with it terrible guilt for those people working on the space program who supported the flight of Columbia. Fourth, were the people in East Texas on whose property the remains of Columbia and her crew rained down.  Peripherally touched were those of us, who watched the disaster unfold in the sky from over our homes in Texas.

I photographed the event as it happened from my front yard, not knowing for several minutes, what I had witnessed.  My only consolation in witnessing this disaster came when I sent my photographs to NASA to assist in their investigation of the accident.

After the accident, we watched the sacrifices that the people of East Texas and others made in an effort to recover the vehicle and the astronauts.  We also learned of the compounded tragedy when a search helicopter crashed taking with it the lives of its crew.

At the time, I seriously considered taking time off from my job, to go out to East Texas and help with the recovery in whatever way that I could.  Unsure of a plan of action though, I hesitated and just watched the efforts of others.

Time moves on and wounds heal over into scars.  The first anniversary of the tragedy, I felt a profound need to visit the communities in East Texas that were so dramatically affected.  Again, I hesitated, remained at home, and watched the memorial services from afar via the 2 dimensional image portrayed by television.

Two and one half years pass, and the return to flight is upon us.  Certainly no one involved with the program can forget the trauma inflicted by the Columbia disaster.

Sunday, July 17th, perhaps only a few days before the launch of STS-114.  My family and I finally made a pilgrimage out to the Piney Woods of East Texas.  If the only reason for this journey was to bring a minute sense closure to myself, then it was worth it.

Even though I had contemplated this trip many times, I did not prepare terribly well for it.  I did not know where the memorials were located, I only knew the names of some of the towns involved.

We first drove to Rusk, Texas.   It is a small town in the Piney Woods.  It was directly under the debris field of Columbia.  There appeared to be no outward signs of what transpired in this community two and one half years before.  The community was quiet and at peace. Driving around the courthouse gave no indication that this was anything different than any other small rural community.

Finally we stopped at a convenience store to inquire if there was a memorial anywhere in the area for the space shuttle and her crew.  We were directed to the Rusk State Park two miles outside of town.

As we drove into the park, we stopped to take some photos of a beautiful lotus field in a small lake.  The park was very serene and tranquil. Even inside of the park, there were no overt signs of what had happened.  Once again we had to inquire for further directions from the park ranger's office.

We were directed to the train depot.  Inside of the depot there was still no sign.  Yet another inquiry directed us to an outside wall in a breeze way of the depot.  On that wall were four large panels commemorating Columbia, her crew, and what transpired on February 1st, 2003.

One of the panels indicated that over 40 pieces of Columbia were recovered in the grounds around the train depot in the park.  It also said that several pieces were witnessed to have fallen into the beautiful lotus covered lake.  Divers never were able to recover any of those pieces. Appropriately, the serene lake has become their final resting place.

Time constraints on this pilgrimage were short as it was worked in with dropping my granddaughter off for a six day Girl Scout camp.  There was brief time available for reflection at this sight, but it did bring me a sense of peace.  I now had seen with my own eyes what was on the other side of the contrails from February 1st, 2003.

After we dropped my granddaughter off at the Girl Scout camp near Palestine, Texas, we drove down to Lufkin, Texas.  Lufkin was the command and control center for the recovery effort. I wasn't sure what we would find there, but near City Hall we located a park with a Columbia memorial donated from NASA.  The memorial is a trapezoidal shaped piece of granite on which is affixed a brass place in tribute to the crew.  The monument also pays homage to the sacrifices made by the people who worked on the recovery efforts.  Near the monument is a flag pole flying an STS-107 flag.

The day was waning.  It took longer to drive to these locations than I had imagined.  Nachogdoches was the next and final stop on this brief pilgrimage.  Once again, I did not know where to look except to check out the downtown area of this rural Texas community.  Nachogdoches as it turns out is the oldest town in Texas.  The town square is framed with historic buildings.

At first there was no outward sign of a monument to Columbia.  However, there was a tribute, subtly located in the glass storefront of one of the buildings.  It was a temporary exhibit of photos of the crew, a shuttle model, a sign, and an STS-107 memorial symbol. The display promises that in the future a permanent and more fitting tribute will be erected.

As the day was ending and we headed back home we noticed behind us a rainbow that traversed the sky from end to end.  There are seven primary colors in the spectrum of a rainbow, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.   I believe that seven color rainbow was a thank you from each one of the seven STS-107 astronauts.  An acknowledgment from space travelers who have truly escaped the surly bonds of Earth and touched the face of God.

Time moves on, we remember STS-107, but we look forward with eager anticipation for the return to flight with STS-114.

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UPDATED : January 10, 2007
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