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
foremost, the lives of seven intrepid space explorers
were extinguished. Second, it deeply scarred the families of the
astronauts. Third, the accident had to
bring with it terrible guilt for those people working on the space
supported the flight of Columbia. Fourth, were the people in East Texas
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.
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.
accident, we watched the sacrifices that the
people of East Texas and others made in an effort to recover the
the astronauts. We also learned of the
compounded tragedy when a search helicopter crashed taking with it the
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
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
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
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
before. The community was quiet and at
peace. Driving around the courthouse
gave no indication that this was anything different than any other
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
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
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.
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
place in tribute to the crew. The
monument also pays homage to the sacrifices made by the people who
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
final stop on
this brief pilgrimage. Once again, I
did not know where to look except to check out the downtown area of
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
promises that in the future a permanent and more fitting tribute will
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.
on, we remember STS-107, but we
look forward with
eager anticipation for the return to flight with STS-114.