February 2, 2013

Pain of Columbia still fresh 10 years later

The shuttle's seven crew members died minutes from touchdown after a 16-day science mission.

The Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Schoolchildren joined NASA managers and relatives of the lost crew of space shuttle Columbia on Friday to mark the 10th anniversary of the tragedy and remember the seven astronauts who died.

SPACE SHUTTLE SERIES
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Debris from the space shuttle Columbia streaks across the sky over Tyler, Texas, on Feb. 1, 2003.

File photo/The Associated Press

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Space shuttle Columbia widows Sandra Anderson, left, and Evelyn Husband-Thompson embrace during a ceremony on the 10th anniversary of the disaster.

The Associated Press

More than 300 people gathered at Kennedy Space Center for the outdoor ceremony, just a few miles from where Columbia was supposed to land on Feb. 1, 2003, following a 16-day science mission. It never made it, bursting apart in the sky over Texas, just 16 minutes from home.

Representing the families of the Columbia seven, the widow of commander Rick Husband told the hushed audience that the accident was so unexpected and the shock so intense, "that even tears were not freely able to fall."

"They would come in the weeks, months and years to follow in waves and in buckets," Evelyn Husband Thompson said.

She assured everyone, though, that healing is possible and that blessings can arise from hardships. She attended the ceremony with her two children, her second husband and Sandra Anderson, widow of Columbia astronaut Michael Anderson.

"God bless the families of STS-107," said Thompson, referring to the mission designation for Columbia's last mission. "May our broken hearts continue to heal and may beauty continue to replace the ashes."

A pair of songs added to the emotion of the day. The young nephew of a NASA worker performed a song he wrote, "16 Minutes from Home," on the keyboard, along with a vocalist. And Grammy award-winning BeBe Winans, an R&B and gospel singer, performed "Ultimate Sacrifice," which he wrote for soldiers serving overseas.

As it turns out, Anderson had taken a CD of Winans' music into orbit with him. It was recovered in the debris that rained down on East Texas that fateful morning. Winans did not know that until it was mentioned at Friday's ceremony.

"I honor you today, I really do honor the families and those who have given the ultimate sacrifice," he added. Some in the crowd wiped away tears as he sang.

Also present were 44 students from Israel, the homeland of Columbia astronaut Ilan Ramon. He was Israel's first astronaut.

The teenagers were proud to note that they go to the same school as Ramon once did. They wore white sweat shirts with an emblem of their nation's first spaceman and the religious items he took into orbit.

"He represented Israel in the best way possible, so I think it's an honor for us to be here," said Eden Mordechai, 15.

The other crew members were co-pilot William McCool, Kalpana Chawla, Dr. Laurel Clark and Dr. David Brown.

NASA's human exploration chief, Bill Gerstenmaier, said no single person or event caused the Columbia disaster. Rather, "a series of technical and cultural missteps" were to blame, dating back to the first shuttle launch in 1981 when fuel-tank foam insulation started coming off and doing damage.

A chunk of foam punched a hole in Columbia's left wing during liftoff, leading to the catastrophic re-entry.

 

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