On my 25th birthday, the Space Shuttle Columbia launched on the STS-107 mission to do research on myriad topics in low earth orbit. I remember hearing about the launch, but was very involved in my job and didn’t have the chance to watch it. I had a new job and was quickly learning how to do things in a fast paced legislative environment.
Fast forward two weeks, to the evening of January 31, 2003. It was a Friday night and I had dinner with some friends as my wife was out of town. We got in to one of those “Where were you when” conversations. I talked about the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, they talked about several events that they remembered, and the discussion settled down to January 28, 1986. On that fateful morning, the Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated 73 seconds after launch. My friends and I talked about where we were, how we felt, and how it changed us. We spent a good deal of time talking about these topics, after which, I headed home.
The next morning, I woke up and headed the 60 or so miles to work. About 1/2 way there, I turned the radio on to NPR and they were discussing the landing of the Columbia. I started listening, expecting it to be a routine 3 or four minute broadcast of the landing. It was a snowy day, so I was paying more attention to driving than I was the radio, but it slowly sank in that they were still talking about Columbia NOT landing, rather than the smooth landing I expected. The remainder of the trip, I was glued to the radio, trying to take in all that was going on.
I got to work and turned on the TV in my office and rather than getting any work done, as was my plan, I was glued to CNN watching the story unfold. I remember hearing the capcom, who I think was Charlie Hobaugh, saying, “Columbia, Houston, Comm Check…” over and over again with no response. Obviously, there was something wrong…
I’m thankful for the Columbia disaster in many ways because it rekindled my interest in space and human space flight. I’ve watched every launch and most landings since then and found a great community of space tweeps. I’ve been able to help my son develop an awareness and a love of space. I’ve experienced a launch in person and visited Mission Control in Houston.
Even though a lot of good has come from the tragedy, I find myself down today. I’m reading all these reports from people who work at NASA and where they were on this day 8 years ago. Most of them express sadness, some express hope, but the sadness gets me today. I look over at the pictures of the Apollo 1 crew, the crew of STS-51L, and the STS-107 crew and I feel that we could have done better by them. I hope that we will continue to learn from the mistakes we collectively made that cost them their lives.
I hope that we will be able to live up to their legacy.