Fifteen years ago today, on a clear blue Texas morning, the Space Shuttle Columbia reentered Earth’s atmosphere after a successful 16-day science mission.
But after communications were not regained with Columbia when expected, it became apparent something was terribly wrong. The shuttle had disintegrated over east Texas skies, killing all seven astronauts on board.
Here are the voices of several Texans whose memories of February 1, 2003 remain vivid, and whose lives were forever changed by what happened that day.
For Laurel Clark, a member of the Columbia crew, it was her first mission. Her husband, Dr. Jonathan Clark, was a NASA shuttle flight surgeon.
“I was at Kennedy Space Center, several miles from the launch site. That’s where I was with my son, so we were all excited, you know, no idea whatsoever that things were going to go awry.”
Evelyn Husband Thompson, the widow of Commander Rick Husband, says her husband left devotional tapes back home for their children to watch every day of the mission.
“On that morning, on February 1, we brought the tapes with us, and so they watched the last devotional tape, and basically Rick said to them, ‘Hey, I’m real excited we’re going to land today and I’m looking forward to seeing you guys and can’t wait to be home. Just told them how much he loved them and how proud he was of them and prayed with them, and so they each watched the tape and we got ready and we headed out in kind of a big convoy over to the landing strip with the families.”
Dr. Scott Lieberman has lived in Tyler for 24 years, and that day, he went out with a video camera and a still camera to photograph the reentry of the space shuttle – not realizing that he would be recording a tragedy.
“My wife realized it first,” he says.
“I remember looking up at the sky,” Evelyn Husband Thompson remembers, “and standing there with some other astronauts and just saying, ‘So, remind me which direction the shuttle’s coming in from and when are we supposed to hear the sonic boom?’ And one astronaut’s a really close friend, Steve Lindsey, held up his finger just to indicate ‘hang on just a second’ and I just at that moment got the worst pit in my stomach, cause I just thought, ‘man, something’s wrong.’ And I just kept looking at the sky and there was nothing and I watched the clock countdown, the giant countdown clock, count down from a minute down to zero. And the clock started counting up. My children had ended up standing next to me. Everybody was really quiet. Oh my goodness. I just knew something was really, really wrong. Laura looked at me and she said, ‘Is daddy okay?’ And I said, ‘I don’t think he is.’”
Listen to more memories of the Columbia crew in the player above.