Remembering ‘Columbia’

For the past five years I have written about this same subject in early February and probably will be doing that for some time to come. February 1st has always been a special day for me as it was my late father’s birthday. He would be 104 if alive today. Then, on that date five years ago, the Columbia shuttle tragedy occurred bringing sadness to this country and especially to the families and friends of the seven astronauts killed in that explosion.
I was doing the man-thing on that fateful Saturday morning of channel-surfing with the remote trying to find something of interest to watch. Suddenly I say a familiar face. It was Kerry Kinsey a former sportscaster on one of the Charleston-Huntington stations back home. He was then a news broadcaster on the 24-hour news station in Houston, now missing from our channels.
Kinsey gave me my first knowledge of problems with the Columbia shuttle that was to be passing over Texas about that time. He said it was missing. The national news channels were ahead of him and I switched to Fox News where I got the rest of the story. We all know it was confirmed the shuttle had exploded and hundreds of pieces of debris were falling from the sky across Texas and into Louisiana. It was truly a sad day.

I had reason to travel to Clear Lake the next day where I found thousands of flower arrangements already assembled at the NASA main gate. I was drawn to stop and become a part of the large group of people assembled there. One of the first persons I met was a minister from Dallas who felt he had been called to the site to assist people with their grieving. He had come with a house trailer and was spending some days there. I talked with him for a few minutes and noticed he became part of a number of people’s lives for a short period who had also stopped to pay respects.
This was the third fatal attempt in the space program. The first was in the Apollo program when a shuttle exploded on the launch pad and took the lives of Virgil “Gus” Grissom, one of the seven original astronauts, and two others. The second was the Challenger flight which had on board the school teacher Christa McAuliffe. Millions of children and adults saw it explode on TV shortly after it was sent into the sky.
The space program was put on hold for a while after the Columbia disaster but now is up and running again. I’m glad, if for no other reason than to support those whose lives had been lost in trying to make it a success. We are better off today for the efforts of all who have been active in our space program over the years.
The space program is moving ahead and will continue for years to come. Oh, yes, there will probably be more accidents, more deaths, and we will memorialize those heroes as well. As I said two years ago in this column, “This, my friends is America, where the strong come forth, the strong sometimes fall and die, the strong rebound, the strong succeed and these astronauts, and those who follow them will always be there lest we forget.
Shall we always remember those who gave so much for our country!
Such are the people, places and thing that have touched my life from my West Virginia home!