Sunday, February 01, 2004


I attended a memorial service at Kennedy Space Center today. The wind was sharp and the rain came down, but the rose I left at the Space Mirror Memorial remained firmly fixed.

A reporter from Florida Today interviewed me. I told her I was still in shock a year later.

Here is part of what I wrote one year ago to everyone in my address book within an hour of the terrible news:

A lot of you have been attempting to contact me, so I'm going to try to answer some of your questions and clear up some misconceptions the press is spreading.

I was not at work today which was a great blessing. It is difficult enough to hold myself together, let alone trying to stand on a stage attempting to calm and educate the guests. Yesterday was a long day and I was exhausted, so I slept late, confident that sonic boom associated with the landing would waken me. My parents are attending a business convention in Orlando and my mother called me around 10 AM, saying that she thought I might need someone to talk to. I had no idea what she was talking about and immediately feared for the President's safety, or thought perhaps there had been another terrorist attack. Instead I turned on the TV to find that our Columbia had been lost on re-entry....

Now, there are reports that during the liftoff, a chunk of foam from the external tank (the big orange tank) may have broken off and damaged some tiles on the leading edge of the right-hand delta wing. This may have been a contributing factor.

Some eyewitnesses in Texas are reporting that they heard what sounded like an explosion just as Columbia should have exited her thermal phase. This "explosion" was most likely a sonic boom, which occurs when the orbiter goes subsonic, or slower than the speed of sound. Typically this happens over central Florida as the orbiter comes home. But if the descent was uncontrolled, it would have happened sooner.

It does not look as if this was a terrorist event. Over west central Texas, Columbia was traveling at 200,000 feet at 12,500 MPH-- well out of the range of any surface-to-air missiles. Of course there is concern with the presence of Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut, in the crew, but a terrorist would need an aircraft with some kind of missile launcher to inflict this kind of damage....

About Columbia: She is the oldest member of the fleet, 22 years old. She just completed what is called "orbital modification and maintenance," or a complete overhaul that in some ways made her a brand-new craft. Early in the mission I heard the commander, Rick Husband, say that while Columbia may be high-maintenance on the ground, "she sure loves to be in space."

This mission did not go to the International Space Station. STS-107 (STS stands for "space transportation system" and the number is the numeric assigned to the payload) was dedicated to science. Columbia was stuffed full of all kinds of experiments, some of them vitally important to a cure of osteoporosis....

I have read incessantly about NASA, but all the reading in the world can't prepare you for working side by side with the hardware. I have become emotionally attached to each orbiter as I followed their individual paths through the prep and launching process. In addition to my sorrow at losing the crew, I will also miss the good ship Columbia. I am numb. I haven't even cried yet.

Reports are now coming in from Nacogdoches, Texas; one civilian says, "The space shuttle is everywhere." The last time I saw Columbia, she was launching proudly and beautifully. I just got done decorating my apartment and put a picture of that very launch in a frame on my dresser.

This is a nightmare.

Please call or email me if I can answer any questions. Love to you all.

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