I worked on the NASA Space Shuttle Program for several years. In fact I worked on the Mercury, Gemini, Scout, Saturn 1 & 5 plus other classified space projects. In all of my 27 years in the aerospace industry, I was never invited to witness a live launch of anything.
I made a major change in 1978 and joined a well known and one of the largest oilfield service companies to guide them in meeting a new government regulation. I Served for seven years and eventually became Chairman of the ANSI/ASME committee that the Minerals Management Service assigned to oversee the program. During this period I served with a retired NASA executive who was serving as a public member of the committee.
This friend invited me to tour the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville Alabama and a private meeting with the Director. He also arranged for me to observe the launch of the STS-5 Space Shuttle launch as a special guest of NASA. On November 9th and 10th 1982 I was given a complete tour of the Kennedy Space Center and pre-launch operations. At 7:19 am on November 11th I witnessed the launch of STS-5 Shuttle launch. This was a highlight in my life that I will forever remember.
After working or visiting in 32 countries and forty nine States, we decided in 1991 to relocate and prepare for retirement and moved to Toledo Bend Lake in deep east Texas. Our home is some 7.5 miles from Hemphill Texas by land and 2 miles from Louisiana by water.
On this date, February 1st, 2003, I was watching the landing preparation of the Columbia Space Shuttle when the loudest sonic boom I had ever heard happened. My wife was in the bathroom and watched water splash out of the commode and screamed, “What happened”. Believe me, this was another event that will be remembered forever. Obviously this was the remains of the shuttle and crew that was dispersed over this area. The next few weeks it was sad but heart-warming to see the local people pull together and assist in the search for debris. This reminded me of the way the entire country pulled together after the 9-11-01 tragedy in New York. It’s a shame that it takes a crisis or tragedy for all of us to communicate with a common purpose.
Over the years many local individuals have developed memorials for this horrible event to remember the individuals who lost their life. One individual has provided the funding to build a museum in Hemphill in the honor of his wife, who had recently passed away. This wonderful facility will have its grand opening today. The group of individuals who have worked so long and hard to make this happen along should be honored by all. There will be honored guest from NASA, politicians and many of us who pitched in during the year they searched the woods and water.
There is a special irony for me individually, I helped build the Columbia and this was the STS-5 Shuttle that I had the occasion to see launched in 1982. The sad part of this is I was watching the Columbia blow up and spray this area with its remains. My hat is off to those who have worked so hard to build the memorials to remember the crew forever.