Columbia (STS-107) did not land 9 years ago this morning. It was an awful, sinking, hopeless feeling to watch the news footage of it breaking up over Texas. Within 15 minutes, I was at work...
Over the next few months, my coworkers scoured the fields of East Texas looking for pieces of the broken orbiter. We documented the debris. We cataloged the imagery.
We hunted, desperately, for cameras.
In 2003, we were still flying film cameras onboard the shuttles. These cameras, and any found film, were priceless to those of us working in Building 8 at NASA's Johnson Space Center.
I remember holding a Hasselblad that was delivered to me by a tired, hopeless coworker. I held the charred camera. The film back was still intact. There was likely film in it. The camera was exposed to the catastrophic reintry to the earth's atmosphere, heat, plummet to the earth, impact and then the elements of East Texas for weeks. Rain, heat, cold... none of it was good for the film, likely ruined inside.
I was right. The film was charred on the outer edges. Most of the film on either side of the leaders were destroyed. Only a few frames of the film in the very inside of the film magazine survived.
The crew portrait. Each crew takes one while onboard the shuttle or station.
The tears that were shed the day we found this portrait are beyond counting.
I'm not one to look towards the heavens to do anything but look at the stars or be humbled by it's vast expanse... but this? This image that survived?
I needed that.
I needed it to keep working and to mourn the death of my coworkers and friends.
I was at
work, because Human Space Flight is the most important thing we humans
do. We owe it to our friends and coworkers that we lost that morning to
remember them and remember why they (and so many others) risk their
lives for space travel.
Hug your fellow astronaut today.