Monday, February 3, 2014

Columbia +11

I wrote this initially for my blog, but instead posted it to my Facebook page - 

"Today is February 1st, 2014. 
It is a Saturday.
Eleven years ago today was also a Saturday. 
My wife Tracie and I were sitting in the Twin Colony Diner in Torrington. This was a fairly typical thing for us on Saturday mornings. Shortly, we would commence to doing our normal weekend routine; hit a couple of book stores, do some scenic driving, as it wasn't that cold a day.
I ordered my usual (a waffle, two sausage links, glass of milk). 
The diner has televisions hung in various locations, almost all turned to FOX News. The food had only just arrived at the table when I caught an interesting video on the screens. It was a blue sky, with something streaking through it, leaving numerous trails. This looked familiar.
I looked at my watch. As I recall, it was about 9:25 am. My blood instantly ran cold.
Two weeks before, we gathered all the students in the main lobby at the Talcott Mountain Science Center to watch the launch of Columbia. It looked to be a fairly typical flight. I had to explain to my students that this was not an ISS launch, and how there had been talk of converting Columbia into something called a "long duration orbiter". Some of the students followed the mission. 
And now, I was certain I knew what I was seeing.
I got up from my booth and walked to the television, and asked the waitress to turn it up. 
By this point, there was little doubt.
Columbia had broken up over Texas.
As had happened seventeen years before, tears started flowing. I returned to the table, and Trae asked what's wrong. I pointed to the television, as more videos were now being posted.
I think all I could say was "Columbia. We lost Columbia."

A few days later, we stopped at the diner again, this time for dinner. It was on a Tuesday night, as I recall. The air was crisp, a little colder, but unlike Saturday, was clear. At my desk, I had been running a couple of satellite tracking programs, and knew to look up as we left. It was about 6:30 pm. As we approached the car, I looked up. Far overhead, the International Space Station traced a path across the winter sky. It looked so lonely as it passed so far overhead."

There is so much more I'd like to say, like how I knew this would be the death knell for the shuttle program and how it could possibly be the same for the US manned space program. But not now.

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