Tag Archives: Shuttle Columbia

There he goes again … taking undue credit

There he was yet again, Donald John “Braggart in Chief” Trump taking credit he doesn’t deserve for the return of the U.S. manned space program.

Trump slathered himself with praise over the successful launch Saturday of the SpaceX rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla., saying that only on his watch could this effort have become a reality.

Actually, it was the result of an effort began a decade ago during the Barack H. Obama administration, which in fact was a continuation of an effort started during the George W. Bush administration.

According to National Public Radio: “Today is the culmination of three and a half years of renewed leadership in space,” said Vice President Pence, who called the launch “a tribute to the vision and leadership of a president who, from the very first days of this administration, was determined to revive NASA and American leadership in human space exploration.”

C’mon, man! Get real!

Yes, I have lamented the end of the space shuttle program, even with its two disastrous missions — Challenger’s explosion in 1986 and Columbia’s disintegration in 2003. However, the SpaceX program initiated by Elon Musk now holds a huge new promise of manned space flight for the United States, as it was demonstrated Saturday with the launch and the successful docking today with the International Space Station.

It has been many years in the making, long before Donald Trump soiled the presidency with his presence in the Oval Office.

But that wouldn’t dissuade Trump and Pence from taking undue credit. Hey, it’s an election year … so I’ll presume that everything now becomes fair campaign game.

Disgusting.

Still mourning a national tragedy

It was a Saturday morning 16 years ago. The phone rang. A colleague of mine at the Amarillo Globe-News was on the other end of the call. “Did you hear about the shuttle Columbia?” he asked. No. “It broke up on re-entry,” he said.

I blurted out a four-letter word, then rushed to the office to prepare an editorial for the next day’s newspaper.

The demise of the Columbia on Feb. 1, 2003 had special resonance with the readers of our newspaper. Its commander was a son of the Texas Panhandle, U.S. Air Force Col. Rick Husband.

You see, Col. Husband never really “left” Amarillo, the city of his birth and where he came of age. Yes, he would go on to graduate from Texas Tech University, enter the Air Force, earn his wings, fly high-performance jet aircraft and eventually become an astronaut.

He returned home often. My wife and I had the pleasure of meeting him one Sunday at the church we attended. He came to deliver a message from the pulpit. His wife, Evelyn, grew up at First Presbyterian Church and Kathy and I became acquainted with her late parents, Jean and Dan Neely.

Columbia broke apart on re-entry after completing a 16-day mission in Earth orbit. It had been a resounding success. However, unbeknownst to the crew, a piece of debris hit the leading edge of the wing on liftoff, puncturing a hole in it. Re-entry into the atmosphere created intense heat and, thus, the ship caught fire and disintegrated.

I want to mention one more example of Rick Husband’s eternal connection to Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle. You see, he was one of six Americans on the seven-member crew; the seventh was an Israeli officer.¬†Of the American heroes aboard the Columbia, all but one of them were interred at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

It took recovery crews some time to find the remains of the crew in East Texas. When they found Rick Husband’s remains, they brought them to Amarillo and buried him at Llano Cemetery.

Rick Husband came home . . .  where he belonged.

The world shared Amarillo’s grief

When tragedy strikes communities, the world often rallies to those communities’ sides.

It happened 15 years ago to Amarillo, Texas. We awoke one Saturday morning to some horrifying news high above us.

The space shuttle Columbia had disintegrated as it entered the atmosphere en route to a landing in Cape Canaveral, Fla. The commander of that seven-member crew happened to be a young Amarillo native, Air Force Col. Rick D. Husband, who died along with his six crew mates.

It had been a flawless mission. Sixteen days in Earth orbit and Husband and his crew were supposed to come home to a heroes’ welcome.

I received a phone call that morning from a colleague. “Did you hear what happened to the shuttle?” he asked. He told me about the Columbia’s destruction on re-entry. I hurried down to the Amarillo Globe-News office, tore up the next morning’s editorial page and wrote a “hot” editorial for the next day’s edition.

The editorial took note of Husband’s favorite passage from Scripture, Proverbs 3: 5-6, which instructs us to put our full “trust in the Lord.”

Amarillo and the rest of the Panhandle sank into a special sort of grief. One of our own had given his life in pursuit of space exploration. In truth, Rick Husband really never left Amarillo. Yes, he went away to college and a career as a test pilot in the Air Force. He joined the astronaut corps in the 1990s and flew aboard an earlier shuttle mission before getting his Columbia command.

Husband always found time to come home. He was a frequent visitor to his hometown. His mother still lived here while he was pursuing his dream of space flight.

I actually got to meet him twice at First Presbyterian Church, where his wife, Evelyn, attended as a girl. During our second meeting, I embarrassed myself by telling Husband I’d give anything to be able to fly with him into space. He gave me a bemused look, as if to say, “Sure thing, buddy.”

But our hearts broke that day as the news gripped us, just as it gripped the rest of the world. Prayers poured in from around the globe to the communities of all the astronauts who lost their lives on that horrible day.

Amarillo no doubt felt the world’s love as we grieved over our terrible loss.

The memory of getting that horrifying news saddens me to this day.

Renaming buildings and streets? Follow a simple formula

Amarillo city officials are considering some ordinances related to building and street renaming.

There’s been a bit of controversy about that in recent times, with Amarillo public school officials considering whether to rename an elementary school that currently is named after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, whose participation in the Civil War has come under scrutiny of late.

Hey, I have one recommendation for Amarillo City Hall: Whatever you decide, be sure to avoid naming a building or street after a living individual.

No living honorees

The city named its administration building in 2014 after the late City Commissioner Jim Simms; it named its international airport after Rick Husband, the astronaut who died aboard the shuttle Columbia in 2003; Amarillo has named part of a street after Justin Scherlen, a police officer who died in the line of duty.

Cities that name structures or streets after living individuals run the risk of being embarrassed by the “honored” individual. The most prominent example that comes to my mind involves Pete Rose, the former Cincinnati Reds baseball great who got a street named in his honor in Cincy; then Rose got ensnared in a gambling scandal that resulted in his being banned for life from induction in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. The city took Rose’s name off the street.

So, go ahead, City Hall, with considering this ordinance. I have no problem with the city having a policy for this process — as long as it involves individuals who have left this world.

Good luck, City Council.

In other news, Challenger blew up 30 years ago today

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Republican presidential candidates are debating at this very moment.

I’m a bit weary from listening to it all, so I’ll recall a tragic moment in U.S. history.

Thirty years ago today, the phone rang on my desk at the Beaumont Enterprise. I answered it. It was my wife, who worked down the street in downtown Beaumont, Texas.

“What’s going on? I just heard the shuttle blew up,” she said.

I turned to my computer, punched up the wire and saw the bulletin: “Challenger explodes.”

I blurted out a curse word and told her “I gotta go!”

I turned on the TV. The video was horrific.

Seventy-three seconds into a flight the shuttle Challenger blew up and seven astronauts were dead . . . in an instant.

We were stunned at our newspaper. We stood there, transfixed by what was transpiring. We heard over and over the radio communication to the Challenger, “Go at throttle up.” Then came the blast. It was followed by silence before the communicator told the world, “Obviously a major malfunction.”

I wouldn’t feel that kind of shock until, oh, the 9/11 attacks 15 years later.

But what happened next at our newspaper was that we would plan to do something the paper hadn’t done since the attack on Pearl Harbor. We decided to publish an “Extra.”

It contained¬†eight pages of text and photos from that ghastly event. It contained an editorial page, which I cobbled together rapidly. I wrote a “hot” editorial commenting on the grief the nation was feeling at that very moment.

We went to press about noon that day and we put the paper in the hands of hawkers our circulation department brought in to sell the paper on the street. It went into news racks all over the city.

Through it all the tragedy reminded us — as if we needed reminding — of how dangerous it is to fly a rocket into Earth orbit.

Of course, it would be determined that a faulty gasket malfunctioned in the cold that morning in Florida. The shuttle fleet would be grounded for a couple of years while NASA figured out a way to prevent such tragedy from happening in the future.

We would feel intense national pain, of course, in February 2003 when the shuttle Columbia would disintegrate upon re-entry over Texas, killing that crew as well — including the mission commander, Amarillo’s very own Air Force Col. Rick Husband.

They both brought intense pain to our nation.

Challenger’s sudden and shocking end, though, remains one of those events where we all remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news.

And to think that some Americans actually thought those space flights were “routine.”