Anyone who knows anything about the space program, knows about the disasters that have come out of it…or at least some of them. One of those disasters, the breakup of Space Shuttle Columbia, happened 18 years ago today, February 1, 2003. The breakup upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere took the lives of all seven astronauts on board, in a way that we can only imagine as horrific. The best we can hope for following the tragedy is that the astronauts were killed instantly, so they did not suffer in what followed the breakup. It was a horrible day for the United States, and for NASA, but what followed that terrible disaster was a truly remarkable phenomena.
It is tragedies like the Space Shuttle Columba that bring out the true American spirit. Feelings are set aside, and you suddenly see people hugging each other to comfort them. Columbia broke up in the skies of East Texas on its way back home to Kennedy Space Center. Almost immediately after losing the craft, the NASA world and many others, converged on the small town of Hemphill, Texas. Everyone wanted to help, and many who were not called into service, volunteered. The Space Program had become so commonplace and so routine that such an event came as a horrible shock to this nation and to the world. Suddenly we were glued to our television sets or radios, waiting for news, hoping against hope that there might be survivors, but knowing that it was clearly not possible.
It wasn’t just the NASA teams who showed up for this tragic event. Restaurants gave free meals to the workers. People reported anything they found so it could be documented and processed. The townspeople were there to offer comfort to those in need, because lets face it, these astronauts were members of the NASA family, and NASA (as well as the rest of the nation) was in mourning. As time went on, more and more searchers converged on Hemphill and the surrounding area. The local heroes continued to step up, giving any kind of support needed. This might seem like a small feat to some people, but this search went on for three months. That is a long time to care for so many in such a small town, but it was desperately needed, and gratefully received. After a long, drawn-out search, the teams had found all the seemed to be going to find, and almost as quickly as they had arrived, the teams were gone, and the small town of Hemphill, Texas was quiet again, but it would never be the same again. Three months in 2003 had changed it forever. The people who lived there in that time will never forget what they did back then, and we will never forget what they did. It was an awesome feat of kindness and love for our fellow man.