Witnessing Columbia's Final Moments - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

2/1/03

Witnessing Columbia's Final Moments

"It looked normal," said Ken Perkins.

At 7:58 Saturday morning, he stepped out of his office to catch the Shuttle Columbia streaking over Lubbock.

"It was real bright, and I was real proud that it was coming back," he said.

What he didn't know was that he was witnessing the beginning moments of a tragedy.

"We had a bad day," said NASA Chief Flight Director Milt Heflin.

At a press conference seven hours after the tragedy, details of failed sensors emerged. The crew was apparently aware of the warnings as they flew over the Lubbock area.

"We think they were acknowledging that measure that they saw. Again, the vehicle was flying with no problems at that time," said Heflin.

A few miles from Ken Perkins' office, his son, Ken II, had his cameras at the ready.

"I set up my equipment here, had a second camera ready to go," he said.

His photographs were taken at 8:01 a.m., roughly the same time all communication with Columbia was lost. An hour later, his father called to see if his son had heard of the tragedy.

"I really didn't believe it," said Ken II.

But the news was true, and the impact of having witnessed the last few moments of the crew of the Columbia sunk in.

"If you were looking east at the right time, you were seeing it happen live. I guess that's really the hard part," he said.

Two weeks ago, West Texas celebrated the accomplishments of two men who dreamed of going to the stars while living on the South Plains. Saturday, their journey ended too soon, over the very skies that Husband and McCool once called home.

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