Seven astronauts died one year ago on Sunday as their Shuttle Columbia disintegrated above the skies of Texas during re-entry. The shuttle was scheduled to land in Florida about 15 minutes later, but never made it.
All seven astronauts on board died in that disaster one year ago. Here on the South Plains, residents were able to see Columbia's final moments as the shuttle flew toward Florida. As the nation dealt with the tragedy, Lubbock mourned two of its very own.
Navy commander Willie McCool was the pilot of space shuttle Columbia. He was born in San Diego, California but later moved to Lubbock where he graduated from Coronado High School in 1979. Coronado has collected numerous items and photos tracking McCool's journey from student athlete to astronaut to American hero. He brought a spirit towel in honor of his high school along with him on the shuttle. The track and field at Coronado High School has been renamed the "Willie McCool Track and Field." McCool leaves behind a wife and three children.
Columbia Commander Rick Husband is a native of Amarillo who came to school in Lubbock. He graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from Texas Tech University in 1980. Husband was a member of Tech's Air Force ROTC as well as the Tech Choir. In fact, Husband took a CD with music sung by Tech's Choir aboard Columbia. The airport in Amarillo has been re-named in his honor and now boasts a bronze statue of the astronaut. Husband is survived by his wife and two children.
The space shuttle Columbia launched a new era for NASA and the U.S. space program. At the time, Columbia was the oldest of the four shuttles in service. NASA has grounded the shuttle program since the accident and launched an investigation. A special board later said the fatal damage was caused 82 seconds after liftoff when insulating foam from the external fuel tank struck and damaged the left wing.
Columbia is named after a small sailing vessel that operated out of Boston in 1792 and explored the mouth of the Columbia River.