Wednesday is a somber anniversary. It marks 9-years since two astronauts with Lubbock ties died in the Columbia disaster.
Coronado High School graduate Willie McCool and Texas Tech graduate Rick Husband were both aboard that space shuttle. The shuttle broke apart during re-entry on February 1, 2003. All seven crew members died.
As a matter of fact the moment of decompression inside the shuttle was estimated to be over I27 located halfway between Lubbock and Plainview. The furthest west that any debris was found after the disaster was the garden outside a rural residence north of Littlefield.
NASA grounded the shuttle program after the accident and launched an investigation. Ice damaged the heat tiles on the shuttle during launch. The damage is what led to the trouble that doomed the shuttle.
The investigation also revealed Willie McCool fought to fix the aircraft until the very end before the Columbia disintegration.
Willie's father, Barry says his son is a hero and he paid the ultimate price for space exploration. He recalls hearing NASA lose communication that day.
"They said ‘Columbia, this is Houston, hard copy'. ‘Columbia, Houston.' About that time the TV showed the starburst of the Columbia disintegrating overhead. I looked at Audrey and said Willie is gone," said Barry McCool.
Barry says his son followed in his Navy footsteps. He knew there was no guarantee he would come back.
He says each anniversary he and his wife lay flowers on their son's statue. The statue is located on 82nd and Quaker, its one place Willie's legacy will not be forgotten. Barry also wears Willie's astronaut wings, something his son never got a chance to do.
Video recovered from Hemphill, Texas shows the last moments of Willie's life. From time to time Barry will watch it.
"My last view of Willie is he going to hold up this mirror and you are going to see his face in the mirror," Barry said.
The space shuttle program officially ended in 2011. Barry hopes this does not discourage others to study math and science.
Copyright 2012 KCBD NewsChannel 11