February 1, 2021

Remembering Columbia 2021

I’ve said it before… but I will say it again… there are certain days of major events where major events occur in the world that you will never forget where you were when they happened…. Some positive, some negative. People will never forget where they were when the moon landing happened or when the first human rocketed into space…. My mom talks of how she will always remember where she was when President Kennedy was assassinated…

One of the events that I will never forget where I was happened on this day 18 years ago… the day we lost Space Shuttle Columbia.

I was in Russia… in fact it was a Saturday and I was about to head out with some colleagues to see the musical Chicago (in Russian!) Because it was a weekend some of us who had been working in Star City had the opportunity to come into Moscow to stay for a night or two and see the sites. I knew Columbia was headed home but being in Russia it wasn’t exactly like we could pull up footage on the television and much to the disbelief of many of the wonderful students I work with it wasn’t like we had smart phones to stream information to etc.

It was cold and I had just gotten all bundled up to brave the elements to head to the theater when the phone rang in the room I was staying in. I had to unwrap my scarf a bit and pull off my earmuffs to put the phone to my ear. It was the DDOR (Deputy Director of Operations Russia) calling to let me know what had happened and to let me know that a van would be coming from Star City to pick all of us up so we could all gather together.

Our space family bonded together and wished for ways we could help though really there weren’t any at that time… As the days passed we talked about not just what had happened but we got to telling stories and smiling about these wonderful humans who had given everything for this mission. I believe it’s important to remember the incredible individuals… our colleagues… our friends…

As a flight controller, the Mission Operations motto of  “Ever Vigilant” kept coursing through my mind.  I won’t get into the depths of how much I have thought about this… how this accident didn’t need to happen… but I will say that it made me more determined than ever to do all I could in my work to make sure these incredible humans sacrifice was not forgotten.

Why do I share this personal story with you… because I think it’s important that we keep talking about what happened… that we remember every bit of this. As we forge into the future of spaceflight, we must remember our past and learn from it.  I will forever remember. I will never forget. I will keep sharing about Columbia and her crew with all the students Higher Orbits works with.  May the mission of STS-107 never truly end… may these heroes continue to inspire the next generation of space explorers…

Blog by Michelle

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