Memorial marks 10 years since Columbia tragedy

By Jerry Hume, Reporter
Last Updated: Tuesday, January 29, 2013, 9:24 PM EST

A somber ceremony on the Space Coast on Saturday, as people remember the seven astronauts killed 10 years ago when space shuttle Columbia broke apart on re-entry.

On Feb. 1, 2003, Columbia re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere, falling apart over the Texas sky.

The tragedy of Columbia signaled the beginning of the end for the space shuttle program.

School children, city leaders, residents and former NASA workers remembered all astronauts who’ve died in the name of space exploration at the ceremony --

From Apollo 1, to Challenger (which exploded shortly after liftoff 27 years ago come this Monday), to Columbia.

“The very least we can do is remember them every year with honor and grace, otherwise you wouldn’t be here with the satellite, I wouldn’t be here with a phone, all of our technology wouldn’t have come to be if it weren’t for the bravery of these astronauts that gave their all,” said Barbara McGillicuddy, chairwoman of the Flag and Memorial Committee for Titusville.

Flowers were laid at a permanent memorial at Sand Point Park, near the Kennedy Space Center, where all these missions originated.

It was hosted by the city’s Flag and Memorial Committee.

For people in Brevard County and across the country, it’s hard to forget where they were when the heard the news about Columbia.

“I was actually on the river, waiting to catch a very brief glimpse of Columbia when it came back and you know the time came, and the time went, and ‘where is it?’ And then of course we got the word within a few minutes,” said Bob Socks of Titusville.

Mike Lienbach was the launch director when Columbia flew for a final time.

Lienbach tells us he was at the Shuttle Landing Facility, looking at the countdown clock, waiting to greet the astronauts.

“When it really hit me the hardest, I believe, when that clock clicked down to zero, and Columbia was not on the runway in front of us. We knew she was somewhere between orbit and the Kennedy Space Center. We had no idea where she was and so it was just the most empty feeling you could possibly imagine,” said Lienbach.

He hopes the lasting legacy of Columbia is the work that’s gone on since then to make human space travel safer.

But whatever the legacy may be, the city of Titusville, which has felt the joys and hardships through our country’s space story, will never forget.

Another memorial is set for Friday.

It’s going to be at the Space Mirror Memorial at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, starting at 10 a.m.

Six-time Grammy award-winner BeBe Winans is scheduled to sing "The Star Spangled Banner," as well as another song from his latest album, "America America."

Ceremony speakers include:

  • Thad Altman, Astronauts Memorial Foundation president and CEO
  • Jon A. McBride, former astronaut and AMF Board of Directors chairman
  • Mick Ukleja, Ph.D., AMF Board of Trustees chairman
  • Evelyn Husband-Thompson, widow of STS-107 commander Rick Husband
  • Eileen Collins, Return to Flight space shuttle commander
  • Robert D. Cabana, Kennedy Space Center director
  • William H. Gerstenmaier, NASA Human Exploration and Operations associate administrator
  • Robert Lightfoot, NASA associate administrator.

Mike Lienbach, former NASA launch director at the time of the loss of Columbia, will be the keynote speaker for this year's event.

The public is invited to both events.