On February 1, 2003, Columbia disintegrated on reentry before the nation’s eyes, and all seven astronauts aboard were lost. Author Mike Leinbach, Launch Director of the space shuttle program at NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center was a key leader in the search and recovery effort as NASA, FEMA, the FBI, the US Forest Service, and dozens more federal, state, and local agencies combed an area of rural east Texas the size of Rhode Island for every piece of the shuttle and her crew they could find. Assisted by hundreds of volunteers, it would become the largest ground search operation in US history. This comprehensive account is told in four parts:
- Parallel Confusion
- Courage, Compassion, and Commitment
- Picking Up the Pieces
- A Bittersweet Victory
For the first time, here is the definitive inside story of the Columbia disaster and recovery and the inspiring message it ultimately holds. In the aftermath of tragedy, people and communities came together to help bring home the remains of the crew and nearly 40 percent of shuttle, an effort that was instrumental in piecing together what happened so the shuttle program could return to flight and complete the International Space Station. Bringing ColumbiaHome shares the deeply personal stories that emerged as NASA employees looked for lost colleagues and searchers overcame immense physical, logistical, and emotional challenges and worked together to accomplish the impossible.
Featuring a foreword and epilogue by astronauts Robert Crippen and Eileen Collins, and dedicated to the astronauts and recovery search persons who lost their lives, this is an incredible, compelling narrative about the best of humanity in the darkest of times and about how a failure at the pinnacle of human achievement became a story of cooperation and hope.
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About the Author
Jonathan H. Ward works to bring the thrill of the space program to life for the general public as a Solar System Ambassador for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and as a frequent speaker on space exploration topics to interest groups and at regional conferences. He is the author of two previous books on space exploration. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Captain Robert L. Crippen, USN, Retired (foreword) was Columbia’s first pilot. He received a bachelor of science degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas in 1960. He has received numerous special honors, including the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, three Distinguished Service Medals, the US Navy Distinguished Flying Cross, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the FAA’s Award for Distinguished Service, the Goddard Memorial Trophy, the Harmon Trophy, four NASA Space Flight Medals, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, the Department of Defense Distinguished Service Award, the American Aeronautical Society Flight Achievement Award, the National Geographic Society’s Gardiner Greene Hubbard Medal, the Aviation Hall of Fame 1981 Al J. Engel Award, American Legion’s Distinguished Service Medal, the Society of Experimental Test Pilots Ivan C. Kincheloe Award, and the NASA Exceptional Service Medal. He lives in Orlando, Florida.
Colonel Eileen Collins, USAF, Retired (epilogue) became NASA’s first female shuttle commander on a 1999 mission in the Columbia. She holds a master’s degree in mathematics and economics from Syracuse University, a master’s degree in operations research from Stanford University, and a master’s degree in space systems management from Webster University. She is from Elmira, New York.
Table of Contents
Foreword Robert Crippen ix
Part I Parallel Confusion
Chapter 1 Silence and Shock 3
Chapter 2 Good Things Come to People Who Wait 7
Chapter 3 The Foam Strike 25
Chapter 4 Landing Day 36
Part II Courage, Compassion, and Commitment
Chapter 5 Recovery Day 1 51
Chapter 6 Assessing the Situation 88
Chapter 7 Searching for the Crew 107
Part III Picking Up the Pieces
Chapter 8 Columbia Is Going Home in a Coffin 139
Chapter 9 Walkers, Divers, and Spotters 167
Chapter 10 Their Mission Became Our Mission 191
Chapter 11 Reconstructing Columbia 206
Part IV A Bittersweet Victory
Chapter 12 Healing and Closure 237
Chapter 13 Preserving and Learning from Columbia 252
Chapter 14 The Beginning of the End 264
Chapter 15 Celebrating 25,000 Heroes 280
Epilogue by Eileen Collins 291
Authors' Notes and Acknowledgments 297
Acronyms and Technical Terms 308
About the Authors 353