Ten years ago Friday, the space shuttle Columbia broke up on Earth re-entry.
The seven-member crew, four of whom had never been to space before, died in the accident as the shuttle broke apart over Texas in what has become one of the most memorable tragedies of the last decade.
The shuttle was traveling to Florida for landing on Feb. 1, 2003.
Grayson Kamm, a University of Florida graduate and a reporter for Central Florida News 13 at the time, was at the Kennedy Space Center on the day of the Columbia disaster.
Something about that day was different, Kamm said. A different sort of chatter covered the room.
“They were talking in questions,” he said. “They were asking people things. They were talking about sensors and read-outs and tracking. That’s the kind of stuff they never talk about when everything is going smoothly.”
A contingency plan in mission control means there has been a change in normal procedure; Kamm said when one employee used the word he knew it meant a disaster.
“It means the space shuttle is lost, and if there’s not a miracle, the astronauts have just been killed,” he said.
Kamm said mission control was chaos. Family members of the astronauts were hustled onto buses and moved out as quickly as possible. Kamm was moved to another area.
When Kamm’s producer first watched a video that came in from Texas, she gasped, he said.
“That was her first moment seeing that video we’re all familiar with now,” he said.
According to Reuters, upon re-entry to the atmosphere, the space shuttle crumbled into more than 84,000 pieces. The land below had pieces scattered about for miles and it took years to locate them all. Pieces — most frequently the heat shield — are still requested for research.
Many, like Kamm, still remember the day – how they felt, where they were and what they saw.
“I remember this coldness inside me when I realized the reality of the situation.”
Kelsey Meany wrote this story online.