NASA looks skyward, upward, and forward, pausing to look back when occasions require.
It was a Saturday and nothing had drawn the public’s attention to the return of the Space Shuttle Columbia from another scientific mission in space when communications abruptly ended mid-sentence.
Houstonians remember the day and the horror of learning that seven astronauts aboard were lost, the flurry of volunteer groups organized to inspect debris fields, and the painstaking work to reassemble what went wrong.
NASA has grieved, mourned, learned, and moved forward, encouraged. “We thought about how hard that was to live through and in disbelief, but there were a lot of really good lessons we learned both about NASA’s organization and culture as well as real technical improvements to our spacecraft,” says Mark Kirasich, Program Director for NASA’s Orion space program.
The Orion spacecraft is the next generation of craft that will take Americans into space – to asteroids, and eventually Mars. Kirasich says they’ve had two successful tests and expect to be fully operational for their first manned flight in 2022.
“Many of the lessons learned from Columbia are actually helping us to influence the Orion design to build a safer, more reliable Orion spacecraft,” he tells KTRH News.
The first pieces of debris arrived in Florida ten days after the disaster and eventually 84,000 pieces came to be stored on the 16th floor of the Vehicle Assembly Building.
The Patricia Huffman Smith Columbia Space Shuttle Museum in Hemphill honors the fallen and their contributions to science. They have special activities planned throughout the day beginning with a memorial service at 7:45am.