Editor’s note: The following was penned by the Tyler Paper’s Everett Taylor in the days following the tragic loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia on Feb. 1, 2003:
Great tragedies have a way of occurring on their own terms, usually when least expected, and in their wake create a tremendous sense of shock, dismay and disbelief that hovers over a community, state, nation and even the entire world.
Many East Texans were jolted by the sound of tragedy early Saturday as an ominous boom came from the sky, followed by several seconds of rumbling. Some even witnessed the disintegration of space shuttle Columbia and the trail of its debris destined to fall hundreds of miles short of its intended destination. Others saw or heard the falling debris.
It soon became apparent that the space shuttle indeed had exploded, although official confirmation was not forthcoming immediately. Columbia and its crew of seven astronauts were only 16 minutes short of completing a mission that covered 16 days in space, in which they conducted numerous experiments in an effort to find solutions to some of the problems that plague Earth’s residents.
Returning home has not previously proved to be a big problem time for our daring space explorers, although the hazardous conditions of re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere and guiding this huge projectile to a safe landing on a tiny target are almost beyond comprehension ...
This maneuver had been accomplished successfully and without incident many times in the history of the space program, so the scheduled landing didn’t get unusual attention. But tragedy made its unexpected appearance, and the nation is still in shock ...
President Bush, delivering the sad confirmation of the seven astronauts’ deaths to the nation, vowed that “Our journey into space will go on.” There is little doubt, however, that much discussion lies ahead on the form it will take.
All Americans agree that the crew of the lost space shuttle were courageous heroes who deserve to be remembered by their families, friends and countrymen as pioneers.
“Each Columbia crew member was a pioneer,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. “They would want us to recognize their sacrifices through our comments and through our review of their lives and through comforting of their families. I also know they would want us to determine the cause, to fix that cause and to move on in the same spirit of exploration.”
The grieving period may be especially long in East Texas where so many people not only remember the sound of tragedy in the sky, but will be reminded by a continuing search for and gathering of debris and human remains over a wide area.
Those attending the service at the Johnson Space Center will be joined by most Americans in spirit as they bid farewell to seven brave heroes. They volunteered to serve their fellow humans, fully aware of the inherent dangers of pioneer exploration.
World and human progress always has depended heavily on their kind.