While I wasn’t born before the Challenger disaster, I was in my teens when we lost Columbia. It’s hard to believe it’s been thirteen years since that fateful day.
Almost ever kid spends at least a little while dreaming of being an astronaut, and I was no exception. A relative worked for one of NASA’s subcontractors, so I spent my childhood collecting space shuttle mission patches, hearing about how the solid rocket boosters worked, and wanting to join in the adventure. Eileen Collins was the first woman to pilot and command a shuttle mission, and I wanted to be like her. I even have her autograph, addressed to me.
By 2003, my dream of becoming an astronaut had faded, but my love of space exploration hadn’t. I still kept up with each mission and watched very launch. I knew Columbia was headed home that day, but I never expected that she wouldn’t make it back to Cape Canaveral. Devastated, I watched what had become of her and her crew and followed the news in the weeks that followed.
The saddest moment, though, was when my relative invited me to see her remains. It was a private memorial, open to staff and their families. I’ll never forget walking through the storage room, filled with shreds of metal, broken tiles, helmets. Each piece was placed roughly where it belonged when she was whole. At the end, there was a giant roll of paper where we all signed our condolences to the families.
Like Columbia’s 30th anniversary, not many may remember today, but I do. I remember the brave astronauts who lost their lives as they lived out an incredible dream.