"We consider this hallowed ground," my guide said in a low voice as we stood in front of brown double doors, in a nondescript hallway lit by a bare fluorescent bulb coated with dust and spider webs.
The Columbia Research & Preservation Office is located on Level 16 of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), at the John F. Kennedy Space Center. The area beyond the double doors houses the nearly 84,000 salvaged parts and pieces of the Space Shuttle Columbia OV-102.
I stood at these doors and thought back to Columbia's last moments from my perspective. I was living on a large ranch in northern New Mexico and had awakened with a start, a bit before dawn. I couldn't shake a feeling that something was terribly wrong - I didn't know what. I got up to make some tea and sit in the living room. The sun was beginning to rise over the golden pasture beyond my living room windows. It was a beautiful, cold, quiet February morning. Suddenly a sonic boom broke the silence and shook the house. It wasn't until an hour or so later that I learned what caused the boom. It was Colombia, STS-107 in re-entry and beginning to break apart and scatter across hundreds of miles from northeastern Texas to Louisiana. The crew - Rick Husband, William C McCool, Michael P. Anderson, David M. Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramon - all perished.
Columbia, OV-102 Specs
Length - 184 feet
Height on runway - 57 feet
Wingspan - 78 feet
Flights - 28
Earth Orbits - 4808
Miles traveled - 121,696,993
Total passengers - 160
Time in space - 300 days, 17:40:22
Years in service - 22
First mission - April 12 - 14, 1981
Last mission - January 16 - February 1, 2003