Monday, March 18, 2013

NASA Month: Hail Columbia


All this month, I'm NASA! This means every weekday in March will feature a new post about NASA, and I'm hosting a giant giveaway in order to encourage people to spread the NASA love. For more information on the giveaway, check out this post.

Today we have a special guest post by author and fellow League Member, Angie Smibert! Author of the MEMENTO NORA series, Angie also had the awesome job of working with NASA zomg jealous.

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Hail Columbia

by Angie Smibert

It’s been 10 years and a little over a month since I saw her, since anyone has.


I met her the day I interviewed for a job at the Kennedy Space Center. It was a sticky October morning in 1995. After meeting my soon-to-be boss and co-workers, we walked down three flights of stairs to the front of the Headquarters Building, which is about four miles, give or take, from the Shuttle launch pads.

T minus 31 seconds. Go for auto sequence start.

The countdown chatter echoed over the PA system inside the building and out.

T minus 6 seconds. Go for main engine start.

5- 4- 3-2-1-0.

And there she was. Columbia.

She cleared the trees (and swamp) that lay between us and the pad, and the visceral rumble of the engine ignition washed over me. As she hurtled skyward, everyone kept watching silently, almost holding their breath, as the contrails climbed higher and higher in the sky—until two smaller wisps of smoke broke off and started falling back to Earth.

Then, almost every single person at KSC exhaled at that moment—and walked back inside.

“We watch for SRB separation,” someone explained to me. That’s when the two solid rocket boosters have run out of fuel and fall back to Earth.

“Challenger didn’t make it that far,” someone else added, almost in a whisper.

“Oh,” I managed to say. After that, I too watched for the SRBs to fall away after every launch.

Fast forward about eight years—and many, many shuttle launches later. In the intervening years, I’d risen from newbie to boss, been to the top of a Shuttle pad, climbed into the guts of a Mobile Launcher Platform, written numerous online training courses and safety videos, won a Silver Snoopy, and even written a interactive guide to the Space Shuttle, focusing on Columbia in particular.

It was a cool (for Florida) Saturday morning in February, and I was rattling around my townhouse making coffee, letting the dog out (and back in), reading the paper, all with NASA-TV muted in the background. And I was waiting to hear the tell-tale sonic boom that would let me, and all of the Space Coast, know that Columbia was on its way home.

It never came.

Fast forward a couple more heartbreaking days, and everything had changed at KSC.

NASA held a memorial service for the crew (and the orbiter itself) at the Shuttle Landing Facility. An office mate and I wrangled some passes to attend the ceremony. Much of it’s a blur. Each astronaut was honored and lamented. Airmen fainted on the tarmac. John Crippen, the first person to fly Columbia on a mission, the very first Shuttle mission back in 1981, eulogized the orbiter and what it meant to history. I still love what he said about her:


"Columbia was hardly a thing of beauty except to those of us who loved and cared for her. She was often badmouthed for being a little heavy in the rear end. But many of us can relate to that. Many said she was old and past her prime, still she only lived nearly a quarter of her design life. Columbia still had a great many missions ahead of her. She along with the crew had her life snuffed out in her prime. Just as her crew has Columbia has left us quite a legacy....hail Columbia."

At the end, astronauts flew a missing man formation for Columbia. Four T-38 jets, one for each orbiter, roared towards us as we were standing on mile-long tarmac. Just as they were overhead, all of us looking up, the jet representing Columbia peeled off toward the heavens and disappeared into a chink of blue sky that had opened up in the clouds. The clouds swallowed it up, and it was gone. The sight of the jet climbing skyward while its mates kept flying flat and low unexpectedly choked me up.

And, and with a lump in my throat, I said goodbye to Columbia and her crew. Godspeed.


Columbia links:

· NASA Day of Remembrance
· STS-107 Crew Memorial
· STS-107 tribute page: (This was put together by a contractor who was there at the SLF that day.)
· NASA Tribute Video: Sixteen Minutes from Home video
· Tribute to Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon

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Angie is the author of the Memento Nora series, which includes Memento Nora, The Forgetting Curve, and the upcoming Meme Plague (August 13), as well as numerous short stories. Her latest story, "The Jelly Jar," is in the March issue of Cicada. And for ten years, she worked at NASA's Kennedy Space Center where she developed online training, wrote videos, managed a creative team--and fell in love with the whole place. (She was already in love with the awesomeness of space in general.)


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This post is a part of the month-long celebration of NASA I'm hosting on my blog. In order to encourage people to celebrate NASA, I'm also hosting a giveaway!

One grand prize winner will receive all the books in the recent Breathless Reads tour, as well as ARCs of two anthologies and a signed Breathless Reads poster:


As well as swag from NASA, courtesy of Kate @ Ex Libris:

To celebrate NASA creatively: you could blog about why you like NASA, you could reach out to an astronaut for an interview, you could make space fan art, you could sing a song about NASA, you do a vlog, you make a list of all the ways NASA rocks...any of this counts! Just celebrate NASA in some awesome way, post it online, and include the link in the Rafflecopter. I even set that part of the entry open for multiple entries, so you could blog and vlog and Facebook and tumblr and Pinterest about NASA and they all count. The only requirements: post a link back to this contest, and put the full URL of the site in the Rafflecopter. Full details here.

To enter: be sure to read the full rules and terms of the contest here. Then fill out the Rafflecopter below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway
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