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Disaster difficult for Lubbockites to grasp

2003 As the nation mourned Saturday, residents in Lubbock tried to comprehend the disaster of the space shuttle Columbia, which broke apart in flames minutes after the craft passed over the South Plains.

Among the seven astronauts who perished 16 minutes before landing at Cape Canaveral, Fla., were shuttle Cmdr. Rick Husband, a graduate of Texas Tech, and pilot Willie McCool, a graduate of Coronado High School.

Lani McCool, widow of Columbia astronaut Willie McCool, touches the face of a statue of her husband by Lubbock artist Willie Dixon.

Laura Hensley, a 20-year-old sophomore at Tech, said the tragedy was hard to believe.

"You think everything's happy and fine, and you think everything's under control and then something like this happens, and you realize you don't have control," she said.

Hensley denounced early speculation that the shuttle could have been targeted by some type of terrorist activity.

"I really think we're on top of things like terrorism," she said.

She said she also hopes the space program will not be halted because of Saturday's tragedy.

"The astronauts know the risks," she said. "I don't think the astronauts on the space shuttle would want us to stop exploring." Ralph Dehls, 69, of Lubbock, who retired from the U.S. Air Force, said he was especially proud when he learned that two men with ties to Lubbock would be on the space flight.

"It's a sad day for everybody, especially the families," he said. "You can say all the dire things about it, but those people were doing exactly what they wanted."

He said people should take comfort in knowing the astronauts died doing what they loved.

Dehls said he, too, hopes the disaster won't shut down the space program, which is so important to research.

Brent Bean, a 19-year-old sophomore nursing major at Tech, said he learned of Saturday's disaster at a tailgate party before the Tech baseball game.

"It was just a numbing feeling," he said. "How did something like this happen with the technology of today?"

Tech Connection

  • Col. Rick Husband of Amarillo graduated from Texas Tech in 1980.

  • Two other NASA astronauts also earned degrees at Tech: Lt. Col. Paul Lockhart, born in Amarillo, graduated from Tech in 1978. Has flown on two shuttle missions, the most recent aboard Endeavor in 2002.

  • Dr. Bernard Harris, M.D., born in Temple, graduated from Tech's medical school in 1982. The first black astronaut to walk in space, Harris flew on the shuttle Columbia and in Spacelab and was part of a rendezvous with Russia's space station, Mir. He also served as a member of the Tech Board of Regents.

Many people said they had family members in Lubbock and other areas of Texas who reported hearing a loud boom Saturday morning or felt their homes shake.

Kevin Pierson, 20, a sophomore at Tech majoring in vocal performance, said his parents were in Centerville where they heard "thunder" as the shuttle passed overhead.

He said he was nervous about debris landing near his parents' home.

"They said it sounded like thunder, a rumble. And it shook the house," Pierson said. "I just thought, how could something like that happen?"

Clarisse Oliva, 27, said her mother called about 8:30 a.m. after hearing a loud noise and feeling her house shake in Lubbock. She said her mother thought it was a wreck and went outside to look for smashed vehicles.

Oliva's brother, Gabriel, lives in Dallas and their mother called him to warn of possible falling debris, Oliva said.

"We all kind of panicked," she said. "You don't know how it's going to fall or where it's going to land."

Oliva said she understood officials didn't think the shuttle's tragedy was linked to terrorism, but "you still don't know what to think."

She was sad for the astronauts' families. "Can you imagine how their families are feeling?" she said. "They're standing there waiting for them. How do you come home after that? You still have to come home without your husband, without your father."

Melinda Gunn, 41, who teaches high school math in Lamesa, said the tragedy was especially sad because of the Lubbock ties.

"We were just up listening to the news about 8 o'clock and we just thought it was really sad," she said.

The crowd at the Tech baseball game at Dan Law field observed a moment of silence before the National Anthem.

An announcer said "both Texas Tech and the Lubbock community mourn today." He read the name of each astronaut who died and noted that McCool "carried a spirit towel (from Coronado) so a piece of Lubbock could go with him into space."

The A-J Remembers The Most Important People in Lubbock's History
 
 


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