Bringing Her Home
The major shuttle Columbia recovery efforts in East Texas required a cast of thousands and had returned home to Kennedy Space Center about 40 percent of the Space Shuttle by weight as the concentrated recovery mission wound down in May 2003.
Although the task was a somber one for workers from across the country, it was a challenge that often brought out the best in those who served in the field. Preceding a highly organized grid-based search that lasted for three and a half months were two weeks of recovery efforts by residents and members of many groups from around the country.
After the first two weeks, the search was organized by coordinating wildland federal agencies funded by FEMA. Teams of full-time and seasonal Texas and U.S. Forest Service workers were accompanied by Space Program and Environmental Protection Agency workers as they scoured woods and fields for Shuttle materials for about three and a half months. The recovery groups wore chaps and other gear to protect themselves from briars and cottonmouth snakes in the woods.
NASA and contractor team members who were called upon to work 12-hour days and seven-day weeks in the field often volunteered with enthusiasm. Others not tapped sought the duty, which they called "an honor."
Space program team members who worked intimately with Columbia on a day-to-day basis and those who knew the fallen STS-107 astronauts personally found their service in the field both painful and rewarding.
Space program workers said their service in the field was a life-altering experience. Their faith in humanity was reaffirmed because they met and worked with so many people who made sacrifices in support of the space program.