Space Shuttle Columbia anniversary: A personal experience - FOX 35 News Orlando

Space Shuttle Columbia anniversary: A personal experience

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By Bill Kallus, FOX 35 Producer

I was a NASA contractor working at the Kennedy Space Center as a television producer, when I was waiting for Columbia to land at the Shuttle Landing Facility on February 1, 2003.

That day, I was in charge of escorting a few press photographers to the top of the Mate-Demate device where you can get great shots of the Shuttle touching down.  It was about 8 a.m., but it was getting strangely colder and darker.  We all began to think how the Columbia would land in this kind of weather.  

Fast-forward an hour later to 9 a.m. and, in just minutes, we expected those twin sonic booms signaling Columbia's triumphant return to Florida.  But they never came. Confusion, concern and dread came very quickly.  Not a word on my 2-way radio I used to communicate with the NASA press site.

I first called my sister who happened to be visiting me for the weekend, during a break from med school.  I asked, "Do you see anything strange going on in the news?"  She said there was just a lot of talking about losing communication with the ship and that they didn't know where it was.

I got that sickening feeling in my gut.  How could this be?  A shuttle was never lost during landing?  

I used my cell to call into the press site. On the other line was Diana, a former civil servant, who retired and came back as a contractor.  I asked Diana, "What the hell is going on?"   Diana, who had been there for the Challenger said in a quiet and somber voice, "The crew is gone Bill. They are all gone."

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