Friday, February 1 2013, 08:06 PM CST
Remembering shuttle Columbia astronauts 10 years after deadly explosion
HEMPHILL - By Megan Dillard - Ten years ago today the space shuttle Columbia broke apart over east Texas.
Today, people in small communities where the pieces fell and the nation are remembering the astronauts.
A NASA day of remembrance at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida paid tribute to the crew.
The Columbia took off from the space center January 16, 2003.
What the crew didn't know is a small piece of foam insulation broke away from the fuel tank and blasted a hole in one of the heat shield panels.
The extreme heat during re-entry caused the shuttle to break apart on February 1, 2003.
The pieces fell over east Texas, landing in communities including Nacogdoches and Hemphill.
Today KFDM traveled to Hemphill, a town that became ground zero in the search for victims and the effort to commemmorate the crew.
"We started watching FOX News and CNN and it was showing the debris saying it broke up over Dallas and I said, oh it's not Dallas. It's here."
The people of Hemphill remember Febuary 1, 2003 as though it were yesterday.
"My house started vibrating and shaking really bad. The pictures were rattling off the wall. Then I heard two loud booms and I was like oh my God, what was this?"
In the first hours after the space shuttle Columbia's break up, people who live in this small town began joining the recovery effort and became part of the NASA family.
"It was a hard day for us but by day 12 we found all seven of our astronauts and sent them home to their families."
In the days and weeks that followed people from this area joined search teams and fed volunteers.
Today, ten years after the disaster, some of those same people are sharing a meal at the VFW hall.
The same place that served as a staging area for people who came to Hemphill from across the country.
"Without all of the evidence that we found here that was critical to understanding what happened with columbia's breakup, and their very tactful and family-like support as we were recovering the crew members meant an awful lot to the NASA family. We'll always be indebted to this community in particular and east Texas as a whole."
Just down the road at the Patricia Huffman Smith Nasa Museum, students are paying tribute to the STS-107 crew and learning about the NASA program.
"Let them personally get to know and learn about the astronauts so it's more of a personal base. At that time, we teach them too about technology and research and how much NASA has contributed to their every day life." Everyday life for people in Hemphill that now includes a forever connection to NASA, the people who were here 10 years ago, and the seven crew members who lost their lives.
"It's hard to forget it when you've lived it. It's kind of like 9/11. You see it on TV and it's so surreal you think, oh how horrible. Then when you're actually in the middle of it, it becomes part of you and who you are, and it kind of shapes where you go in the future."
There was a parade this morning in Hemphill to remember the victims. Politicians, NASA employees, and an astronaut were on hand to meet with people.
There is also a memory walk scheduled for tomorrow morning.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- NASA's marking the 10-year anniversary of the Columbia space shuttle explosion today by honoring the seven astronauts who died when the spacecraft was disintegrated over Texas.
KFDM reporter Megan Dillard is in Hemphill. Watch for her report tonight at 6.
The space agency's holding a public memorial service today at Florida's Kennedy Space Center.
Students at a North Texas university in Arlington will release biodegradable white balloons this morning in memory of an astronaut who died aboard the space shuttle Columbia. Kalpana Chawla earned her master's degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington.
A dorm on campus is named in her honor.