Ten years since debris rained down on Texas.
Ten years ago Friday, shuttle Columbia disintegrated 39 miles over Texas during re-entry, killing all seven crew members. Houston's Mission Control lost contact with the crew at 8 am local time, shortly after pressure readings had been lost on both left main landing-gear tires.
A broken response from the mission commander was recorded: "Roger, uh..." It was the last communication from the crew and the last signal received in Mission Control.
The crew included six Houstonians: Commander Rick Husband, Pilot William McCool, Payload Commander Michael Anderson, Mission Specialists Kalpana Chawla, David Brown and Laurel Blair Salton Clark. There was also Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut.
Veteran astronaut Jerry Ross, and author of the new book "Spacewalker," was awaiting their return at Cape Canaveral, FL when Mission Control lost tracking of Columbia. It didn't take long for him to realize something went terribly wrong.
"At that point I knew that we had in all likelihood lost the vehicle," Ross tells KTRH News. "I stepped outside of the convoy commander's vehicle and said a silent prayer for my friends."
"I immediately picked up the phone and called to the astronauts who were escorting the crew's families and told them we had lost the vehicle and in all likelihood we had lost the crew," says Ross.
NASA later determined a wing was damaged during launch, slowly overheated and came apart during re-entry.
There's talk now that NASA knew about a problem, but chose not to tell the crew. Ross says either way, the Columbia crew was not equipped to dock at, nor was it even near the International Space Station and wasn't prepared to wait for another shuttle.
"That's a lot of second and third what ifs, and I'm not sure if we ever could have gotten to the point to carry any of that out in a timely fashion," he says.
Ross says they were his friends, and should be remembered as heroes.
"We never want to forget that, and we never want to stop exploring because of some losses. They certainly would not have wanted us to do that," says Ross.
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Hear the podcast with Matt Patrick and Houston's Morning News as he talks with Heflin: