|The Space shuttle Columbia in the skies above Utah.|
Early last year I saw on a NASA website that STS-107 would be in an orbit which would bring it over southern Utah on reentry, the first time that's happened in some six years.
So I put out the word on a Utah astronomy list serve and it wasn't long until a couple of dozen people had signed up to make the trip with me.
About half of the group ended up going to an abandoned airfield southeast of St.George with the rest of the group setting up camp north of St. George near the town of Leeds. Both groups were in position long before Columbia was to fly over and there was some concern that fog in Florida would scrub the landing. But finally the call came through saying the deorbit burn had begun and we could expect to see Columbia pass nearly overhead in about 45 minutes. My last words to the guy at NASA were "I sure wish I was up there."
Then, right on time, at about 6:54 Columbia broke over the western horizon and moving remarkably fast. We all cheered, knowing that unlike other "shooting stars" this one has seven human heartbeats aboard. It truly was a beautiful site.
Shortly after it appeared I noticed the orbiter suddenly became much brighter but after less than two seconds it returned to normal. I had not seen anything like that in the two other shuttle reentries I'd seen and I commented "that was odd". But all looked well and I went back to celebrating along with everyone else.
Columbia arched high overhead. What a sight! And then, just as quickly as it had appeared, it disappeared into the gathering light of dawn. Three minutes later, the sonic boom we'd all been expecting filled the sky. "Just Columbia's way of saying 'hi'" I thought to myself.
Then we all jumped into our vehicles and started the long drive back to the Wasatch Front, thrilled by what we had seen, a feeling that lingered for nearly an hour. And then my cell phone rang and I heard the news.
Numb, I spend much of the rest of the drive home in silence, thinking of seven brave souls who had given their lives for something they believed in. Bless them all.