On the morning of Feb. 1, 2003 the space shuttle Columbia was returning back to earth for the completion of its 28th mission.
At 7:15 a.m. central time, Commander Rick Husband orders for the shuttle's braking rockets to be fired as his crew of William McCool, Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, Laurel Clark and Ilan Ramon streak toward touchdown.
At 7:53 a.m. ground controllers lose data from four temperature indicators on the inboard and outboard hydraulic systems on the left side of the spacecraft. The shuttle is functioning normally otherwise, so the crew is not alerted.
At 7:56 a.m. sensors detect rise in temperature and pressure in tires on the shuttle's left-side landing gear.
At 7:58 a.m. data is lost from three temperature sensors embedded in the shuttle's left wing.
At 7:59 a.m. data is lost from tire temperature and pressure sensors on the shuttle's left side. One of the sensors alerts the crew. NASA loses commutation with the shuttle.
At approximately 8 a.m., with the Columbia at 207,135 feet over north-central Texas and traveling about Mach 18.3 all vehicle data is lost.
It was at that same time that residents of West Central Louisiana and East Central Texas were able to hear, feel and see the Columbia explode as it broke up during re-entry with the break-up and subsequent explosion instantly killing all seven astronauts on board.
Tomorrow will mark 15 years since that tragic day in NASA history. A day that many area residents remember well.
"The thing I remember most about that morning is the explosion," Vernon Parish resident Tracy Smith recalls. "It shook our house and rumbled for what seemed like minutes."
Like most everyone who had heard the explosion, Smith was unaware of what had caused the boom.
"I live near Fort Polk, so at first I thought something had happened on the base," she said.
"Soon the news about what happened to the space shuttle was all over the TV. I knew immediately that's what I had heard," Smith said.
Theresa Haag recalls, "We were sitting in the living room and it shook the windows and walls in the house.
Instantaneous with the explosion were reports of debris that had fallen across Vernon Parish and into east Texas.
Pickering resident Danny Roshong reported a piece that had fallen on his hunting lease in an area along University Parkway. It was collected by members of the Vernon Parish Sheriff's Department, the Louisiana State Police, and a special unit from Fort Polk.
It was later determined that the item collected was part of one of the shuttle's engines.
While most reports of debris were of small items, a number of residents on Toledo Bend witnessed items as large as cars falling into the reservoir.
The lake became a main focal point in the search for shuttle parts as NASA scientists pinpointed the air space above it as the place where the spaceship ripped apart.
"We drove up to Toledo Bend looking to see what we could help find," Rosepine resident Donna Geltz recalls.
Hemphill, a small town of 1,100 in east Texas near the lake, became the home base for the recovery efforts.
Hundreds of military and law enforcement personal invaded the small town to search the piney woods surrounding it for items from the disaster.
In 2011 the Patricia Huffman Smith NASA ‘Remembering Columbia Museum’ opened in Hemphill. The 3,400-square-foot building has on display everything from crew members' dog tags to favorite books, hiking boots, flight suits and funeral flags.
The museum tour takes you on a journey through Columbia's first historical flight of STS-1 through its last mission of STS-107. It also provides a glimpse of the recovery of Columbia and the Crew of STS-107, along with the two who lost their lives in the recovery efforts. This museum has many items and artifacts from NASA and its contractors, the families of the crew of STS-107, as well as from other individuals.
The museum will be holding special events tomorrow in commemoration of the Columbia disaster. Among the events scheduled will be a memorial service, a robotics competition and a public address by former NASA director Sean O'Keefe.
For more details about scheduled events visit the museum website www.nasacolumbiamuseum.com.