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Faith Aboard Doomed Space Shuttle Columbia

The seven astronauts of the Columbia shuttle.

ON THIS DAY, 1 February 2003, the space shuttle Columbia was returning to earth following sixteen days of science experiments in space. Under the command of Rick Husband were six other astronauts: William McCool, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramon. Ramon was the first Israeli in space. Chawla was from India.

Something went terribly wrong during descent. For eight or nine minutes sensors showed unusual heat and drag. The shuttle was still traveling at over twelve thousand miles per hour at 7:59 am when the ground controllers at Houston tried to get more details from the shuttle commander, saying: “We see your tire pressure messages and we did not copy your last message.”

“Roger, but ...” replied Husband. A crackle cut off his voice. Moments later, a loud boom startled residents of North Texas. White smoke trailed from pieces of the shuttle as they hurtled toward the earth from an altitude of two hundred thousand feet.

Late that afternoon, President George W. Bush confirmed what everyone already knew: the seven astronauts were dead. According to experts, the disaster was caused when a piece of foam broke loose and struck a wing at launch, loosening or knocking off one or more of the shuttle’s protective heat tiles.

Even in this darkness, however, rays of faith shone brightly. Soon the world learned that Rick Husband and Michael Anderson were Christians, active at Grace Community Church in Houston. Pastor Steve O’ Donohoe described Husband as “probably the godliest man I’ve ever met.”

Christian singer Steve Green, a friend of the Husband family, discussed the tragedy at a scheduled concert the night of the disaster. He said that Husband was not afraid to share his faith and prayed with and for his crew. Before Husband’s deadly mission, he had recorded seventeen daily devotionals each for his son and daughter, one for each day he would be away from home. When NASA played a wake up song his wife had picked for the shuttle crew (“God of Wonders”), Rick had replied, “We look out the window and see that God truly is a God of wonders!”

Dan Graves

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