Special memories from East Texans on shuttle anniversary - KYTX CBS 19 Tyler Longview News Weather Sports

Special memories from East Texans on shuttle anniversary

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EAST TEXAS (KYTX) -

10 years ago today, the Space Shuttle Columbia exploded and broke apart over East Texas.

People from all over the region remember the tragedy, and some even have mementos that remind them of the disaster. 

A signed and autographed photo of Astronaut Kalpana Chawla, who was killed in the Columbia explosion belongs an East Texas woman who met Chawla when she was in school years ago.

She and other East Texans tell me what the 10 year anniversary means to them.

Coretta Williams glances down at a piece of paper that - today - represents tragedy."

It says for Coretta and Johnna, who is my sister, Follow your dreams. Kalpana Chawla," Williams said.

Chawla, a fallen visionary, one of seven astronauts killed in the Columbia shuttle explosion 10 years ago.

The February 1st anniversary brings a nightmare back to life in East Texas, where 80 percent of the Shuttle Columbia was recovered.

"Feb 1 is a day in history that I'll never forget. I remember standing in a friend of mine's back yard, actually watching Columbia streak across the sky.

Pieces of the shuttle rained down across Nacogdoches County.

Susan Kennedy was the Nacogdoches County judge at the time -- meaning she was in charge of the response team.

"It's county judge's responsibility to be the emergency management director in those kinds of situations," she said.

So while the rest of the world erupted in chaos -- Kennedy kept calm and followed protocol.

"I found myself immediately going into that emergency command mode," she said.

She spent 18 to 20 hours organizing crews to collect shuttle debris and the remains of the astronauts.

It wasn't until she got home around midnight that night - that reality sunk in.

"For me it became emotional that night. I had a moment to think about the astronauts and their lives and their families," Kennedy said.

She says those feelings are still there, even 10 years later.

"It still impacts me very emotionally. because I know now this is all back in front of the families again," she said.

And back in front of so many East Texans who saw the tragedy unfold right before their eyes.

Kennedy says the experience changed her life.

She still has a special bond with those who helped in the recovery effort.

Kennedy led the debris recovery effort for two weeks. On February 14, a federal and state level group took over, and were here in East Texas for several more weeks.

 

A memorial ceremony was held today at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

 

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