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Remembering Columbia

Patricia Huffman Smith Museum
Hemphill, Texas

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
On February 1, 2003, as the world followed the return of Space Shuttle Columbia, something deadly went wrong with the flight over East Texas. In seconds, the shuttle and its crew plummeted to the ground in Sabine County.

The Columbia broke apart after a slab of foam came loose, gouged a wing and allowed superheated air into the wing. The shuttle began to tremble, the crew was unable to regain control, and the wing was eventually ripped apart.

Efforts to find the remnants of Columbia and its crew were begun and in less than two weeks, the remains of the seven astronauts were returned to their families. On March 27, as the search continued, a helicopter crashed and two more lives were lost.

Today, beside the J.R. Huffman Public Library in Hemphill, the county seat of Sabine County, is a sparkling new museum that honors the memory of the nine victims of the Columbia disaster.

Inside the Patricia Huffman Smith Museum are exhibits that were donated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), as well as families of the astronauts and others.

Each of the seven astronauts--commander Rick D. Husband, pilot William McCool, mission specialists David M. Brown and Laurel B. Clark, flight engineer Kalpana Chawla, payload commander Michael P. Anderson, and payload specialist Han Ramon--are remembered by displays. So are Charles Krenek and Jules F. Mier Jr., the victims of the helicopter crash.

The Museum also honors Patricia Huffman Smith, who died in 2010 of cancer. Her husband Albert donated the funds for the Columbia museum.

The museum houses space-related artifacts and informational items from NASA, its contractors and others. Interactive simulator devices and a digital learning center helps educate visitors.

The Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Bob Bowman's East Texas
March 20, 2011 Column.
A weekly column syndicated in 109 East Texas newspapers

Related Topics: Museums in Texas
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(Bob Bowman of Lufkin is the author of almost 50 books about East Texas. He can be reached at bob-bowman.com)
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The Forgotten Towns of East Texas, Vol. I
By Bob and Doris Bowman
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This page last modified: March 20, 2011