Today I went with a group from the Central Baptist Church on their bus to Hemphill, the county seat of Sabine County. Our first stop was the Patricia Huffman Smith NASA Museum. Then we had lunch at Pizza Slice, a restaurant across from the court house. After lunch we had time to explore the shops and the old jail museum and library. I also had a nice visit with the proprietor of the Healthy Solutions shop.
At the museum we saw a video and then had a guided tour by a very knowledgeable man. The museum opened to the public on February 1, 2011. [http://nasacolumbiamuseum.com] The tour takes visitors through Columbia's first historical flight of STS-1 through its last mission of STS-107. It also provides information about the recovery of Columbia and the crew of STS-107, along with the two who lost their lives in a helicopter crash during the recovery efforts. This museum has many items and artifacts from NASA and its contractors, the families of the crew of STS-107 and from other individuals.
Columbia (OV-102), the first of NASA's orbiter fleet, made its maiden voyage on April 12, 1981. It proved the operational concept of a winged, re-useable spaceship by successfully completing the Orbital Flight Test Program missions STS-1 through STS-4. The final Columbia STS-107 mission lifted off on January 16, 2003, for a 17-day science mission featuring numerous microgravity experiments. Upon reentering the atmosphere on February 1, 2003, the Columbia orbiter suffered a catastrophic failure due to a breach that occurred during launch when falling foam from the External Tank struck the Reinforced Carbon Carbon panels on the underside of the left wing. The orbiter and its seven crewmembers (Rick D. Husband, William C. McCool, David Brown, Laurel Blair Salton Clark, Michael P. Anderson, Ilan Ramon, and Kalpana Chawla) were lost approximately 15 minutes before Columbia was scheduled to touch down at Kennedy Space Center. The Columbia disintegrated over East Texas on February 1, 2003, at 8:59 a.m. EST. Most of the debris fell down in Sabine County.
The people of the Hemphill area were amazing. They pulled together and fed three hot meals a day for sixteen days to the rescue workers. Some of the workers said that they even gained weight during that time!! The community worked tirelessly with agencies, food distributors and others to accomplish it, all with no compensation or reimbursement. This just shows what can be accomplished when people work together.
I bought the book, “Bringing Columbia Home – The Untold Story of a Lost Space Shuttle and Her Crew” by Michael D Leinbach and Jonathan H Ward. This tragedy didn’t receive as much news coverage as the one which carried the school teacher, Christa McAuliffe, one of the seven crew members killed in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster on January 28, 1986.
The Sabine County Jail was interesting. It was completed in 1904 and was built of handmade bricks. It was used until 1983, when the Blan Greer Criminal Justice Center opened. It was one of only a few in the nation with indoor hanging facilities. There was only one confirmed hanging at the jail. It was restored in 1986 and now houses the Sabine County Jail Museum and the Virgie Speights Memorial Library.
ROUTE: US 190 E to Jasper => US 96 N to Pineland => TX 83 N to Hemphill