SAN AUGUSTINE COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - Debris and, sadly, human remains from the Columbia shuttle were gathered over many months in East Texas and Louisiana. To this day, parts and pieces of what may be shuttle debris are still turned into authorities.
The first piece that gave all East Texans a reality check that human lives were lost was the discovery of an astronaut helmet.
Back then, San Augustine County resident and Columbia recovery volunteer Mildred Couch said, "Oh my God. I hope that's not a helmet."
However, it was. A little boy found the helmet in San Augustine County on Couch's sister's adjoining property in the Norwood community on Feb. 1, 2003. At the time, Jim Couch, Mildred Couch's husband said, "We want some authorities to pick it up."
Mildred Couch's husband died in 2009, but she and her daughter pass the stories on to future generations. During a recent interview in honor of the 10th anniversary of the Columbia tragedy, Mildred Couch pointed to a photo of the helmet and told her grandson, Tristen Boudreaux of Hemphill, "That's the helmet right there, baby. That's what your papa was guarding."
The veteran marked off a boundary around the helmet. It was his respectful gesture for the service men and women who died when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated as it was passing over East Texas.
"And he wouldn't let anybody in that square area," Mildred Couch said of her husband's vigil over the astronaut helmet. "He sat right by it - all day long."
The helmet images grabbed the world's attention.
"It was a somber mood all day long, I tell ya," Mildred Couch said.
There were many other shuttle pieces which fell far away and nearby.
"We found lots of debris," Tiffany Boudreaux, Mildred Couch's daughter, said.
Mildred Couch agreed that it was amazing that no one on the ground was hurt by the falling debris.
"I know.It is. Amazing," Couch said. "Look, it just fell right out of the sky and just stuck right into the ground. If it had hit someone like that it could have killed them."
Mildred Couch said there are reminders of the Columbia tragedy all around. She frequently passes by a spot on State Highway 103 where someone has placed seven flags in remembrance of the fallen astronauts.
"We don't want to ever forget these seven men and women who gave their lives," Mildred Couch said.
Space shuttle Columbia will forever be in East Texans' hearts.
Tristen Boudreaux pointed to the picture of the helmet, and said, "This came from the space shuttle."