Those Involved In Columbia Recovery Recall Personal Experiences

As the space shuttle Discovery sat on the launch pad ready for liftoff, many East Texans recalled their role in Columbia's recovery effort. The Columbia incident was a tragedy East Texans will not forget, especially those involved in the recovery effort.

"From the standpoint of the university, we found out just how strong our alumni is... how strong our student body is - the pride that people put forth, and the cooperation. Professors were calling me and saying, 'Hey, I know that student so and so is helping in this program. Don't worry, I'll cut him some slack or I'll cut her some slack because I know this is important,'" says Bill Gardner, Project Coordinator for SFA's GIS Lab.

University personnel and students from the Hughes GIS lab at SFA tracked shuttle debris using the latest global positioning technology. Each person carryied away something different.

"We learned during that experience the importance of being prepared for such things. Those of us in the geo-spatial community have had an opportunity since then to look at the technology we embrace," says P. R. Blackwell with the Forest Research Institute.

For some, the Columbia disaster had a personal impact.

"Everybody had things going on in their lives at the time when it happened. I was in the middle of a nasty divorce, with child custody issues. And it was the shuttle accident that in a way that gave me the swift kick to be able to move forward with my life, to get back on track," says Gardner.

Now, with Columbia behind them, it's time to look to the future.

"I have a lot of respect for NASA, always have. I think they're ready, I think they've done the work that needs to be done to make the shuttle operation as safe as possible. Of course, nothing in this life is 100 percent safe," says Blackwell.

Gardner hopes the university's work was a big help for those who lost loved ones when Columbia broke apart.

"The one thing I hope to the families of Columbia is that the work that was done by our people here played a role in helping them with their grieving and healing process. And I'm sure I share in their efforts in seeing the next shuttle liftoff."