More than two years ago the Columbia blew apart over East Texas. At that moment a strong link began for residents and the space program. With the first mission since the accident that bond continues to strengthen.
The Discovery launch has special significance for Nacogdoches County Sheriff Thomas Kerss and his staff. Few sheriff's can match the ties Kerss has with the space program. A break came in the day so he and staffers could watch the launch live. Kerss calls Discovery's launch a moment of celebration. "It's a sense of relief. It's a sense of accomplishment and truthfully I think for all of us involved we're able to look at that and say to a small degree we played a part in that."
The role East Texas plays is tremendous. You provided support to search teams and comfort to grief stricken NASA employees. Kerss' priorities were to protect you, return fallen astronauts to their families, and recover as much of Columbia as possible to NASA. "So they can piece this giant jigsaw puzzle together, tell them what occurred, correct those problems and return our space flight program where it needed to be, which is flying in outer space."
This builds the confidence of Americans like dispatcher Brenda Shull. "I wanted to go up. I would go in a minute."
Fly Discovery fly, but do return. That's Kerss' prayer. "The launch is important, but it's the safe return that really concludes our efforts in this mission. That's what we're going to be paying attention to."