Community Leaders Prayed For Safe Return

Captain Constantino Villasana of the Lufkin Fire Department was one of many East Texans who got up bright and early Tuesday to watch Discovery come back to Earth. He held his breath the whole time because he knows firsthand what could have gone wrong.

"You kind of get that unsettling feeling in your stomach," said Villasana. "I was just holding my breath for the crew, and the families, and everyone else that was involved in the project."

Villasana was a HazMat advisor at command centers in Lufkin and San Augustine after the Columbia disaster. He wasn't the only one anxiously watching and waiting for the launch and return of Discovery.

Everyone who helped recover wreckage, clean up clutter, and pick up pieces of the shuttle back in February of 2003 hoped for Discovery's safe landing.

Gay Ippolito, public affairs officer for the U.S. Forest Service, said, "Our closeness with NASA and partners that we worked with during the recovery process gave us a feeling as being part of the NASA family, so we watched [Tuesday] morning with very full hearts and [were] very excited that the shuttle returned back to Earth safely."

The shuttle took a much different route home than planned, but East Texas recovery crews are still proud, relieved, and honored - proud of the bravery of everyone involved Tuesday and more than two years ago; relieved by a perfect landing; and honored to have been a part of it all, then and now.

There is no date yet for the launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis, but East Texans who helped out during the Columbia tragedy are now looking forward to all future launches.