Seeing the bigger picture

I’ve been asked, “What have you learned since starting the book?” The answer is I had just one small piece in the enormous overall effort, though it seemed and felt larger at the time. This is probably because of the total commitment at the time that consumed us all. Maybe others feel the same?

But that answer is weak. True, but weak. The truth is I have learned a tremendous amount about the recovery of the debris, and some on its reconstruction. This is both on the technical/physical side of those efforts, but what’s more, on the personal side – the people that did it.

Filling in tons of details in my understanding of the searching for the debris was perhaps the largest single learning I’ve had. I was only at Barksdale AFB for twelve days before returning to KSC for the reconstruction effort, so I never got ‘down and in’ in the recovery like I did for the reconstruction. The twelve days was spent helping Dave Whittle and the Mishap Investigation Team get set up, establishing the early plans and policies, arranging for KSC support for it, etc.

We got a lot done in those twelve days—don’t get me wrong. But I only once had a chance to get to a debris site once, and only for a couple hours. I never experienced what so many people did in the raw fields of Texas. I regret I didn’t truly experience it. But I was called upon to lead the reconstruction effort, so I returned home.

Hearing what people actually went through in the recovery of the crew and debris made me wish I had helped them. Their stories will be in the book. It’s important we all know what they experienced and the sacrifices they made. I have never been so proud of people I know (and never knew) in my life. That’s the #1 take-away for me from this whole endeavor. By far.

And it’s not only the people that walked the lines—it’s the great citizens of Texas that helped them get through the ordeal. Their support was every bit as important as the searchers themselves. Their contributions were vital, impromptu at first, and entirely voluntary.


Author: Mike Leinbach

Mike was the final Space Shuttle Launch Director at NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center. He led the launch team for all Shuttle missions from August 2000 to the end of the program in 2011, giving the final "go" for every launch.

One thought on “Seeing the bigger picture”

  1. One of the lessons I hope can be learned from this wonderful story: the launch of Columbia, its tragic re-entry, the wonderful teams who helped in debris recovery and the open and honest investigations of the causes involved; is how much we as a people can accomplish when we don’t point fingers of blame but instead work together to examine our mistakes, make necessary adjustments and honor those who have sacrificed their lives by continuing to work together for progress. Given the current political atmosphere in the United States, there could not be a better time for the reminder this story provides us.

    Liked by 1 person

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