One of the most interesting things I’ve realized while doing the research for the book is what I call ‘Parallel Confusion.’
Those of us at KSC waiting for Columbia to touch down were confused when she didn’t. Those wonderful people in east Texas were confused when they heard the horrible sounds of thousands of pieces of debris falling to the ground.
We didn’t know WHERE it was. They didn’t know WHAT it was.
We were experiencing an emptiness unlike any other, they were experiencing sensory input like none before. All of us would soon come together to solve our mysteries.
A stark example of the depth of those differences that morning happened about an hour after Columbia and her crew should have been on the runway: We were holding our first meeting in the Launch Control Center to lay out our initial actions while the first crew member was being protected by locals having just been found.
Our job; their nightmare.
Within minutes of that, astronauts from JSC were on site taking care of their comrades. Within hours, senior NASA reps were on hand to establish preliminary control of the situation. That evening our first KSC support arrived at Barksdale AFB. The next morning would see us all begin to sort things out.