Mike and Jonathan at the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation “2017 Space Rendezvous”

Mike and I were invited to speak at the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation’s “Space Rendezvous” in Cocoa Beach, Florida in November this year. Our presentation was entitled “Columbia Recovery and Reconstruction: An American Story of Courage, Compassion, and Commitment.” It was the first time Mike and I had jointly given a talk, and what an audience it was—ASF board members, at least a dozen astronauts, former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, people who had worked on the Space Shuttle Program, and dozens of “civilians” for whom the space program forms an important part of their lives. Many of those present had flown on Columbia, supported her on the ground, or had been part of the search and recovery effort.

Mike Leinbach at Columbia presentation - Steve Torres photoMike opened with an overview of Columbia’s STS-107 mission and the aftermath of the accident. He recounted his experiences on Landing Day, as he awaited Columbia‘s return, and the horrible feeling of profound emptiness he experienced when he realized Columbia was lost.

Jonathan Ward at Columbia presentation - Steve Torres photoJonathan followed with a discussion of what the people in East Texas were experiencing at that same moment when Columbia‘s debris created a continuous cacophony of sonic booms and the wreckage began impacting the ground. Mike and Jonathan then talked about the mobilization efforts that began immediately after the accident, both at NASA and at the local level in Texas, and the overwhelming success of the recovery forces who worked for three months to find Columbia‘s debris in East Texas.

Jean Wright asks question at Leinbach-Ward talk - Steve Torres photo
Jean Wright, who worked as a seamstress on Columbia’s thermal protection blankets, shares a memory of Columbia.

Mike described his experience in leading the reconstruction of Columbia at Kennedy Space Center. He also talked with pride about preservation of Columbia‘s debris and the ensuing lessons-learned program that has turned Columbia into a living laboratory about the effects of uncontrolled hypersonic reentry.

Mike Griffin at Leinbach-Ward talk - Steve Torres photo
Former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin talks about the return to flight effort. Partially obscured behind Griffin is astronaut Jim Wetherbee, who led the search for Columbia’s crew.

Throughout the presentation, Jonathan and Mike invited audience members to share their experiences. Astronaut Jim Wetherbee discussed his challenges in leading the daunting task of recovering the crew’s remains. Administrator Griffin spoke about correcting the issues and flaws uncovered by the Investigation Board and returning the shuttle to flight.

Mike Leinbach Hugh Harris - Steve Torres photo
Former KSC Public Affairs Director Hugh Harris expresses his thoughts after reading an advance copy of “Bringing Columbia Home.”

The ASF provided a Facebook Live stream of the talk, which can be found here. (If this link does not work, please visit the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation page on Facebook, scroll down to “videos,” and look for the untitled video dated November 3.)

Charlotte Leinbach Mike Leinbach Carol Tyler Jonathan Ward ASF Banquet - Steve Torres photo
Charlotte Leinbach (left), Mike, and Jonathan share a relaxing moment with ASF Board Member Carol Tyler on November 4.

 

Author: Jonathan Ward

Jonathan Ward is an author of books on the history of American manned spaceflight. He also serves as an adjunct executive coach at the Center for Creative Leadership.

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