April 12, 1981

I was young but remember watching it. It's one of the world events that I remember best from when I was a child, and whose date I can always remember without having to look it up. The whole world watched as the space shuttle Columbia, pride and joy of American space technology, blasted off from the the Cape, half a world away from me, and launched a new era in space travel. NASA were proud and earned the world's admiration. Technology was making things happen.

January 16, 2003

10:39. I stand on US-1 in Titusville, Florida, on a cool and sunny morning. On the opposite side of the Indian River, Columbia makes a picture-perfect lift-off. People applaud. As I walk back to the house, and for a few minutes after it's disappeared into the bright, blue sky to the east, I can still hear the rumble as it ascends above the Atlantic. Looking behind me, I see the trail left by the blazing engines tower into the sky, hardly ruffled by the light wind.

Today, 05:10

The local morning news shows the anticipated landing time. 09:16, or 10:50, if it has to circle once more. I grumble about its double sonic boom being bound to wake me up. I sleep.

Today, 09:30

Columbia was lost during re-entry. As of now, it's thought that the loss of some thermal insulation on its way up may have been fatal. Communication was lost shortly after 09:00 local time. Reports are coming in of pieces of the shuttle falling from a height of 60 km over Texas. Someone captured it on video. Those are images that will travel around the world.

The Kennedy Space Center web site still says:

Next Shuttle Landing:
Columbia, STS-107
February 1, 2003
9:16 a.m. EST

Challenger happened a world away from me and my angry youth had no time for it. I didn't realise the impact it had on ordinary Americans until I came to live among them. This time I am here to witness it. I am surrounded by tears and disbelief. I have become a Floridian.

I have two colour prints from NASA press releases. They show Columbia departing on flights STS-55 and STS-60. I take them out and put them on my desk. I suppose that's all that's left of a favourite childhood memory, when technological achievement could still leave me wide-eyed and dreaming of being part of it one day.