From Publishers Weekly
In this memoir, Evelyn Husband describes how her husband, Rick, commander of the ill-fated space shuttle Columbia, grew up longing to be an astronaut; how his dream came true; and how it ended with his death in Columbia's explosion in February 2003. At its best, this account (co-written with popular novelist VanLiere, of The Christmas Shoes) puts a human a face on the space program, particularly the sacrifice required to become an astronaut. Details about NASA, quotes from Rick's journal, and interviews with those who knew him add depth. But this is at its heart a story of Christian faith; as Rick's career developed, he grew from a nominal believer into one who would write, in the last day of his journal, "Lord-I want to do Your will and I want to be a godly man." Evelyn details Rick's virtues, but does not sufficiently explain his faults; for example, she reveals that he told her something about himself fairly early in their marriage that shook her up badly, but she doesn't even hint at what it is. It's tough for readers to appreciate his redemption without knowing his sin. A Columbia teamwork-building exercise weighs the story down; the final chapters also need trimming. But scenes of Evelyn and her children (ages 12 and 7) learning of Rick's death, and relying on God help them cope with it, radiate honesty and power. This kind of specificity helps the memoir rise above the level of hagiography.
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Faith doesn't give us the power to change
things-it gives us the ability to cope with
the tough things that come our way.
-From Rick's journal
On Saturday morning, February 1, 2003, I watched the sun come up over the ocean in Florida. It was a beautiful, huge orange ball of fire. I stood on the balcony of our hotel room and said, "Rick is finally coming home today!" My husband, Rick, was the commander of the space shuttle Columbia. He and the six other STS-107 crew members left on January 16 for a sixteen-day mission to space.
I was filled with absolute joy on February 1 because the mission was finished and Rick was coming back. I watched the sunrise, which is unusual for me. I am not a morning person, and neither are my children-Laura, twelve, and Matthew, seven. I can count on one hand the number of sunrises I have watched in my lifetime. But that morning, I watched it and was amazed at its beauty; it was spectacular. I thanked God that everything had gone so well for Rick and his crew. When fog started to roll over the ocean, I became concerned. I knew that if it didn't lift, the landing would have to be rescheduled. I prayed that God would lift the fog so Rick and the crew could make a safe landing, the kind Rick had trained and prayed for from the beginning.
At six o'clock I woke Laura so she could experience part of the sunrise. She went out onto the balcony, and I watched her silhouette against the sky. She was so pretty and innocent. I walked next to her and put my arm around her. "Laura, you're going to remember this sunrise for the rest of your life," I said. While I made her something to eat, she began to watch her last devotional video from Rick. About a week prior to the crew's quarantine, Rick told me he wanted to record videotapes for Laura and Matthew.
"I want to make a videotape for Laura and one for Matthew that they can watch each day I'm in orbit," he said. "I want the children to know how much I love them and that I'll be thinking about them every day."
Rick wanted to give the kids something that would show his love for them, but a toy or game just wasn't good enough-a toy couldn't express the depth of Rick's love for his children. What he prized more than anything was time with his family, so he wanted to spend "time" with the kids while he was in space, and he wanted to make that time worthwhile for them. Rick couldn't think of anything better than telling them about the God he desperately loved. God wasn't the "man upstairs" to Rick; He was Lord of his life. Jesus wasn't a kind character with good morals out of a book; He was the Son of God who loved Rick so much that He left heaven to live on earth for thirty-three years before dying on the cross for him. Jesus wasn't a fictitious character; He was real to Rick. Rick wanted more than anything on earth for his children to have a relationship with Him that was real.
We figured that prior to the launch, once he was in quarantine, he could work on the tapes. "I can at least talk to them over the videotape and let them know that I'm praying for them and thinking of them," he said. It was a familiar habit with Laura and Matthew for Rick to pray with them every night before going to bed, so this was his way of still praying with them every day.
Laura watched her video devotional while I woke Matthew. "Hi, Sweetie Pie," Rick said on the tape. "It's landing day, and hopefully, if the weather's good, I'll be landing today in Florida. I'm certainly looking forward to seeing you and Matthew and Mama very much."
Rick read from Laura's devotional book, and when he finished, he prayed for her: "Lord, thank You for bringing us to this point in the journey that our family has taken toward this mission. I pray that You'll be with us in the shuttle and help us to have a great entry and landing today. We look forward to being back together as a family again." Rick looked into the camera and smiled. "Okay, Laura, it won't be long before I get to see you! I love you very, very much . . . I'm looking forward to seeing you and Mama and Matthew. I'll see you in just a little while! I love you. Bye-bye!"
I prepared Matthew's breakfast as he watched his last devotional. When he was finished, I turned off the TV and put both videotapes inside the entertainment cabinet so I'd know where to find them when we packed our things to head back to Houston. The days had dwindled down to this, and Laura, Matthew, and I could barely contain our excitement about watching the landing. Daddy was coming home! I looked out the window and noticed the ground fog hadn't lifted. I prayed again that God would lift the fog so the crew could have a safe landing.
At 7:00 A.M. eastern standard time (EST), Rick and the crew finished the last of the systems checks and confirmed that the Columbia was in the correct position for entry. Steve Lindsey picked us up about 8:00 A.M. to take us to the landing site. Rick met Steve in his astronaut candidate class in 1995. Steve is a colonel in the U.S. Air Force, and he and Rick were two of the ten pilots accepted by NASA for astronaut training that year. Each crew selects astronaut escorts who help with all the logistics of both launch and landing days, and our escorts were Steve, Scott Parazynski, Clay Anderson, and Terry Virts. Usually, each crew selects two escorts (Rick was family escort for two of Steve's three flights and for two of Scott's four missions), but because security was especially tight for STS-107 with the first Israeli astronaut on board, the crew's families had a total of four escorts. Rick named Steve our lead escort and also designated him as CACO (Casualty Assistance Calls Officer) for our family, which meant Steve would take on a heavy burden of responsibility in case of tragedy. In such an instance, a CACO's duties would be long and complex and include acting as liaison between NASA and the suffering family, screening all media inquiries, assisting with mortuary affairs, and helping with legal and financial needs. Seventeen years after the shuttle Challenger exploded, some CACOs are still assisting crew family members because the job never ends.
We needed to be at Kennedy Space Center thirty minutes before landing. The shuttle was scheduled to land at 9:15 A.M. (EST). I looked down at my watch: we had only another hour and fifteen minutes before Rick was home. I shuffled Laura and Matthew into the car and opened my mouth to ask Steve how concerned I should be about the ground fog, but he was already on his cell phone to see if the weather was clear for landing.
At 8:15 A.M. EST, when Rick and the crew were over the Indian Ocean at an altitude of 150 miles, Mission Control gave Rick and Willie McCool, the Columbia's pilot, approval for what is called the deorbit burn. At that time, the shuttle was flying upside down and backward, but because of weightlessness in space, all altitudes "feel" the same-there is no feeling of being up or down. Rick and Willie fired off the two six-thousand-pound thrust orbital maneuvering rocket engines to slow the shuttle for descent as it entered the earth's atmosphere, and then the shuttle's computers slowly moved the Columbia around into a nose-up position. It was ready for entry.
This part of entry is somewhat difficult because the shuttle needs to reach the landing site with sufficient energy, so altitude and airspeed are crucial for keeping the shuttle on trajectory. As the vehicle hits the atmosphere, a tremendous amount of friction is generated-more friction and heat are created as the shuttle descends at a steep angle. Energy is controlled by banking the shuttle, but that turns the vehicle away from the landing site, so then the bank angle must be reversed. From the ground, it looks as if the shuttle is making a series of S turns. Rick and Willie had to constantly monitor deceleration, temperature, hydraulics, and other systems to make sure the shuttle was flying on course and approaching the landing area at just the right angle.
The viewing area near the landing site is divided into sections at Kennedy Space Center: there are bleachers for the crew families and their invited guests in one section, NASA officials sit in one section, and general spectators are in yet another section. I was able to walk back and forth and visit with Rick's mom, Jane; his brother, Keith; Keith's fiancee, Kathy; and many of our invited guests. I was in such a joyful mood that morning that I was very social, talking and laughing with all our guests as we waited for the shuttle.
Laura and Matthew were playing in a grassy area that faced the runway with the other crew children, chasing each other and laughing. The fog had lifted and the sun was shining. Though it was a bit cold, it was an absolutely beautiful day, just perfect for landing. There was a party atmosphere within the stands. Everyone was celebrating a very successful mission.
NASA has never had a bad landing; the only disaster has been the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986, which occurred seventy-three seconds after liftoff. No one at Mission Control in Houston or on board the Columbia was nervous or worried that day; no one had any reason to believe that this entry would be any different from the previous 112 shuttle flights (27 of them made by the Columbia). Everything was going as expected.
"It was picture perfect, all the way through," Steve Lindsey says. "Nobody really thinks about landing as a dangerous time, even though we know it is, but nobody thinks about it because everybody has Challenger in their heads, which was launch."
Inside the orbiter, the crew on the flight deck-Rick, Willie, Laurel Clark, and Kalpana Chawla (K. C.)-were videotaping their last minutes aboard the Columbia, just prior to the scheduled landing. Their conversation was easygoing and light. Around 8:43 A.M. EST the crew prepared to enter the... --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.