I was a freshman in college. I'd slept in that morning. At some point on the groggy way downstairs I remembered that there'd been a shuttle launch that morning I'd meant to watch, and I'd missed it.
I don't even remember anymore precisely what the sign taped to the cash register at the front of the cafeteria said; I remember that I took it to mean there had been trouble with the launch, but not fatal trouble -- something perilous but survivable, like on Apollo 13.
Oddly, I don't remember when precisely I was disabused of this notion.
I went to the Daily Texan to see if they needed an extra hand (they didn't) and I spent most of the rest of the day watching the endless replays on various TVs around the dorm.
Jan. 28, 2002:
I was talking to Richard, a fellow copy editor at the Trib, about his daughter, Hannah, just short of 3 years old. She had been sick off and on for the last several days. They'd taken her in to the ER a day or two previously; the doctor had given her an antibiotic or something and she was getting better, it seemed. They were worried, as most parents are, but I'd heard so many stories about frantic new parents rushing a kid to the ER over what turned out to be something relatively minor, and it always worked out OK.
Later I noticed he was gone, and was told Hannah had gotten sick again, and someone else was finishing his pages.
It was, I think, around an hour after that that we got the call.
This time, it hadn't worked out OK.
The family was in a private waiting room off the ER. Most of us headed over there at some point on our dinner break, though someone else was detailed to go to the house and tidy up.
They went to Richard's home in Corpus Christi for the funeral. As near as I remember, Richard never came back; as the compassionate leave came to an end, he and Heather decided they wanted to stay in Corpus, closer to family.
Feb. 1, 2003:
I knew it would be the last time I'd see a shuttle pass overhead for a long time -- possibly forever. Not that I knew what was going to happen; the shuttles had gone over almost exclusively to space-station missions, and the orbit the ISS is in doesn't bring the shuttle in over Texas when it lands. That only happens on one of the missions where the shuttle is just going up by itself to do experiments, not chasing or launching a satellite, and since you can do most of those kinds of experiments better on the space station those missions were being phased out. So I made a point of getting up early and going out to a park on the outskirts of town, where I'd have the best view of sky.
As it had been seventeen years earlier, reading the sign in the Jester Center cafeteria, the first reaction was denial: What an odd effect, being able to see, through the binoculars, multiple points of light at the head of the con trail. I wouldn't have thought it was close enough to make out distinct points on the shuttle.
We were far enough west that by the time the shuttle vanished into the mist to the east, there still weren't multiple con trails yet visible. But denial was, if not entirely displaced, somewhat jolted by the distinct corkscrew to the trail as it spread out. I was worried enough that I think I broke some traffic laws to get back to the apartment in time for what I still desperately wanted to believe would be a safe, see-you-were-just-imagining-things landing.
It took five minutes from the time I walked back through the door before any of the cable networks broke in with the news (I remember CNN was interviewing Janeane Garofalo about the Iraq war). WFAA in Dallas, which we get on our cable system, already had the news, it turned out -- they'd been on-the-ball enough to station a cameraman on the roof as the shuttle passed overhead -- but I didn't think to look there. It was around five minutes before the projected landing time that MSNBC finally broke in to show Mission Control, with the message that Columbia had been lost to radar.
I called my boss -- usually when something happens, she's the one to call me, waking me up -- and told her what had happened. Then I spent most of the rest of the day sitting where I'm sitting now, at the Mac. At some point -- I think actually after I got home from work early the next morning -- I put Minus Ten and Counting into the CD player, and bawled at "Planetbound Lovers."