Space for the Ordinary

On Feb. 1, 2003, the seven crewmembers were lost with the Space Shuttle Columbia over North Texas. This picture was on a roll of unprocessed film later recovered by searchers from the debris. Image credit: NASA

This is the time of year we in Clear Lake remember the sad anniversaries of three manned space flight disasters:

  • Apollo 1 Fire: January 27, 1967
  • Challenger Shuttle Disaster: January 28, 1986
  • Columbia Shuttle Disaster: February 1, 2003

The Apollo 1 tragedy occurred before I was born, when I was but a speck of dust floating around in the skies.

I was a junior in high school, standing in the lunch line, when I learned that Challenger blew up. We felt bad for the elementary school kids who had gathered to watch the launch on tv, to see the first teacher go to space.

Photo: NASA, Day of Remembrance

When Columbia fell apart over Texas, I was at home with my one-year-old, ironing. My husband was running errands and I broke the terrible news to him the moment he got home. For years he had worked at NASA, programming the shuttle simulator used to train the astronauts. 

Standing in line. Ironing. Running errands. These ordinary activities of an ordinary day stand out against the tragedies that befell the skies.

I thought of this yesterday when my sister and I went for a bird walk at Challenger Seven Memorial Park.

Image: Harris County Precinct One Commissioner

It was an ordinary winter day in Houston: sunny and cool, windy with a clear blue sky. The park was filled with people enjoying the outdoors. Some pavilions and playgrounds were roped off because of the pandemic.  But families found ways to gather in small groups: visiting at picnic tables and park benches, fishing, biking, or, like us, birding.

Except for one orange-crowned warbler, all the birds we saw were quite ordinary, but there were a lot of them. 

It was all so full of life. It made me extraordinarily grateful for the ordinary things that keep us grounded even as we yearn for the stars. 

For further reading:  “After Ten Years,” a blog series by Wayne Hale, a local NASA retiree.  Hale’s first day as a shuttle flight director was the same day as the Columbia Space Shuttle accident.

Bird list from Challenger 7 Memorial Park, Sunday, January 31, 2021L

  • Yellow-rumped warblers
  • American robins
  • American crows
  • Black vultures
  • Great egrets
  • Snowy egrets
  • Ibis
  • Cardinal
  • Red-winged blackbirds
  • Orange-crowned warbler


  1. Three events are very vivid to me as I was a student at EPHS and then a teacher. The first event occurred when I was a sophomore. I can’t remember who called Mrs. Nelson, our English teacher, into the hall. She came back in tears to tell us JFK had been shot. She then just sat and rested her head on the desk. We did not know teachers could cry. My next memory was Mr. Long coming into to class announcing the unbelievable news about the Challenger explosion. The class and I were in shock. My final historic moment was 9/11. Mr. Pirner, our middle/high school principal, came in an whispered our country was under attack. I remember these 3 events as if they were yesterday. So, when these anniversaries occur, I directly go back to those days scarred into my memory.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. What a beautiful tribute and post. The park and its birds are lovely too. Many can remember the places they were when tragedy strikes. It’s as if time stands still. I was a sophomore in H.S. the year of the Challenger; we share the same sentiments. In 2003 I was finishing my tenure as a young elementary principal and getting ready to head to the middle school. I’ll not forget the reactions and how we all turned to one another to help process loss. I applaud your husband for his work. I recently watched a documentary named “Armstrong”. I have been fascinated with space my entire life. And lean towards any learning of NASA. Thank you again for sharing this. Take care.

    Liked by 1 person

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