High Calling: The Courageous Life and Faith of Space Shuttle Columbia Commander Rick Husband

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9780785260684: High Calling: The Courageous Life and Faith of Space Shuttle Columbia Commander Rick Husband

Rick Husband wanted to be an astronaut since his fourth birthday, but it wasn't always for the right reasons. Initially, he thought it would be neat . . . cool . . . a fun thing to do. It wasn't until he came to a spiritual crossroads and was able to give that dream up to discover the true desires of his heart before he actually got into the space shuttle program at NASA. Three failed attempts didn't daunt this driven pilot-and the fourth interview process, though lengthy and difficult, proved successful for him.

Husband's years at NASA served not only to develop his integrity and character, but also to increase his faith in a Creator that could not be denied in the vastness of space. His story is not only inspirational but exhilarating and invigorating, as readers will witness the life of a man who consistently pursued the desires of his heart even as he served a faithful God.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Evelyn Husband is the wife of Rick Husband, commander of the ill-fated Columbia Space Shuttle that went down on February 1, 2003. She is the mother of two children.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

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 fiancée, 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 earth's atmosphere. "Two minutes to entry interface," Rick said on the video.

At 8:45 A.M. the Columbia penetrated the outer fringes of the earth's atmosphere just north of Hawaii, at an altitude of 400,000 feet. Close to two minutes later, Laurel had the video camera and was pointing it at K. C.

LAUREL: K. C., can you look at the camera for a sec? Look at me.

K. C.: Can you see me?

LAUREL: Yep.

K. C. waved at the camera, and it was evident in all their voices that the members of the crew were excited about coming home. In the background at Kennedy Space Center, I could hear Mission Control talking with the shuttle, but I wasn't paying attention to anything that was being said. As far as I was concerned, it was just background noise. I grabbed my cell phone and called my parents, Dan and Jean Neely, in Amarillo.

"Are you watching, Daddy?" I asked. "Rick's just a few minutes from landing now."

"We've got the TV on, Darlin'," he said, sharing my excitement. I hung up the phone and walked over to Steve Lindsey and asked him exactly what to expect for the landing. It had been four years since Rick's previous flight with STS-96 on board the shuttle Discovery so I couldn't remember everything that was going to take place.

"About a minute out, you'll hear the sonic boom," Steve said, "then they'll be coming in from the west." He told me some of the calls Rick would be making to Mission Control when they were close to landing and said those calls would be coming in soon.

Meanwhile, inside the orbiter, Laurel was pointing the camera toward the overhead window, recording the plasma that was burning as the orbiter entered the earth's atmosphere, turning from orange to pink. The crew on the flight deck looked out the windows in amazement at what was happening.

LAUREL: Tell me when there's good stuff out front. I'm filming the overhead now.

WILLIE: Starting to glow a little bit more now, Laurel.

RICK: Yep.

LAUREL: Okay.

WILLIE: Can you see over my shoulder, Laurel?

LAUREL: I was filming it. It doesn't show up nearly as much as the back.

WILLIE: It's glowing pretty good now. Ilan, it's really neat. It's a bright orange yellow out over the nose, all around the nose.

There was no trace of uncertainty in anyone's voice and absolutely no fear. They were minutes from home. Willie looked out over the nose of the orbiter.

RICK: Wait till you start seeing the swirl patterns out your left or right windows.

WILLIE: Wow.

RICK: Looks like a blast furnace. Let's see here. Look at that.

WILLIE: This is amazing. It's really getting fairly bright out there.

RICK: You definitely don't want to be outside now.

At that point, the crew saw a pink glow from the windows as the atmospheric friction heated the 25,000-plus protective tiles on the shuttle to nearly 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. As the shuttle descended, the glow went from pink to red to searing white, normal for every shuttle entry. So far, Mission Control was pleased; there was no reason to anticipate any problems. The biggest concern that day had been the fog, but it had lifted, paving the way for a smooth landing.

At 8:53 A.M., as the Columbia flew over San Francisco, data on various monitors at Mission Control in Houston began to indicate vehicle problems. Some hydraulic systems temperature sensors in the shuttle's left wing were indicating unusual temperature changes. Occasional data dropouts occur during entry so the crew wasn't notified, but these dropouts are very short in duration and only temporary. The changes in the Columbia's wing began to cascade.

As Rick and the crew were over Nevada and Utah, the temperature in the left landing gear and brake lining peaked higher than normal. An amateur astronomer videotaped chunks falling from the Columbia. Two minutes later, as the Columbia flew over Arizona, another home video recorded pieces falling from the orbiter, but neither the crew nor Mission Control was aware that anything was breaking off the shuttle. Then, three temperature sensors in the left wing went dead, and the shuttle experienced an increased drag on its left side, something the automatic control systems on board were trying to correct. The Columbia was flying at the equivalent of eighteen times the speed of sound, or approximately 13,200 miles per hour. Rick was now 1,400 miles from landing and sixteen minutes from seeing us again.

As the Columbia flew over Texas at an altitude of 207,000 feet, Jeff Kling, the shuttle's mechanical systems officer, read something on his monitor at Mission Control.

JEFF: We just lost tire pressure on the left outboard and left inboard, both tires.

At 8:59 A.M. EST, Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM) Charlie Hobaugh radioed the crew from Mission Control in Houston.

CHARLIE: And Columbia, Houston. We see your tire pressure messages. And we did not copy your last.

RICK: Roger, buh-

It would be the last communication Mission Control had with Rick. Charlie tried to regain contact with the shuttle.

CHARLIE: Columbia, Houston. Comm check.

Mission Control heard static. The seconds were excruciating as Mission Control waited.

CHARLIE: Columbia, Houston. U.H.F. comm check.

Phil Engelauf, a mission operations directorate official, received word from a colleague who had seen the shuttle breaking up over Texas. Phil shared the news with Flight Director LeRoy Cain...

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