Disclosure: I participated in a hosted FAM tour with the Nacogdoches Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. All thoughts and opinions are my own. On February 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon reentering the Earth’s atmosphere, killing everyone on board.
The debris stretched from Southwest Arkansas, across Texas, and into Louisiana. The majority of the debris was located in Sabine County in East Texas. Residents heard the explosion and upon realizing what happened, organized parties to search for the crew. Thousands of people searched through the forests, finding debris and the crew members. Enough debris was found that NASA was able to figure out what happened to cause the explosion.
The Columbia was not a new shuttle though. This was actually it’s 28th launch. It first launched in 1981 and had no major problems all those years. On this launch, a large piece of foam fell from the shuttle’s external tank and fatally breached the shuttle wing.
The residents of Hemphill, Texas, in Sabine County, wanted to do something for the families of the crew members and to honor the Columbia. Working together with the families and with the help of generous donations, the town put together a museum that not only honors the crew, but the shuttle itself. I wasn’t expecting much, being as it’s such a small town and sparsely populated county, but it’s a great museum.
Information on each mission of the Columbia is displayed. It is also interactive and with the help of iPads, you can be taken straight to the NASA site to learn even more about the missions. There is also a section dedicated to the crew, with personal items that were donated by their families, some of which were found among the debris.
If you are in the area, I highly recommend a visit, especially if you have kids. Hemphill is about an hour from Nacogdoches, three hours from Houston, and an hour and half from Natchitoches, Louisiana.
375 Sabine Street, Hemphill Texas
Open Tuesday – Saturday 10 am – 5 pm
Admission: $5 Adults, $3 Students