Columbia - 16 Minutes from Home


 February 1, 2003

16 Minutes from home.  A beautiful beginning and a tragic ending.  Shuttle Columbia lifted off from Cape Canaveral at 10:39 a.m. on January 16, 2003.  The shuttle was due home at 9:16 a.m. on February 1, 2003.  At 9:00 a.m. Columbia began to break apart over Littlefield, Texas and fragmented into the skies over Texas. The debris struck with such force and heat that it burned and scorched the earth. Remnants are a mute testimony to the devastation. 

The U.S. EPA was directed by  the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and NASA to assist by conducting environmental monitoring and assistance in the cleanup of hazardous materials from the Space Shuttle Columbia. EPA experts from across the country were mobilized to help local, county, and state officials protect public health and the environment. Over 60 EPA emergency response teams were assisting officials recovering materials from communities and providing for safe transport of these materials to secure locations.

As the nation reeled from the Columbia tragedy, V-tech Environmental Services was called to serve by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. V-tech mobilized a crew of five (5) to Palestine, Texas in the early morning hours of February 2, 2003. Although it has been ten years since our crew was called to respond,  I remember it vividly. Our crew left Lubbock around 2:00 a.m. Vann said.  We had to pick one of our team members up from the bar.  It will live on forever in our memories. A collection of field photos is available in the photo gallery. We were filled with enthusiasm, pride in our country, and a willingness to serve NASA in their pursuit for answers.

EPA sent 1,900 responders to recover shuttle fragments, debris, and pieces of Shuttle Columbia.  A staggering total of 48,400 debris collections were made from February thru May 2003. Ground crews covered 470,000 acres;76% of the search area, and logged 1.4 million search hours.