Columbia Commander's Widow Rebuilds Life After Tragedy

Columbia Commander's Widow Rebuilds Life After Tragedy
Space Shuttle Columbia widow Evelyn Husband-Thomas is shown in this 2005 image as she stops to read the memorial plaque dedicated to the Columbia astronauts on Feb. 1, in downtown Houston. All seven astronauts died in the accident. (Image credit: AP Photo/Pat Sullivan.)

CAPE CANAVERAL — Five yearsafter the loss of shuttle Columbia and seven astronauts, the widow of missioncommander Rick Husband is striving to turn tragedy into triumph.

Evelyn Husband-Thompsonremarried in early January during an emotional ceremony attended by NASAAdministrator Mike Griffin and several members of the astronaut corps.

Her daughter, Laura, is 17and a high school senior who soon will be deciding what college she'll beattending in the fall. Just like her dad, her passion is music. She is atalented singer who also plays piano.

Son Matthew, 12, is asixth-grader and a brilliant student who wants to be an engineer, just like hisdad. He wants to be an "aerospace architect" and design moon bases.

Life is relatively good,but returning to Kennedy Space Center today — the fifth anniversary of the February 2003accident — is going to be hard.

"You know, it's notgoing to be a cakewalk by any stretch,"
Husband-Thompson said. "But we're going to be surrounded by people wholove us and care and shared our grief, and that makes a huge difference."

Husband-Thompson and herchildren were at the KSC shuttle runway the day Columbiaand its crew — which also included pilot Willie McCool and missionspecialists Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, Laurel Clark andIlan Ramon of Israel — were lost during an ill-fated atmospheric re-entry.

Serious wing damage thatwent undetected during a 16-day science mission led to the shuttle'sdisintegration over Texas and Louisiana 16 minutes before a planned landing atthe Florida runway.

Husband-Thompson and herkids were beaming in a photo taken in front of a countdown clock at the landingstrip 11 minutes and 21 seconds before the scheduled touchdown. She believedher husband, their dad, was almost home.

What followed was adevastating emotional blow. The fate of the crew became apparent and she felt ashocking, heart-pounding numbness.

"I mean, this is notsomething that's ever going to be gone. We are forever changed by this, andeverybody has to find their own way in life on their grief journey,"Husband-Thompson said.

"You know, all of us(the Columbia families) have sought to not let this define the rest of ourlives but maybe refine who we are and absolutely honor our family member."

Husband-Thomas will be thekeynote speaker at a memorial ceremony today at the Astronaut Memorial"Space Mirror" at the KSC Visitor Complex. Griffin will be therealong with former NASA astronaut Eileen Collins and a host of other senior NASAleaders.

It won't be the first time Husband-Thompsonhas been back. She came to both the STS-121launch and landing back in July 2006. The mission was commanded by SteveLindsey, who served as the family's "casualty assistance officer"after the accident and has since become the agency's chief astronaut.

"Landing was extremelypainful. I did not even get off the bus to the landing strip before I wascrying very hard," she said.

"Laura and I just satthere for a long time after the shuttle landed and just had to take it all in.It just looked so easy, and I know it's not," she said.

"But it was just veryhard to watch and wonder why it couldn't have gone that way with Columbia. But it didn't."

Husband-Thompson came backlast October, too, to see family friend Scott Parazynski — who ushered at herwedding along with Lindsey — launch aboard shuttleDiscovery.

She and the man who wouldsoon become her spouse — Bill Thompson — sat on a bench in front of the SpaceMirror memorial and she cried for about a half-hour. Thompson held her thewhole time.

"It was gloriousbecause I was anonymous," Husband-Thompson said.

"I wasn't in aceremony. Nobody was looking at me. There were some people looking at thememorial, but they didn't know who I was," she said. "I was thankfulI had the time and the place to do that ? where I didn't have a whole bunch ofpeople staring at me."

Husband-Thompson willreturn to the memorial today. An ordinary mom thrust into extraordinarycircumstances, she'll detail her journey during the past five years — a walkthrough the valley of the shadow of death, one in which she feared no evilbecause God was with her.

"It's just a truestatement about how God has walked us through such phenomenal grief and howthere is triumph that can come out of tragedy," she said. "Laura,Matthew and I are all three standing and proving that."

  • VIDEO: Columbia's Crew: In Their Own Words
  • GALLERY: Columbia's STS-107 Shuttle Crew
  • VIDEO: NASA's Apollo 1 Tragedy

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Aerospace Journalist

Todd Halvoron is a veteran aerospace journalist based in Titusville, Florida who covered NASA and the U.S. space program for 27 years with Florida Today. His coverage for Florida Today also appeared in USA Today, and 80 other newspapers across the United States. Todd earned a bachelor's degree in English literature, journalism and fiction from the University of Cincinnati and also served as Florida Today's Kennedy Space Center Bureau Chief during his tenure at Florida Today. Halvorson has been an independent aerospace journalist since 2013.