Hemphill museum preparing for 20th anniversary remembrances of Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy

Patricia Huffman Smith NASA ‘Remembering Columbia’ Museum preparing for the 20th anniversary remembrances
Published: Jan. 20, 2023 at 8:12 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 20, 2023 at 8:14 PM CST
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HEMPHILL, Texas (KTRE) - February 1 will mark 20 years since one of our nation’s greatest tragedies. In 2003, Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart over deep East Texas while re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.

The Patricia Huffman Smith NASA ‘Remembering Columbia’ Museum in Hemphill is preparing a three-day event in remembrance of the fallen astronauts.

Veronica Thomas and Patricia Smith are among the museum’s board members who are planning the 20th anniversary of the final mission.

Smith reflects back on that day, February 1, 2003. She got up, poured herself a cup of coffee, and turned on the news. She was unaware there had even been a shuttle up in space.

“And when it started they we’re showing a projected path of re-entry, and I looked at my dog and said ‘wow, its coming right over us, we might see it,” Smith said.

Smith said the next thing she knew she heard a loud noise.

“And I ran outside, my dog was barking up in the air, and I could see that the chem trail was just bad,” Smith said.

20 years later, a museum stands here, and three days of events will take place place to honor and remember what happened February 1, 2003. The remembrances kicks off on Monday, January 30 with an art show at the VFW in Hemphill. Thomas says it includes art that has been submitted locally, as well as from all over.

“(For) the art show we have pictures that will be on display that were given to us by NASA that the public has never ever seen before,” Thomas said.

The next day, 10 different teams from Hemphill, Lufkin, Diboll, Huntington, Jasper and Woden high schools will compete in the museum’s annual Space Shuttle Columbia Memorial Robotics Competition. When the teams arrive, they find out what they have to build. Each team of students will have NASA and Boeing employees and alumni to mentor them through the competition.

“This is something these children will probably never have, you know, it’s going to be an honor to be that close to an astronaut or scientist that can help them,” Smith said.

The final day will first start out with a program honoring the anniversary. They will then have different panels of people from NASA talking about different topics.

“Our event would not be what it’s going to be without the NASA alumni. They are the ones who still have the contacts and are so active in helping us plan this event,” Thomas said.

The museum will offer free admission all three days. NASA’s team from the Johnson Space Center is also bringing an exhibit trailer, allowing the public to learn more about the future of human spaceflight. The three-day event starts January 30 and runs through February 1. Learn more here.


+ East Texas museum to mark 20th anniversary of Shuttle Columbia tragedy