San Antonio looks back at the Columbia Shuttle disaster

Many in San Antonio played key roles in aftermath of tragedy

Author: John Honore, Meteorologist, jhonore@ksat.com
Published On: Feb 01 2013 05:31:44 PM CST   Updated On: Feb 01 2013 06:23:51 PM CST
SAN ANTONIO -

Friday marked the 10th anniversary of the Shuttle Columbia disaster.

The shuttle broke up upon re-entry over the skies of Texas.

Even though the city wasn't touched directly on that day, many in the city were heavily involved in the recovery and subsequent investigation.

According to shuttle astronaut and San Antonio-native John Blaha, Columbia might have been the least likely to suffer from a structural failure.

"Because it was the first one built, it was made with more structure, so it has about 2,000 pounds more structure," Blaha said.

In the days following the tragedy, San Antonians played key roles in the recovery efforts.

Officer Robert Esquivel, with the San Antonio Police Department, gave up vacation time to help search for remains.

"A lot of pine trees. Briar brush all over the place. Sometimes I had to take the machete to get through stuff," said Esquivel.

NASA relied on cutting-edge technology developed in San Antonio to help recover security sensitive shuttle parts.

Dr. Stephen Brown of the UTSA Environmental Sciences Department was brought in to search for the parts using a then state-of-the-art GPS system.

"This is a very accurate GPS system that can tell you where you are located within just a few feet," Brown said.

Scientists at the Southwest Research Institute played a key role in determining that foam tiles coming off the external fuel tank damaged the thermal barrier on the shuttle's undercarriage, leading to the disaster.

Even though it was a disaster that didn't directly touch the city, it is one that many San Antonians will never forget.

"I wrote a diary of what I was doing those three days, and it's for my grandchildren to be able to read one day," Esquivel said.