Reflections on the Path of Memorialization for the Columbia Shuttle Disaster in East Texas: Fifteen years after the Event

Authors: Darrel McDonald*, Stephen F Austin State University
Topics: Cultural Geography, Landscape, Geographic Information Science and Systems
Keywords: Columbia Shuttle disaster, memorial landscapes, perceptions of tragedy
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Roosevelt 4, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Columbia Shuttle fell from the sky on February 1, 2003 in East Texas. The event triggered one of the largest coordinated responses to a national disaster ever documented. Also, the search and recovery efforts covered one of the largest geographic land areas in recent history. The initial field response focused on recovering the astronauts and debris from the shuttle to ascertain the cause. Within days the astronauts were recovered, greatly aided with the use of geospatial technologies, especially GIS. Months of field work followed yielding some 40% recovery of shuttle debris. After the tragic event settled in several places began the process of memorializing the terrible tragedy. Initially, spontaneous memorials emerged as sincere expressions of sadness from locals, but were ephemeral in places such as San Augustine, TX. More permanent memorials that paid tribute to the lost astronauts and event arose along the final flight line in East Texas extending from west of Palestine to communities including Nacogdoches and Hemphill, Texas. Notable memorials along the trail included the Columbia Regional Geospatial Service Center, designated markers, the Columbia Museum and the Patricia Huffman NASA Museum; each with a defined purpose and mission. These entities have redefined place in affected East Texas communities. The presentation will discuss the current landscapes and landscape perceptions that persist among communities fifteen years after the Columbia Shuttle disaster and memorialization of the event and loss of the shuttle crew.

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