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February 1, 2003
I was there at Edwards Air Force base in 1981 when Columbia came back from space the first time. Probably everyone there, including myself, had their fingers crossed and was praying that everything would go OK. Remember, prior to this day, every American space mission had concluded with the splashdown of a capsule. This was to be the first reusable spaceship. We watched the sky for hours, it seemed, waiting and waiting for any sign of the shuttle. Would the heat resistant tiles really work? There had been problems with the adhesive used to attach the tiles. What if some of them had fallen off? When the double sonic boom finally came, every one of the thousands of people in the viewing area cheered. We soon saw a dot in the sky that quickly became visible as the space shuttle. There was still a lot of worry, though. This craft that had been described as a brick with wings -- would it come down too hard? Would it miss the runway? I can't describe the feeling of joy and relief that came over me when I saw the Columbia touch down smoothly in a perfect landing.

Now, almost 22 years and 26 landings later, the hand of fate has finally caught up with this space shuttle. It had a good run while it lasted. May God bless the courageous astronauts.
Hail Columbia!

-- Paul White

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