Memorial established for Columbia

Susan Borland still remembers when space shuttle Columbia took off on Jan. 16.

She was right there, between the countdown clock and the American flag at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.

“We were as close as you could get,” said Borland, associate flight director of the Challenger Learning Center of Tallahassee.

The center is an international non-profit organization, created in 1986 by the surviving families of the Challenger space shuttle.

“I sang the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ when it went up and we applauded when the boosters came off,” Borland said about the launch.

Sixteen days later, upon re-entry into the atmosphere, Columbia exploded over Texas.

All seven crewmembers–Rick Husband, William C. McCool, Michael P. Anderson, David M. Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Blair Salton Clark and Ilan Ramon–were killed.

The shuttle was traveling about 40 miles above central Texas at Mach-18. There was no way for the crew to eject from the shuttle, as it broke apart.

Debris is still being collected and analyzed as NASA and law enforcement officials try to figure out what went wrong.

Borland said the Challenger Learning Center was having an expo at the Leon County Civic Center for local children when they found out about the accident.

Borland said demonstrations at the expo were closed after the center got word about Columbia.

“Due to the nature of the tragedy it just didn’t seem appropriate,” Borland said.

Columbia exploded the week of the anniversary of the 1986 Challenger explosion.

Borland said the staff placed a memorial wreath for Columbia between the League of Cities building and the Challenger Learning Center site on the west side of the construction site on Kleman Plaza. Borland said the public has received the memorial well, including students who have brought pictures and letters to the memorial.

Michelle Personette, marketing manager for the Challenger Learning Center, said she doesn’t know how long the memorial will stay.

“The public’s need for it will determine that,” Personette said.

Personette said plans on what type of exhibit the Challenger Learning Center will have for Columbia would be discussed with the crew’s surviving family members.

“They know more than anybody,” Personette said. “The family members have to watch (the crew) die over and over again.”

Vance Ablott, president and CEO of Challenger Learning Center, whose headquarters is in Alexandria, Va., expressed the center’s sentiments to the media.

“As people throughout the nation try to come to grips with the sad news about mission STS-107, we urge people to heed the words of the family members of the Columbia crew: “Although we grieve deeply, as do the families of Apollo I and Challenger before us, the bold exploration of space must go on.”

Tanya Caldwell can be reached at



–Susan Borland, associate flight director, Challenger Learning Center of Tallahassee, 410-6425

–Michelle Personette, marketing manager, Challenger Learning Center of Tallahassee, 410-6425

–Vance Ablott, President and CEO, Challenger Center for Space Education, (703) 683-9740,