Fallen PNW Astronaut Hero

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On 1 February 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia was scheduled for landing after nearly 16 days in space. With just 16 minutes to go before touch down, suddenly, it exploded in the skies above Texas during reentry; killing onboard  all seven NASA astronauts instantly. Onboard was 43 year old payload commander, and the mission specialist in charge of science experiments, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col Anderson of Spokane Washington.

Insignia for w:STS-107: Public Domain

It would be later discovered in investigations that

“a piece of foam fell from a ‘bipod ramp’ that was part of a structure that attached the external tank to the shuttle.” 

NASA report.

As many of the media described, this ‘suit case sized piece of foam insulation’, from the main external fuel tank struck the left wing of the Columbia when it initially launched for that mission just 82 seconds in air. This strike was suspected to cause nearly 10 inch holes in the wing, that would then later expose it to hot gasses to enter the left wing upon reentry and ultimately cause the sudden explosion of the shuttle.

In 2008 “Fallen Astronaut Hero” was debuted by sculpture Dorothy Fowler, creating this statue of Anderson kneeling in his space suite with a dove taking flight in hand. It can be found near the Spokane opera house near the Riverfront Park.

I had stumbled by this sculpture by complete accident while on a photo-walk one evening. I had no idea that Washington State had a fallen astronaut hero. This sculpture is not somthing the average traveler might stumble upon, or seek out for an Instagram shot. But for anyone who is space aficionado of Washington State, it is a powerful piece of art in tribute to a man who dedicated, and sacrificed, his life to our national pursuit of science among the stars.