The Patricia Huffman Smith NASA Museum “Remembering Columbia” is a small museum (3,400 square feet) in Hemphill dedicated to preserving the memory of the seven astronauts who lost their lives on Feb. 1, 2003 when the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over East Texas shortly after re-entry from space.
The museum opened in Hemphill on Feb. 1, 2011, the 8th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. The museum tells the story of space exploration from the first mission of the Columbia Space Shuttle to its last and reveals the efforts of local citizens during the recovery of the shuttle. Personal items belonging to the crew that lost their lives is permanently on display.
The Shelby County Chamber of Commerce facilitated a Leadership Shelby County Alumni Event – a tour of the museum – on Thursday, June 21. Twenty-four people took part in the tour, which was both moving and incredibly sad.
An area is dedicated to each crewmember lost in the tragedy – Commander Rick Husband; Pilot William McCool; Mission Specialists, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla and Laurel Clark; Payload Commander Michael Anderson; and Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon.
Two other people are remembered in the museum: a Texas Forest Service employee, Charles Krenek, and a helicopter pilot, J. “Buzz” Mier, who lost their lives seven weeks after the tragedy during the recovery effort.
Family members of those lost donated personal items, such as old photographs, flight suits, crew patches and gear owned by their loved ones.
The museum building was made possible by a generous donation from Albert “Al” Smith, who wished to do something in memory of his wife, Patricia Huffman Smith, who passed away in 2010. The couple had donated money and all the land for the J.R. Huffman Public Library, named for Patricia’s father, which opened in 1994 in Hemphill. The Patricia Huffman Smith NASA “Remembering Columbia” Museum sits adjacent to the library.