Students design memorial for Columbia space shuttle

Designs unveiled in East Texas community heavily impacted by tragic 2003 disaster


Staff Writer, Lufkin Daily News

© Lufkin Daily News 11/1/03
Reprinted with permission

HEMPHILL — Trajectory lines, golden spirals and ripple pools were among the architectural features six student-teams from Texas A&M University presented Friday [Oct. 31, 2003] for a proposed space shuttle Columbia memorial.

"I thought they were wonderfully sensitive, magnificent and extremely well done," said Jefferson Davis Howell Jr., director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The memorial is to be built off Highway 83 on land owned by businessman and philanthropist Arthur Temple, near where the shuttle's nose cone was recovered.

In the days that followed the shuttle's demise on Feb. 1, the people of Sabine County demonstrated unprecedented dedication in the search and recovery efforts.

Sabine County residents quickly claimed ownership in the event, proclaiming on the T-shirts they sold as a memorial fund-raiser, "Their mission became our mission, their families became our families."

There was never any question among Sabine County residents and officials that their county should be the site of a permanent memorial for Columbia and her crew. It was here, Sabine County residents noted, that the crew's remains were found.

By March, a committee was formed to establish a site and develop a plan. Temple agreed to donate the triangular piece of property between Bayou Bend Road and Highway 83.

In July, Temple initiated contact with Texas A&M's College of Architecture to involve the graduate student class in creating memorial designs. Mardelle Shepley, the class instructor, said the committee advised the class on what they were interested in. She also took the 12 students to visit the proposed site in early September.

The six teams of two students each spent the past two months devising architectural plans for a visitors center, community center, memorial and healing gardens. Three central exhibits will present the past, Columbia and its demise; the present, the search and recovery efforts; and the future, healing.

On Friday, the class drove from College Station to Hemphill to give their multimedia presentations.

"Much as the people of Hemphill and Sabine County came together (in this experience) this class came together in an effort to present some ideas to you," Shepley told committee members Friday. "Their hearts are profoundly in this project, which is the most important part."

A central theme presented by all of the students was that the seven astronauts, the two search and recovery workers who were killed and the people of Sabine County all be represented in the memorial.

The spirit of Hemphill residents was something the students said they only learned of during this project.

"It was the untold story," said Yolanda Leveridge of Kentucky.

Being college students, she admitted they didn't follow the news stories churning out of East Texas during the recovery effort. In fact, her partner, Manasi Kashyap, said she received news of the shuttle's fate from her mother calling from India.

The technical story, they pulled from "lots of Internet research," Leveridge said. The emotional undercurrent they heard from the members of the memorial board.

Paying close attention, the architectural students carefully grafted their clients' desires into the design of each proposed memorial.

And like the people of Hemphill, the tragedy and its aftermath became a part of the students themselves.

"We were strongly moved by the community's rescue mission," said Nibu Samuel as he introduced the first project.

As if to apologize for the international makeup of the students, Samuel emphasized the international aspect of the tragedy.

Later, his classmate Kashyap, a native of India, agreed.

"What Nibu said is true: This affected the Columbia crew, NASA, Hemphill, Texas, the U.S. and the world. It wasn't just Americans going into space, it was everyone."

After taking last-minute pictures of their projects, the class handed over their proposals to the committee.

"Your boys and girls did awful well," Temple told Shepley afterward.

At lunch, Temple said he was extremely impressed with the students' sensitivity to the astronauts and the Hemphill community. While not committing to any particular design proposal, Temple said he plans to visit with Shepley at Texas A&M about what construction might cost.

As for when the memorial might begin to take shape, Temple said, "I don't have an answer for that. ... There are still many hurdles to overcome."

Among the committee members at the presentation were Belinda Gay, who helped run a recovery command post at the VFW hall; Sabine County Judge Jack Leath; and Pastor Fred Rainey, who administered final blessings to Columbia's crew.

© Lufkin Daily News 11/1/03
Reprinted with permission

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