In addition to the individual graves of those buried in Arlington National Cemetery, there are also a number of monuments and memorials. The most well-known of which is the iconic Tomb of the Unknowns. But there are also dozens of other monuments and memorials to a variety of people, groups and events interspersed throughout the cemetery’s 624 acres. And on this lunchtime bike ride, I sought out and found the memorial to the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia.
The Space Shuttle Columbia was the first orbiter in NASA’s Space Shuttle fleet. It launched for the first flight of the Space Shuttle Program on April 12, 1981, and provided over 22 years of service, successfully completing 27 missions before tragedy struck on February 1, 2003.
Near the end of its 28th mission, as it was travelling at a rate of approximately 8,000 miles per hour, the Columbia disintegrated as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere. This created a debris field which encompassed hundreds of miles across Northeast Texas and into Louisiana. The orbitor’s disintegration resulted in the deaths of all seven crew members aboard, whose remains were found along with the the nose cap in Sabine County, Texas. The crew members killed on its final mission were: Rick Husband, the Commander; William C. McCool, the Pilot; Michael P. Anderson, Payload Commander/Mission Specialist 3; David M. Brown, Mission Specialist 1; Kalpana Chawla, Mission Specialist 2; Laurel Clark, Mission Specialist 4; and Ilan Ramon, Payload Specialist 1. Nearly 84,000 pieces of debris from the orbitor were also found. They are stored in the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center.
Less than two months after the disaster, President George W. Bush signed into law the “Emergency Wartime Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2003”. The “Columbia Orbiter Memorial Act” is contained in that supplemental appropriations act, which is now known as Public Law Number 108-11. The Law authorized the Secretary of the Army, in consultation with NASA, to place the memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe, accompanied by over 400 family members, former astronauts, and friends dedicated the memorial on February 2, 2004.
I found the memorial by using a new app I recently downloaded to my phone. It is called ANC Explorer, and it’s a free app available for download for both iPhone and Android smartphones. ANC Explorer can also be launched using a traditional computer, and accessed at the cemetery using the free WiFi available at the Welcome Center and Administration Building. The app is also available for public use on computer kiosks at the cemetery.
ANC Ecxplorer allows users to locate gravesites and other points of interest throughout the cemetery by providing step-by-step directions to these locations. The app also allows users to view and save front-and-back photos of a marker or monument. Further, the app provides emergency and event notifications, self-guided tours, and the ability to share your experiences and photos on popular social media sites. Users can also save favorite places in the new “My Content” feature to create their own custom walking tours.