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Red Raider Remembered on Fifth Anniversary of Columbia Tragedy

Texas Tech was a stepping stone on the path to success for astronaut and alumnus Rick Husband.

Written by Kristina Woods Butler

Displaying his Red Raider pride, Rick Husband poses with guns up while orbiting earth. The inscription reads: To the Texas Tech News & Publications Office- Best Wishes and Keep Those Guns Up!

Displaying his Red Raider pride, Rick Husband poses with guns up while orbiting earth. The inscription reads: To the Texas Tech News & Publications Office- Best Wishes and Keep Those Guns Up!

“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

It was July 20, 1969, when Commander Neil Armstrong uttered those now famous words as he took his first steps on the surface of the moon. The Apollo 11 space mission was a success, changing the future of space exploration and making an impression on millions of Americans who watched live on their television sets, including one boy in Amarillo.

U.S. Air Force Colonel and Texas Tech alumnus Rick Husband knew right away he wanted to be an astronaut. His dreams were molded by the adventure and excitement of space travel. He worked hard and accomplished his goal, but on Feb. 1, 2003, Husband, along with the rest of the Space Shuttle Columbia crew, lost his life as the shuttle broke up while re-entering the earth’s atmosphere, only 16 minutes before the scheduled landing.

It has been five years since the tragic disaster, but Husband will always be remembered as an astronaut, father, husband and Red Raider.

The Road Less Traveled

After graduating from Amarillo High School, Husband was accepted into the mechanical engineering program at Texas Tech.

James Lawrence, a retired professor in the College of Engineering and former chairman of the mechanical engineering department, remembers Husband as an outstanding student with incredible determination.

“He was a leader in school. He wanted to be an astronaut from the time he was a little boy and his whole mission in life was to accomplish that,” he said.

The Space Shuttle Columbia Crew conducted approximately 80 experiments while on their scientific research mission.

The Space Shuttle Columbia Crew conducted approximately 80 experiments while on their scientific research mission.

NASA began hiring its first round of shuttle astronauts around the same time Husband entered college. With his eyes on the sky, Husband was eager to know how he could be part of the program. He wrote a letter to NASA and in return received a package full of information on the requirements for becoming an astronaut.

Husband used the letter as a roadmap for his future. It led him to join the Air Force ROTC at Texas Tech, seeking a pilot’s slot. After graduation in 1980, Husband was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force. He was also honored as a Distinguished Graduate of AFROTC.

Enjoying Life Along the Way

His goals of becoming an astronaut did not deter him from enjoying college life. Because of his passion for music and singing, Husband joined the Texas Tech choir as a way to relax and get away from the pressures of study.

In an official interview with NASA before his final space mission, Husband was asked about his hobby of singing and his experience with the university choir.

“I was very fortunate to be able to be in that choir. It served as a tremendous outlet for me, to kind of broaden my horizons and my experience in the different types of music that we sang,” he said.

John Dickson, director of choral studies at Texas Tech, was in close contact with Husband before his last mission.

“He said his best memory of Texas Tech was singing in the choir,” Dickson said in an interview with the University Daily, now the Daily Toreador, following the Columbia mission. “He even e-mailed the choir and said he was exercising to its CD while in space.”

Husband accomplished another goal while at school. He met his future wife Evelyn – also a graduate of Texas Tech. The two were married for 20 years and have two children, Laura and Matthew.

A Dream Realized

Husband spent 14 years in the Air Force, moving around the country and overseas. Finally, after completing all of the steps on his road to success, he was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in 1994.

He piloted two Space Shuttle missions, the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1999, which included the first docking with the International Space Station, and the Space Shuttle Columbia mission in 2003. Dedicated to science and research, Columbia’s crew worked 24 hours a day, in two alternating shifts, to successfully conduct approximately 80 experiments.

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Rick Husband was born July 12, 1957 in Amarillo. He died Feb. 1, 2003 during re-entry of the Space Shuttle Columbia, leaving behind a wife and two children.

Rick Husband was born July 12, 1957 in Amarillo. He died Feb. 1, 2003 during re-entry of the Space Shuttle Columbia, leaving behind a wife and two children.

Honors & Awards

  • Outstanding Engineering Student-1980
  • Distinguished Engineer of the College of Engineering-1997
  • NASA Distinguished Service Medal
  • NASA Space Flight Medal
  • Defense Distinguished Service Medal

Posthumously awarded:

  • Congressional Space Medal of Honor

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Rick Husband NASA preflight interview.

NASA honors the Columbia Crew

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