As she watched the space shuttle Columbia landing clock tick down to zero, then count back up with no sign of the spacecraft, Evelyn Husband knew something was “horribly wrong.”
The wife of shuttle commander Rick Husband felt her stomach drop and her heart pound as everything moved in slow motion. She watched as people poured from the stands at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center where Columbia was to land, ending 16 days in space. Rick Husband was less than 11 minutes from arrival.
“This was Rick’s dream. It couldn’t be ending. Not today. Not like this,” Husband writes in her book, “High Calling,” due to arrive in bookstores Sunday.
“That was just such a difficult day,” she said in an interview this week as she recalled last Feb. 1 when the shuttle broke apart over Texas, killing her husband and six other astronauts.
“When you first get really tragic news, I just don’t think you completely absorb everything to begin with. You’re just in a state of shock. So later on, going back and reliving all of that, I’m just amazed what we walked through and what we did, and how we were even standing.”
Final burial, but no finality
The tragedy is something Husband has dealt with every day since. This week she and other crew families traveled to Arlington National Cemetery where they buried the final astronaut remains.
It was just a year ago that Rick Husband ate his last meal at home and kissed and hugged his children goodbye before going into quarantine to prepare for the Jan. 16 flight.
It’s hard for Evelyn Husband to believe it has been a year. It has been one filled with both anguish and unimaginable opportunities — such as writing a book about her husband’s life.
“It was the hardest thing I have ever done,” Husband said. When first approached by publishers, she said she didn’t think a book was something she wanted to pursue.
“I was still in incredible grief and sorrow. I still am,” she said. “The more I thought about it, I thought if I wrote a story about Rick and what kind of husband and father he was and what a legacy he was for our family — not just a hero on a public level, but just privately — that this would be a book that could be inspiring to others.”
Not an easy process
Rick Husband’s personal, professional and spiritual life are explored throughout the 230-page book, which opens on the tragic day that Columbia disintegrated. His childhood, lifelong dream of becoming an astronaut, college years and the extensive training he endured to get a job with NASA are covered, as well as his final mission and how his family’s faith has helped them since his death.
Jonathan Merkh, a senior vice president with Nashville-based Christian book publisher Thomas Nelson Inc., said he immediately became intrigued with Rick Husband’s story, but wasn’t comfortable contacting his grieving widow. He let some time pass and coincidentally was introduced to Mrs. Husband’s pastor during a religious conference.
“There were times when we had to push the pause button,” Merkh said of the book. “It was not an easy process for her.”
The result however, was a story of inspiration, encouragement and a reminder of how precious life is, he said.
Husband’s devotion to his family, despite his high-stress job, is something his widow is thankful for now that she is left to raise the couple’s 13-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son alone.
“There are so many activities he did with them that they knew how much he loved them,” she said. “He didn’t just say it in words. He said it in action.”
She said a sense of humor and Christian faith have helped her get through the difficulties of the past year.
“It is a sad story, which everybody already knows when they pick up the book,” she said. “It’s not going to be a book full of jokes. They know it is going to be difficult, but there is a lot of humor in the book as well.
“We are always going to be sad and this is going to be difficult, but we are going to reach a point that we can move on.”