The remnants of two tragic space shuttle disasters are finally seeing the light of day. Hidden away for decades, Columbia and Challenger debris is on display at a new NASA exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., the AP reports. Among the remnants are a large body panel from the Challenger, with its marred but colorful image of the US flag, and the partly burnt cockpit windows of the Columbia. Challenger's debris had been locked away in abandoned missile silos, and Columbia's in private NASA offices, until the space organization began quietly exhuming them four years ago for the "Forever Remembered" exhibit. "Our biggest concern the whole time was doing the right thing," says shuttle engineer Michael Ciannilli, who oversaw the project.
"There's more to this story" than the disasters, he adds. "Great pains were taken not to have anything sensationalized or exploited." To that end, the dimly lit exhibit opened earlier this month includes no images of either disaster. There are also personal artifacts donated by the astronauts' families, like the Bible and cowboy boots of Columbia commander Rick Husband, and "TFNG" T-shirt of Challenger commander Francis Scobee (his 1978 astronaut class was known as the Thirty-Five New Guys). "I can't stop thinking about it," says Evelyn Husband-Thompson, Husband's widow. "As you walk in, you know that you're in a special place." For anyone who's forgotten: The Challenger exploded one minute and thirteen seconds after takeoff on Jan. 28, 1986, and the Columbia broke up upon re-entry over Texas on Feb. 1, 2003, Universe Today notes. Each shuttle held a crew of seven.