Compilation of Columbia Reentry Observations

From: Brian Webb (
Date: Sun Feb 23 2003 - 12:07:57 EST

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    Hi All:
    Here is a compilation of all of the Columbia reentry observations received
    from the readers of my newsletter.
    Brian Webb
    			  Brian Webb, KD6NRP
    		      Ventura County, California
    	      Web Site:
    					  2003 February 12 (Wednesday) 20:00 PST
    In response to my request for observations of the February 1, 2003
    Columbia reentry, I have received numerous reports. The following is a
    compilation of all of the usable accounts received.
    These reports have been edited for brevity and clarity. Many
    observers may sound upbeat about the disaster, but this is the result
    of my taking their comments out of context. Also, the location listed
    under an observer's name is that from which they viewed the reentry and
    may or may not be where they reside. Finally, text within [ ] brackets
    was inserted by me.
    Although all of the observations are interesting, several are
    especially so because the observer reported seeing or capturing images
    or video of puffs coming off of the Shuttle, a momentary brightening
    of the vehicle, etc. The observers who mentioned such phenomena were:
       Doug Allison
       Mike B.
       Rick Baldidge
       B. Bennett
       Mark Bixby
       Bill and Nance Gault
       Doug Jones
       Ian Kluft
       Jay Lawson
       Dick Matthews
       Charles McPartland
       Carmelita and Charles Morris
       Joe Nickerson
       Randy Perretta
       Mike Plaisted
       John Sanford
       Aldo Spandoni
       Lloyd Vadnais
    		Doug Allison
    		Mammoth Lakes, CA
    “...Viewing location was hot springs road on the east side of highway
    395 and north of the airport. I chose a spot approximately 1/2 way
    between the airport cutoff and what I take to be a fishing camp on
    Hot Springs road. There was 1 porch light approx 1/4 mile away and a
    very large wide open section of the sky was visible. Conditions
    overhead were very clear with the stars shining brightly. There was a
    slight haze on the south & western horizons, which may have been thin
    high clouds. I was lying on my back, feet facing northwest and
    scanning the whole sky, binoculars at the ready.
    I first noticed the Shuttle at ~30 deg (rough estimate) above the
    horizon as a faint fuzzy reddish spot, almost stationary.  Glancing at
    my watch it was 05:53. At first it looked like the planet Mars,
    appearing a rusty reddish/yellowish/brownish and almost stationary.
    It grew larger & brighter as it moved across the sky, NW to SE.
    What struck me most during the whole event was the color change.
    Within 10 seconds of spotting it began losing the rusty red color and
    became whiter and brighter with a faint shade of pink. Then the color
    transitioned to much brighter white with stronger pink color and it
    began to leave a contrail. The pink tones became much stronger,
    transitioning to bright red, just like a road flare, with some white
    light mixed in. At this point it was almost directly overhead and
    leaving a strong contrail, twice as wide as a standard commercial jet
    aircraft. Through out the portion of the arc from +/- 30 deg
    (approximate) of apex, it seemed to flicker slightly. Using 10X
    binoculars at the point most directly overhead, 2 objects were clearly
    visible. One, very bright (Shuttle) object and another smaller, but
    very distinct trailing slightly behind and glowing like an ember. When
    I pulled the binoculars down the 2nd object was not visible with the
    naked eye. I watched it for 2 to 3 minutes before disappeared below
    the southeast horizon.
    The event so visually intense that I expected to hear sound, but there
    was none. I was left in awe. I did not have a camera...”
    		Mike B.
    		Los Angeles, CA
    Caught it !!
    From Los Angeles (Westchester, on the north edge of LA Airport). Just
    from the front porch, between the street trees, at 5:54:40, appeared
    at due north, just over the rooftops, caught it.
    I'd almost given up, as 5:53 was the planned time, and I could see a
    bit of high fuzzy clouds.
    Bare eyed, I thought I may have seen some sparks fly off, either
    debris, or plasma.
    Were we seeing the SUNLIGHT reflecting, or the plasma glow?
    Movement was quite fast, and I eventually lost it in trees.
    Only a few stars were visible overhead, but it was brighter than the
    visible stars."
    		Rick Baldridge
    		Mount Hamilton, CA
    “I have seen, photographed and video taped four Shuttle reentries over
    California, starting with STS-63. A photo of the reentry of STS-73 is
    posted at: ...
    (If you have trouble with this long link, go to
    and click on "Astronomy Stuff" album, and then the second picture. The
    Yahoo page was down a few days ago but is working again.)
    Believe me, NONE of them show even the slightest indication of
    brightenings in the trail or small pieces coming off.
    Yesterday was a bad day for me (and all of us.) I video taped the
    reentry for Mt. Hamilton, CA and took two photos. Naked-eye, we didn't
    notice anything too unusual, but I was spending most of my time looking
    through the video camera viewfinder. We thought we had just seen
    another spectacular NORMAL reentry. Only an hour later when I got home
    did I learn of the tragedy that occurred minutes after we saw the
    Shuttle go by.
    When I looked at my video, there were very faint but definite pieces
    coming off, with the first piece seen on the video at 5:53:45am PST
    +/- 1 second. A had made a time-hack as I always do to obtain timings,
    and this hack was synchronized to WWV. As far as I know at this time,
    I was the furthest west observer on the reentry track to get a video.
    NASA has been given a copy of the tape. They may want the master of
    course to analyze further. I also took two still photos, one through a
    16mm lens that shows the entire visible trace of the Shuttle and BOTH
    photos show definite brightenings in the trail that corresponde to
    brightenings the video shows. Again, I have NEVER seen this activity
    before STS-107. The photos will be scanned today and posted, after I
    get a copy to NASA.”
    “...It's been a very busy 36 hours trying to get data reduced and info
    to NASA on the video and pictures I took.
    The two still photos I took from Mt. Hamilton (right next to the 40"
    dome at Lick Observatory -- coords  N37° 20.498'  W121° 38.579'  Alt
    4230 feet WGS84 datum) have been scanned (rather poorly by myself, I
    might add!) and annotated. I've posted them at:
    Click on "Astronomy Stuff" album.
    I won't speculate at this point -- we've had quite enough of that
    already. Let's just say the photos, videos and eyewitness accounts
    definitely show that something was amiss while COLUMBIA was over
    California. With this being my 4th observed reentry, I have a lot of
    experience looking over photos and videos that I've taken and nothing
    unusual showed on the previous three.
    Funny thing was, several of us who saw STS-107 Saturday morning didn't
    see anything we would call really "unusual" using the naked-eye. The
    only comments were that the "color" seemed a bit off, perhaps more
    "orange", but that could be explained by a variety of causes. Only
    later when we looked at the video and developed the slides did we see
    something funny was going on. This leads me to believe that the average
    eyewitness in California may not have seen something going on when in
    fact it was. Hooray for video cameras...”
    		B. Bennett
    		Dewey, AZ
    “My husband and I watched the reentry from Dewey, Arizona (in the
    Prescott area) through binoculars. He had set up a video camera but
    unfortunately in the excitement of the moment he failed to change the
    mode from standby to record so we have no pictures of what we saw. We
    were absolutely thrilled when the Shuttle appeared to the northwest.
    We have watched both the Shuttle and the Space Station passing
    overhead at night but this was our first reentry so we really didn't
    know what to expect beyond the "manmade meteor". When the shuttle was
    approximately due north of us we saw what I described to my husband as
    "sparks" coming off of the Shuttle before it went out of our view. We
    had a short conversation as to whether this was a normal event or not
    because we hadn't known exactly what to expect...”
    		Mark Bixby
    		Huntington Beach, CA
    “[Name}Mark Bixby
    [Observing Location] Huntington Beach, CA
    [Equipment Used] 7x35 binoculars
    From about 5:53 a.m. until about 5:55 a.m. the Shuttle was easily
    visible from the Graham Street/Wintersburg Channel bridge. Using 7x35
    binoculars, I observed quite close to the horizon an orange point of
    light with a faint, trailing orange contrail.
    There were a few periodic "bursts" in the contrail where it got
    somewhat brighter and then dimmed back down to the average brightness.
    I have never witnessed a Shuttle reentry before, so I have no idea if
    those brightness bursts were normal. I could not perceive anything
    falling off of the Shuttle and forming a separate contrail.
    According to the post-disaster news conference, the first sensor
    failures in the left wing of the Shuttle occurred at 5:53 a.m. Did this
    have anything to do with the bursts I saw? I have no idea...
    [Still Images or Video] No.”
    		Fred Bruenjes
    		Ramona, CA
    “...I was able to see the Shuttle from Ramona, CA.  My (crummy)
    pictures are at:\
    		Randy Bullard
    		Garden Valley, CA
    “I live in Garden Valley, CA. which is east of Sacramento. I live in
    the Sierra Mountain foothills, so we rarely get the fog that is so
    common in winter west of here. Here is what I saw and heard.
    I had never seen a reentry before so I didn't know what to expect. It
    was cloudy here but the clouds were thin so I could see a lot of stars
    through the clouds. I didn't expect the Shuttle to be all that bright
    because of the clouds. Its path took it almost directly over head.
    The closest description I can think of is that it looked almost like
    an orange arc welder's torch. It was very bright, way brighter and
    larger than I had expected. It left a huge contrail, something else I
    didn't expect. I watched it until it went out of site on the low
    horizon. I looked through binoculars for a short time, but decided I
    got a better overall impact with the naked eye. Unfortunately, I took
    no pictures.
    I was so excited that it had been so wonderful, that I ran up my long
    driveway and turned on the NASA channel to watch it land. At that
    point they had just lost communications and were waiting for
    communications to be restored. Sometime during this wait, my wife and
    I heard a distant boom..."
    		John Cooley
    		Poway, CA
    "[Name] John "JD" Cooley K6LKW
    [Observing Location] Poway, CA
    32 deg 57 min 03 sec North
    117 deg 01 min 10 sec West
    [Equipment Used] Binoculars
    ...A red dot moving west to east low in the northern sky. Could see the
    "plasma trail" behind the dot just barely visible. The line was very
    straight and steady.
    [Still Images or Video] No.”
    		Connie Corbett
    		Napa Valley, CA
    “ minutes before breakup. This clip is poor but all that I
    have. I held the camera up as I observed Columbia with the naked eye.
    If you've ever seen a fireball during a meteor shower you have some
    idea what she looked like. What an incredibly beautiful sight....such
    a sad ending to a perfect journey...”
    		Don Crowell
    		Laguna Niguel, CA
    “...I was able to see the Shuttle come back to Earth, and then raced
    back to my home 2 minutes away - only to see the events unfold...I saw
    the Shuttle reenter at about 5:53ish. It looked like a orange comet
    leaving a long trail. I went to a park on a hill by my home that has a
    good view. I used Bushnell 10x50 binoculars and was thrilled with what
    I saw. I got home and waited (and waited) for the landing. You know
    the rest...”
    		Dan, KF6IQL
    		Vallejo, CA
    "Had a brief 3 or 4 second visual through a hole in the clouds. Very
    spectacular display. Bright white with a brilliant trail. Never having
    seen a reentry before I’m not sure if anything was unusual but cannot
    report seeing anything I could describe as debris or breaking up...”
    		Palm Springs, CA
    “Visible in Palm Springs for a very long distance.
    “I must tell you now that one third of the way in its movement on the
    horizon the vapor or contrail had a white smudge or oval shape
    inconsistent with the rest of the trail both behind and [a]head.
    The Shuttle appeared to be orange but isn't that normal?”
    “ add to my last e-mail--I don't know if this would be useful,
    but that smudge or oval cloud in the contrail of Shuttle stood out
    because it was (blue white) and was in contrast to the black sky and
    the rest of trail which was muted by comparison."
    		Charlie Davis
    		Ventura, CA
    "I was able  to the Space Shuttle return this morning at 5:54 a.m. It
    was low to the northern horizon just above the mountains. A large
    fireball with a tail around twice a long as the fireball was round. It
    also left a large distinct contrail that was visible for several
    minutes. Very cool.
    Name: Charles Davis
    Location: Ventura, CA
    N 34.18.287
    W 119.17.361
    Equipment used: None.
    ..The sky was less than perfect for observation with an almost complete
    covering of haze, with the haze present I left my camera inside the
    house. I was impressed with the size of the fireball, not observing a
    reentry before I have nothing to compare it with. The fireball had a
    tail about twice as long as the diameter of the ball. I didn't see
    anything falling from the vehicle.
    Images: Sorry, none..."
    		Steve Edberg
    		San Gabriel Mountains, CA
    “I was on Angeles Crest Hwy. at the Silver Moccasin Trail head. I saw
    Columbia through cirrus, it disappeared through thicker clouds,
    reappeared, it didn't quite clear Vetter Mountain, and then continued
    on through cirrus before disappearing. I saw nothing indicating a
    problem through binoculars or my 200mm zoom lens. I also listened for
    the sonic boom, until 06:21 PST and did not hear it. They have been
    heard during this stage of earlier reentries but atmospheric conditions
    or distance apparently precluded hearing it...I took 2 or 3 still
    images but don't expect them to show anything...”
    		Bill and Nance Gault
    		Las Vegas, NV
    “...[Equipment Used]: We viewed Shuttle with naked eye.
    [Observing Location]: Las Vegas Nevada.
    We went out to look for the Shuttle about 5:40 a.m. PST...About 5:53
    a.m. PST we witnessed the Shuttle passing overhead the Las Vegas,
    Nevada area. It entered our view about NW and exited about SE. If NE is
    0 degrees and SE is 180 degrees, at about 105 degrees I noticed the
    smooth trail break and expand, back to smooth and do it again at about
    120 degrees. The trail appeared smooth again until it left out view. I
    am sorry we do not have any pictures...”
    		Donna and Pete Higganbotham
    		Lake Isabella, CA
    "[Observing Location] Just south of Lake Isabella, California
    approximately 3,000 feet elevation.
    [Equipment Used] Eyes
    We saw something shaped like a ball going through the air parallel to
    the ground with a vapor following. It traveled from Shirley Peak
    towards Owens Valley. We did not see anything coming off of the
    Columbia while we watched it...”
    		Doug Jones
    		Mojave, CA
    “...I observed from Mojave, CA, about 35.05N 118.16W, with 10x50
    binoculars. There was a bit of haze that gave stars and planets a
    slight "coma", but I clearly saw the orange dot moving east, leaving an
    ion trail behind it. At about the time of closest approach, it got
    brighter for a moment (seen mostly as a brightening of the haze) and a
    smaller dot separated and drifted aft, dimming as it went. This dimmed
    out completely in about ten to twenty seconds. Perhaps 30 s later I saw
    another brightening, but no other object- the trail did grow thicker
    for a moment. The Shuttle appeared dimmer as it moved toward the dawn
    glare, and I lost sight of it well before the horizon. When I tried to
    look back at the trail, it had already faded...”
    		David Kimes
    		Yerington, NV
    “..Observing location - Yerington NV 89447
    Equipment used... naked eyes...
    Was facing north when out of the corner of my eye this very bright
    light appeared over the mountains just to the west of my place. It was
    impressive but it was leaving a contrail. At 200,000+ feet I didn't
    expect a contrail especially since the Shuttle was in glider mode.
    About the time it reach my zenith it seem to change color from reddish
    tint to a blue tint. There were several color changes after that. The
    Sun not yet up seem to be highlighting the 'contrail.' The contrail
    path went from horizon to horizon and was visible for several minutes.
    [Still Images or Video] no...”
    		Ian Kluft
    		Mount Hamilton, CA
    “...[Name]: Ian Kluft...
    [Observing Location] Approximately the 2000' elevation (above the fog)
    on SR130 on Mount Hamilton, east of San Jose.
    [Equipment Used] None
    Though we thought we were far enough up the mountain, a fog bank
    formed suddenly around our group 3 minutes before the Shuttle's
    arrival. We scrambled to toss everything in our vehicles and drive
    further up the mountain. I was talking on the ham radio with a friend
    who was watching from Skyline Blvd at the crest of the Santa Cruz
    Mountains, west of SJ.
    He told me that Columbia was at the northwest, then the north, and
    then he lost it behind trees. At that moment, I broke out of the fog
    and saw Columbia.
    It wasn't what I expected. I had seen two pre-dawn reentries before.
    They had looked like a highway flare with a thin glowing meteor-streak
    behind it. But it had a smoky trail this time, which seemed to partly
    obscure the brightness of the orbiter in my view as it departed to the
    east. Others whom I met at the vantage point (who also had to flee
    from the fog) are members of the Peninsula Astronomical Society, and
    had seen several reentries before too. We all thought this was
    different. But it didn't occur to us that there was anything wrong
    until we heard on the news that Columbia was overdue at KSC.
    We later correlated the time of the smoky trail (5:54 a.m. Pacific)
    with about a minute after NASA said Columbia started losing signals
    from sensors in the left wing (7:53 a.m. Central).
    Some members of the Peninsula Astronomical Society got photos and
    video. I wasn't able to because of the scramble to get back above the
    fog during the Shuttle pass...”
    		Jay Lawson
    		Reno, NV
    “I was video taping the event as it happened and I believe my tape may
    show some problems while it flew over Nevada. No news agencies are
    open in Reno yet (it's still a small town in a lot of ways).
    I am trying to find ways to contact NASA or local news to see if my
    video will help. My guess is that the Shuttle may have lost heat tiles
    over Nevada on its way to falling apart in Texas. The main event I saw
    took place about 5 degrees west of Venus at 5:54:25 (time based on the
    NASA website you sent yesterday).”
    “I am going to try to get the video digitized this morning or at least
    do screen captures of the "explosions". I will get those to you if I
    am sucessful. I am still trying to contact the local news people to
    look at the tape and send it to the networks.
    I call them "explosions" because as the Shuttle entered over Sparks /
    Reno there was an obvious glow and ionization trail. There was one
    small puff in the trail before the Shuttle passed the meridian (near
    Spica ). As I zoomed the camera in when it approached Venus, there was
    a large puff and a second object (debris) passed with and behind the
    Shuttle as it went passed Venus. Shortly after that, I lost the view
    into low clouds at the eastern horizon...”
    		Al Levin
    		San Francisco, CA
    “I saw the Shuttle reentry from San Francisco. I was at the corner of
    Eddy Street and Franklin Street, using no optical aids, and blocking
    the light of a street light with a tree. I was able to see the Shuttle
    and its contrail for about 10 seconds, as it passed between buildings.
    The coma around the Shuttle was extremely bright (-10, or so) and
    reddish in color. I could see nothing but a single contrail...
    no knots, no secondary trails... but, admittedly, the conditions were
    pretty bad. When I could no longer see the Shuttle, I checked the
    time. I had 5:53:50.”
    		Dick Matthews
    		Colfax, CA
    I live in Woodland--just outside of Sacramento. It was foggy so I drove
    to Colfax on hwy 80 in the Sierras. Thru the high, light clouds I
    clearly saw the reentry from the bay area to the obstruction of the
    Sierras. Was fantastic--I did note that near the obstruction of the
    Sierras there was a distinct fluctuation in the fireball--it may have
    been a normal fluctuation, but it sure made me think when I found out
    that only 6 minutes later, it was lost...”
    		Jay McKee
    		Thousand Oaks, CA
    “Early this morning I got to see the Space Shuttle reenter the
    atmosphere. An orange ball of light streaking from the northwest
    toward the northeast very low on the horizon. Brian Webb (listmaster
    for Launch Alert) and I were on a ridge line north of Thousand Oaks a
    few minutes before 6:00 a.m. to see if we could catch the event. For
    the most part the sky was clear with the exception of some haze near
    the horizon in all directions. We were monitoring the audio of NASA
    Video on 224.9375 MHz FM the entire time. We were barely able to pick
    up the Shuttle as it passed low over the horizon. It took less than 2
    minutes to cross our field of view.”
    		Charles McPartland
    		Fallon, NV
    Name: Charles V. McPartland: Retired Civil Engineer
    Observing location: (Fallon, Nevada 39.4740N, 118.7760W) : 10 miles NW
    of Naval Air Station Fallon.
    Note: There is very little light pollution here and viewing of the
    night sky is excellent for this type of event!
    Equipment used (binoculars, etc.): none
    ...The SST-107 arrived about 2-minutes ahead of schedule and was coming
    from the West. I would guess that the magnitude was about -1.5.
    The Shuttle was glowing a reddish orange color from the radiant
    heating. As it came higher in the sky, a plasma or ionic trail was left
    for at least 200 miles behind the Shuttle and the trail was a greenish
    At maximum altitude from our vantage point, the Shuttle was about 75
    degrees in height to the south of us. The reddish orange was then
    beginning to fade a bit, but the greenish trail seemed to brighten a
    When the Shuttle passed to the southeast of us, it went behind a cloud
    for about 15 seconds, and was not visible to us.
    When the Shuttle emerged from behind the cloud, the reddish orange glow
    was very dim. The greenish trail was now evident on both sides of the
    It is important to know that we were looking at the left side of the
    Shuttle during all of this time. Several seconds after emerging from
    behind the cloud, the reddish glow was not visible. We could still
    track the Shuttle by its greenish trail.
    About a second later, a bright white flash of light appeared to come
    from the Shuttle. I would guess this light to be about a magnitude
    -1.5! The greenish trail continued for another 15 seconds or so, until
    it disappeared as the Shuttle went behind another cloud. The direction
    was east and the elevation was about 20 degrees above the horizon.
    As my wife and I walked back to the house, we talked about the bright
    flash of light. At that time we thought that it could have been
    reflection from the Sun.
    We watched the NASA channel for about five minutes as we waited for the
    landing. I then went outside to see if the greenish trail was still
    visible but it was faded out by that time.
    [Still Images or Video]: No
    		Bob Megling
    		Long Beach, CA
    “[Name] Bob Megling
    [Observing Location] Signal Hill, CA (Long Beach, CA)
    [Equipment Used] Naked eye.
    Observed the Shuttle moving against the sky low on the horizon for
    5-10 secs. It was very dim and haze against the San Bernadino
    Mountains nearly obscurred it.
    [Still Images or Video] None.”
    		Tony Messina
    		Las Vegas, NV
    “Yes, I saw it!!  too cool!!
    Passing over Las Vegas, Nevada at 5:56, leaving a nice contrail behind
    as it moved to the east.”
    		Bill Miedecke
    		Lake Havasu City, AZ
    “...I just watched the Shuttle make its fly-by. It was a good deal
    above the horizon and I watched it for about 20 seconds, they were
    moving faster than anything I had ever seen and they were leaving a
    long trail that didn't last long...”
    		Carmelita and Charles Morris
    		Whittier Peak, CA
    “We have video and pictures of the Shuttle going by.
    We were at Whittier Peak and had a pretty good view. Charles did get
    video of some puffs coming off the back of the Shuttle...” [Carmelita]
    “The video, which was shot initially at 1/4 sec exposure and hence is
    jumpy, shows what is clearly two distinct "puffs" in the trail of the
    Shuttle. These move away from the Shuttle. The time is about right for
    the loss of signal with the first sensors ~ 5:53 pm PST. To steady the
    image, I reduced the shutter speed and thus, lost the trail.”
    		Markus Moser and Helen Geriger
    		Mount Hamilton, CA
    "We saw the Shuttle reentry from Mount Hamilton, Ca. It arrived right
    on time and the view was spectacular. Like a glowing ball flying
    straight from west to east, leaving a snow white track.”
    		Brian Neuschander
    		Capitola, CA
    “...I did see the fly-over. I stepped outside at about 5:45 a.m. PST.
    My location is in Capitola, CA, on the very north edege of Monterey
    The orbiter crossed the sky right on schedule (5:52 a.m. PST) from
    about WNW to E at about 40-50 degrees above the horizon. It appeared as
    a solid yellow dot, larger than a shooting star or aircraft. It was
    moving in a straight line faster than an aircraft would appear, and
    faster than other orbiting objects we often observe (and much larger as
    well), but slower than a shooting star.
    I made these observations with the naked eye. Visiblity was slightly
    hampered by thin and low local fog. Overhead stars were visible, but
    the horizon was obscured. This gave the moving object a round fuzzy
    appearance, and possibly obscured any details out of the ordinary.
    No trailing debris or multiple points of light were observed..."
    		Joe Nickerson
    		Lancaster, CA
    “I watched the reentry on Saturday morning.
    - [Name]:  Joe Nickerson
    - Observing location: Lancaster, CA
    - Equipment used (binoculars, etc.): binoculars
    ...There may have been a thin overcast. Stars high looked clear, but I
    could not see any stars below the Big Dipper because of street lights
    and clouds.
    ....I picked up the Shuttle as a pale orange streakmoving from left to
    right. I estimate I saw it first almost due north. I then followed it
    with binoculars, seeing a brighter orange spot which left a trail. This
    trail had two irregularities. Specically, the irregularities were
    brighter orange patches within the paler trail. These patches were
    persistent and stayed fixed in space. That is, they did not move with
    the Shuttle. I did not discern any separate pieces. I followed the
    Shuttle until blocked by my roof. The last I saw, it was moving more to
    the east and seemed brighter, despite moving towards the dawn sky
    ....At the time, I recall being surprised by the bright patches. My
    initial thought was that a heat shield was ablating, but immediately
    recalled that the Shuttle has reusable tiles, not old-style ablative
    coatings. Thus I was surprised by what I saw. Never having seen a
    reentry before, I worried, but assumed that was normal. I did not
    learn of the crash for at least two hours after. Finally, the
    brightning of the orbiter as it went east I took to be associated with
    looking at it from "above", or down the trail, rather than
    perpendicular. I still believe that to be the case.
    [Still Images or Video]: No..."
    		Vic Panegasser
    		Henderson, NV
    “I observed and photographed the Shuttle reentry from my house in
    Henderson NV (36.03 N 115.03 W). The Shuttle passed overhead at about
    5:54-5:55 a.m. from northwest to southeast. Everything looked normal to
    me. I had never observed a Shuttle reentry before. It took about 30-40
    seconds to pass by. I took an eight-second exposure (photo attached) at
    5:55 a.m. with my digital camera...”
    		Randy Perretta
    		Northern CA
    “...My wife and I observed the reentry...
    Our location was at our home at the 2967' level on a mountaintop
    roughly 20 miles due east of Mt. Hamilton east of San Jose and about 25
    miles due west of the town of Patterson in the Central Valley.
    Observing conditions were excellent, the sky clear and starry with
    visibility in excess of 200 miles. The Sierras were plainly visible to
    the east and southeast in the morning twilight as were the peaks of the
    coast range to the north, west and south. There were some clouds
    visible to the north, well below the Shuttle path due to an approaching
    The Shuttle came out of the NW like a rocket as they say, leaving a
    bright, bright uniform trail initially. Its course was steady. As it
    passed due north of us at about 50 degrees of elevation, the trail
    began to fluctuate in intensity. This fluctuation was noticeable to the
    point where my wife commented on it. The entire trail had left a
    considerable afterglow and in the afterglow past the point where the
    fluctuation began, I noticed a few bright spots that appeared to be
    glowing brighter than others.
    As we watched the Shuttle disappear over the Sierras to the SE, I
    offered the explanation that perhaps the fluctuations were due to
    varying air density in the upper atmosphere. Apparently and
    unfortunately, I was wrong...
    This observation was made with the naked eye. No photographs were
    		Mike Plaisted
    		Las Vegas, NV
    “I set up a chair in the north part of yard and looked directly to the
    northwest at an estimated 30 degrees.
    I had a view of the entire pathway of the Shuttle.
    I had no viewing equipment.
    The Shuttle appeared right on schedule and right where I was looking.
    When it was close to due north I noticed that there was a bright light
    leading and slightly lower and a small distance behind was a second
    light. My impression was that the nose cone was glowing and the second
    light must have been off the wing on the right side. (I now think it
    must have been the left wing).
    The leading light seemed to be about as bright as Venus and the second
    light about half that brightness. The distance between the two lights
    was a little less than a diameter of the smaller light. The two lights
    stayed about the same distance apart. I didn't think anything was wrong
    but it was confusing to me. When it was just past due north, I called
    to my wife who came right out. I turned away from viewing for a second
    or two. When I turned back it was difficult to see for another moment
    as we were looking through tree branches but when in the open again, it
    was only one light. My assumption was that the second light was the
    wing and the two lights were now lining up so only showed as one. The
    whole time there was only one 'meteor' trail and I didn't see any parts
    separate and fall away.
    I had no cameras so took no pictures.”
    		Bill Quackenbush
    		San Diego, CA
    “...I live in San Diego @ N 32.555 x W 117.301 , I used 8x56 binoculars
    to view the reentry for about 3 seconds between two houses very low on
    the horizon. It was due north at about 05:55. I saw a single solid
    orange/red fireball followed by a whitish contrail. I took no
    		John Rittenhouse
    		Costa Mesa, CA
    “...At about 5:40 I went up to the top of the hill, in the park,
    behind my house, in Costa Mesa, California.
    The Columbia flew from the northwest to the north-east shortly after
    5:53 a.m. I watched it with the unaided eye for about 45 seconds. It
    was moving VERY FAST. It looked like a bright white dot in an faint
    orange/white cloud. It was truly beautiful, like a man-made star
    hurtling through the heavens...”
    		Chris Robinson
    		Las Vegas, NV
    “Las Vegas had a real good view. It was great.”
    		Dave Rosenthal
    		Ridgecrest, CA
    “Visually, the show was nice with a white spacecraft leaving a glowing
    		Kevin Ryan
    		Shaver Lake, CA
    “[Observing Location] Central Sierra mountains - 5,500 feet - we are
    about 50 mile NE of Fresno - Owen's Valley is to the SE of us and we
    occasionally feel their earthquakes here.
    I went out with my two older sons just a little after 5:50 in the
    morning to watch the Shuttle fly past. From our view both its approach
    from the NW and departure to the NE were partially blocked by pine
    trees. It was not an ideal viewing location. We were watching it
    unaided - no binoculars. I have never seen a Shuttle reentry before so
    I can't compare what I saw with previous experiences. It was about 35
    degrees above the horizon. It was a bright fireball-like shape trailing
    a plume behind it. It moved amazingly fast. It was what I had expected
    to see based upon what I had read on what it would look like. I talked
    to my two sons and neither they nor I noticed any changes in brightness
    or anything falling away from the Shuttle. We were just a Dad and his
    kids excited to see something so cool and I don't think we would have
    noticed something subtle dropping away from Shuttle...”
    		John Sanford
    		Springville, CA
    “...I got up and videoed the Shuttle going over California. It was low
    in the north from here but significant tape was shot. My tape made
    with a Sony Digital Hi8 and Nightshot (IR blocking filter out) shows
    two what I would call "separation events". There is a flash and then
    some material joins the trail behind the fireball, and then a second
    or so later, another smaller flash and then something fairly large
    comes off the ship, follows along for a moment and then slowly falls
    behind as it fades. This just at 0553 when they got the interrupted
    transmission from the ship....”
    “Right outside my home here in Springville. Cords: W118 48 18.8 and
    N 36 13 28.6  elev 2230 ASL
    Getting lots of reaction. Here are 3 stills from the videotape.”
    		Tim Shaner
    		Orange County, CA
    “My wife and I did successfully see Columbia from south Orange County,
    CA this morning.
    Our coordinates were approximately: lat N33.66; lon W-117.82 deg, near
    the 5 and 405 fwy intersection in Laguna Hills. According to J-Pass,
    we were expecting a visual in the NW at 0552 hrs PST, but due to
    slight cloud cover, we made contact at approximately 0553. It was
    never higher than approximately 5 degrees above the horizon.
    We observed the Shuttle in the pre-dawn as a faint yellowish orange
    glow on a smooth, predicted track. Initial contact was beneath Ursa
    Major in the north as it made its way east. A contrail could be
    faintly seen. For this event, we had been monitoring NASA audio with
    my hand-held ham [radio] on freq 448.500; WA6VLD, Mt. Wilson. The NASA
    PR person was making regular announcements as to its location,
    altitude, etc. We saw nothing irregular from our experience during the
    entire 2-3 minute scan across the sky.”
    		Aldo Spandoni
    		Ranch Palos Verdes, CA
    “...I had occasion to observe the reentry of STS-107 on the morning of
    February 1, 2003 from a location in southern California. I observed
    two anomalous events during this observation, with reasonably accurate
    measurements of time and position...
    These observations were made from the north facing balcony of my home.
    I live in the city of Rancho Palos Verdes, on the southern edge of the
    Los Angeles basin in California. My home is located on a north facing
    hillside with an unobstructed view of the entire Los Angeles basin.
    Elevation at this location is approximately 1000 feet above sea level.
    The position of my home is 33 degrees 45 minutes 2 seconds north
    latitude, 118 degrees 19 minutes 52 seconds east longitude. This
    location estimate is based on my review of US Geological Survey map
    N3345 – 11815/7.5, Torrance, California....
    Visibility over the Los Angeles basin was generally excellent on the
    morning of February 1, 2003. The morning featured scattered high thin
    clouds, but the stars were clearly visible through these clouds. To
    the north, I could easily see the antenna towers and lights on top of
    Mt. Wilson, located approximately 37 miles north east of my location.
    This is a good general indication of visibility to the north across the
    Los Angeles basin, especially near the horizon. The sky was not
    completely dark, of course, given the cumulative light of Los Angeles.
    Twilight was just becoming visible on the eastern horizon...
    All quoted times are Pacific Standard Time. Luckily, I had just set the
    time on my digital watch just prior to observing Columbia. I used a
    local telephone-based time service at 310-853-1212. I have no way of
    estimating the accuracy of this time service. I had a clear view of
    Polaris, and used it as a basis for all azimuth estimates. I have done
    my best to estimate the uncertainty of all quoted time and position
    observations. I conducted these observations using Bushnell
    Rangemaster wide angle binoculars, 7 x 35mm, with an 11 degree
    I began my observation at approximately 5:45 a.m. Columbia first came
    into naked eye view at approximately 5:53:20 - 5:53:40, moving west to
    east, approximately 10 degrees above the horizon, perhaps a few degrees
    west of due north. Columbia appeared as a bright point of light,
    yellowish white in color, with a visible but relatively dim contrail
    appearing orange gray in color. I watched it for a few seconds
    naked-eye, then continued my observations using my binoculars. Columbia
    was beautiful! Almost immediately after beginning the binocular
    observation, with Columbia approximately 6 to 10 degrees east of due
    north, I witnessed a single piece of debris separate from the bright
    point of light which was Columbia. This debris was visible as a single
    point of light which moved back from Columbia and slightly below the
    contrail. Its brightness appeared to be significant as compared to
    Columbia itself, perhaps 10 to 20 % as bright. The debris appeared to
    maintain a fairly steady level of brightness and then winked out
    quickly. The duration of this event was approximately one second. I
    estimate that this event occurred at approximately  5:53:45 - 5:54:00
    (see figure 1).
    Approximately 3 to 6 seconds later, I witnessed a second similar event,
    another single point of light separating from Columbia. This was much
    dimmer than the first with a shorter duration before it became
    invisible, perhaps 0.5 seconds (see figure 2). I estimate that this
    event occurred at approximately  5:54:03 - 5:54:06.
    Subsequently, no additional such events were visible. Columbia remained
    visible as a single point of light during the remainder of my
    observations, moving in a straight trajectory from my point of view. It
    remained visible until it disappeared over the mountain ranges east of
    the Los Angeles basin. This occurred at approximately  5:57:00 -
    5:57:30. The point on the horizon at which I lost sight of Columbia was
    approximately 70 degrees east of due north. It occurred to me that
    Columbia was probably over Nevada or Arizona at this point....
    I have extensive experience as an aerospace illustrator, visualizing
    aerospace concepts and phenomena... using various computer graphic
    tools. I have recreated the events I witnessed and described above to
    the best of my ability, using Adobe Photoshop. I submit these as
    figures 1 and 2. On these illustrations, I have indicated the relative
    brightness of Columbia and the debris events to the best of my
    recollection, as observed through the binoculars described above.
    Also, I have positioned the debris just at the angular distance behind
    Columbia where the debris began to fade to invisibility. Note these are
    strictly illustrations based on my best recollection of observed
    		Jim Spellman
    		Lake Isabella, CA
    “Observing location: Mountain Mesa (Lake Isabella), CA
    Equipment used (binoculars, etc.): Bare naked eye in backyard
    What looked to be a normal, descending groundtrack over the southern
    Sierras; passage was a bit muted (in comparison to STS-51D mission over
    Houston, TX in 1985), due to low, thin cloud cover. Couldn't see entire
    pass, due to neighbor's house blocking view....
    [Still Images or Video]: Nope...”
    		Robert Spindler
    		Placentia, CA
    “...I was able to see the Shuttle from my view spot in Placentia,
    Calif. (near Anaheim) it was faint and low on the horizon about 10-15
    degrees. Of course not much detail on it because of all the pollutants
    I suppose. But I did see the long tail...”
    		Steve Sumner
    		Colfax, CA
    “...I watched from my home in Colfax, which is about 45 miles
    northeast of Sacramento. This was my first reentry observation. It was
    a very cool sight to see, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing
    “I sent you an observation report about an hour after seeing the
    Shuttle's reentry...I reread my report later, and decided that I
    should add a couple of details, and correct an error. So here's the
    updated version...I took a photo, but it's still in the camera. If
    you'd like, and if it turns out, I can email you a copy when I get it
    		Leslie Tanner and Jimbo Franz
    		Suisun City, CA
    “No special equipment used for viewing...
    The morning was dark with broken low clouds, but stars were
    intermittently visible, and we were hopeful. We had been out for about
    ten minutes, and were about to give it up when the clouds opened and I
    saw a bright reddish white spot (about the size of a airliner at 15K
    feet, not just a dot like a star) appear in the east about 30 degrees
    up from the horizon. It streaked across the sky from west to east,
    about 10 degrees off vertical to the north, leaving a beautiful laser
    green trail that persisted for half a minute after the Shuttle itself
    was out of site. It was the first either of us had seen a Shuttle
    reentry although we both have seen meteor showers and satellites...”
    		Kevin Tomlinson
    		Las Vegas, NV
    “...Observing Location - In front of my house in Las Vegas, NV
    Equipment Used - None, strictly visual
    Video or Pictures - None
    ...I woke up Saturday, made some coffee, and set up some chairs in our
    front driveway. We have a number of streetlights visible from our
    backyard, so I was using our house to block them out, and get a clear
    view of the northern skies. There were some high thin clouds, and the
    usual Vegas ambient light, but the major constellations were easy to
    see, and visibility was generally good. I woke up my oldest daughter,
    who woke up my youngest, and mom decided to join in also. We got
    outside at about 5:45 and waited. At roughly 5:56, my youngest was
    getting impatient, so I said "a few more minutes." I knew the window
    was from about 4:48 to 5:58.
    Suddenly, there it was! I was holding our oldest and standing, my wife
    was sitting with the youngest, and she couldn't see. "Hurry, stand up!"
    We all watched it screaming across the sky! It was just barely above
    the roofline of our house, putting it about 30 degrees above the
    northern horizon. The vapor trail was a greenish color, similar to some
    meteors--in fact, it was like watching the slowest, longest meteor you
    ever saw. I was very excited! We continued watching until it faded
    into the expanding pink of the eastern sky.  We saw no evidence of
    anything wrong...”
    		Lloyd Vadnais
    		Paso Robles, CA
    “My wife and I were watching the Shuttle about 5:58 a.m. or 5:59 a.m.
    PST. We live outside of Paso Robles, CA.
    We were looking North from our deck. We saw the light given off by
    Columbia going on a low arc. Just at the end of the arc there was a
    flash of light as the Shuttle moved along its arc.
    No equipment was used. It was not totally clear but we could see the
    light from the Shuttle going across the sky.”
    		Edward Van Guilder
    		Mount Laguna, CA
    “...Location- Mt Laguna at 6000 feet, 45 miles east of San Diego.
    Equipment- Just naked eye. First reentry observation.
    At about 0555 PST I observed a dull orange/red ball due north and
    traveling easterly at around 12 degrees elevation. There was a faint
    trail about 15 degrees long. The sighting lasted about 45 seconds. The
    Shuttle would have been in southern Nevada at the time of my
    observations. An impressive sight...”
    		Robin Weir
    		Phoenix, AZ
    “Shuttle reentry pass visible naked eye from Phoenix, AZ. First
    spotted at NNW. As it moved across N (~6:56 local) the trail became
    visible. With binos the trail looked like a thin anemic vapor trail.
    This was through thin clouds and with a rapidly brightening sky...”
    “...The bright orange/yellow part appeared larger than Jupiter and
    extended back no more than 2 diameters before the pale trail began.
    Shuttle dropped below housetops when NE...”
    		Connie Wilson
    		Saint Helena, CA
    “I observed the Space Shuttle Columbia's reentry from St. Helena in
    Napa Valley, under clear skies.  I first noticed Columbia low in the
    western sky, and watched it fly directly overhead and into the east.
    It appeared as a comet-like yellowish-orange ball, with a uniform
    contrail. I thought it looked particularly beautiful, with brilliant
    stars as its background. From my vantage point on the valley floor,
    the contrail passed right through the up-turned handle of the Big
    Dipper. About 4 minutes after its passing I heard one sonic boom. I
    did not take any pictures or video....”
    		Arnold Zigman
    		Long Beach, CA
    “...Observing location: Long Beach, CA on Stearns just west of Vuelta
    Grande looking north from bridge over flood channel with good view of
    Angeles Crest, Mt. Wilson, etc....
    ...No [optical] equipment used
    ....Fast moving light moving west to east, low on horizon just over
    the mountains, much faster than small plane moving west to east at
    same time. Approximate time was 0556.
    [Still Images or Video]: No...”
    I woke up at 5:00 a.m. on February 1st and checked the Spaceflight Now
    web site. The crew had just been given a "go" to perform their deorbit
    burn (engine firing) so I loaded my equipment in my car and at 5:25
    a.m. was enroute to Mountclef, my observing site. Mountclef is a high
    ridge in Thousand Oaks* with a good view to the north.
    During my drive I had my 2-meter ham radio in the car and talked to
    Bob, KK6UE. He was climbing a high hill behind his house to get a
    view of the reentry.
    Aviation and space enthusiast Jay McKee was already on-scene when I
    arrived at Mountclef. The sky had varying amounts of high, thin clouds.
    Unfortunately, they were fairly thick towards the north, exactly where
    Columbia was predicted to appear.
    That made trying to photograph the event pointless, so I left my
    camera in the car. Instead, I used my tripod to hold my 10x50
    I had expected others to join us, but it turned out to be just Jay and
    me. He had the foresight to bring his handheld scanner and tune it to a
    local ham radio repeater broadcasting the commentary from NASA TV.
    I looked at my printout of azimuth and elevation data for the reentry
    and pointed out to Jay where we should first see the vehicle. About
    that time the NASA commentator said Columbia was approaching the
    California coast.
    Glancing at my watch, I saw it was 5:53 a.m., right about the time we
    should first see it. Several seconds later Jay asked "Is that it?"
    Close to the northern horizon I immediately spotted a fuzzy, white
    light moving from west to east.
    I quickly went to the binoculars and found the object. With optical aid
    the Shuttle looked like a semi-bright, white star with a slight orange
    hue. It did not varying in brightness or color. Behind it was a
    conspicuous, long, luminous trail. It was semi-transparent, uniform,
    and gray in color. After several seconds the Shuttle disappeared behind
    some thick clouds in the northeast and the display was over.
    Afterwards Jay and I were pleased that we were able to see the
    reentry and were upbeat. I commented that I was suprised how fast it
    was moving.
    We parted company and I drove home. At about 6:30 a.m. I was working on
    my computer and listening to the radio when I heard a breaking news
    story that the Columbia was overdue at Kennedy Space Center and an
    eyewitness had said the Shuttle appeared to "have two tails".
    I was caught completely off guard, but I knew the Columbia was probably
    lost. A day that had gotten off to such a nice start took a sudden
    turn for the worse.
    * Many years ago, part of the movie Spartacus was filmed on Mountclef,
    about 500 feet west of where Jay and I were standing. Specifically,
    the scenes of the escaped slaves' camp the night before their final
    battle with the Roman army were filmed there. Mountclef is also
    sometimes visible in the background in episodes of the vintage TV show
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