HEMPHILL, Texas -- Tim Kopra took the stage at a memorial ceremony to honor his fellow astronauts. Ten years ago, he watched hopelessly as their spacecraft exploded over Texas.
"I was watching some TV screens, and blue sky and we [saw] some streaks," Kopra said. "We all knew [Space Shuttle] Columbia was due home, and then our worst fears were confirmed in minutes."
He knew three of the astronauts personally.
"We know it's a hazardous business, but it really brings it home when people you know and love perish as a consequence," Kopra said.
He said 10 years later, they all learned valuable lessons from that fateful day. On that day in 2003, the seven astronauts weren't told there might be problems with the shuttle, so they entered not knowing the danger.
"If this sort of thing were to happen again, I think we would inform the crew and work towards a resolution as best we can," he said.
Kopra said what surprised them the most was that the remains of all seven astronauts were found, and 40 percent of the shuttle was recovered. Thousands of people from across the country painstakingly searched through rough terrain and weather.
If anything should be taken from the tragedy, according to Kopra, it is that the astronauts died with honor.
"They gave their lives for their country. There were multiple countries represented," he said. "Their sacrifice was not in vain."