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Museum Honoring Shuttle Columbia Set To Open In East Texas

Eight years after the space shuttle Columbia broke apart over east Texas, the town of Hemphill is set to open a tribute museum to the astronauts and two rescue workers who died during and after the Columbia tragedy.
As Kate Archer Kent reports, a man from the Houston area played a big part in making the idea of a museum a reality.



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The Patricia Huffman Smith Museum has been a labor of love for this tiny town of 1,000 residents. Don Iles is Hemphill’s city manager.

“Columbia accident was a tragedy for the nation and definitely our community, but also it was a shining moment for community. The citizens of our community really came together to do the right thing.”

Al Smith of Sugar Land, Texas, put up the money for the 34 hundred-square-foot museum. It’s named in honor of his late wife who has roots in Sabine County. The museum is attached to the town’s library. It will be a NASA digital network learning center. That means that children will be able to have live, Web-based instruction from NASA experts around the country.

Gene Nethery is the museum’s new president. He says there are only 10 other digital centers like this.

“This is only one that NASA has authorized outside a NASA facility. So we think we’re very fortunate to have that in Hemphill, Texas, for the benefit of all children in western Louisiana and east Texas area.”

Nethery says the museum will house the complete story of Columbia and all its missions. And, he says, the astronauts who died will each have a special tribute. The museum opens on Tuesday, the eighth anniversary of the Columbia disaster.

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