A 40th anniversary I missed a year ago…

No, not our wedding anniversary. That was 51 years ago on Feb. 13, 1971.

This anniversary was March 30, 1982, when the Space Shuttle Columbia landed at what was then called Northrup Strip on White Sands Missile Range, virtually in our back yard here in southern New Mexico.

Columbia, which began its mission on March 22, 1982, was forced to change landing locations because of poor weather conditions in southern California at Edwards Air Force Base. As happens so often, the weather conditions from southern California moved to New Mexico and caused high winds for the next several days.

I remember watching the landing on live on television. What I remembered was that the shuttle’s landing gear did not extend until the last minute — it looked to me like it was only about 20 feet off the ground when the gear came down. I was afraid it was going to do a belly landing on the hardpack gypsum landing strip. After the gear game down, the aircraft, which had no brakes, rolled for what seemed forever before coming to a stop. At one point as it rolled along the ground, the nose pitched up as if it was planning to do a touch-and-go landing maneuver.

Below is a video link provided by KOAT-TV in Albuquerque of the landing. It was posted on Twitter this week.

A few days later, the public was invited to view the Columbia as it waited on the ground to be attached to its Boeing 747 mothership and flown back to Florida.

As it turned out, I was on a road trip somewhere to coach the New Mexico State University rugby team and could not go. My wife, Margo, however, was determined for our kids to see it. She drove herself and our children — Tyler was three and Lindsay had just turned one — on a circuitous route to Northrup Strip. Attached is a faded photograph of Tyler holding (it looks like a choke-hold) Lindsay, who was not at all happy to be there.

Tyler holding a recalcitrant Lindsay with the Space Shuttle Columbia in the background

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