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Columbia commander’s wife recounts his ‘High Calling’

HOUSTON (BP)–Evelyn Husband had no idea how much she would cling to Proverbs 3:5-6 in the days and weeks to come as she gazed out over the ocean on Feb. 1, 2003 for one of the few sunrises she had ever witnessed.

Her husband, Rick, was coming home. She relished the thought. It had been 16 days since Rick and his crew of six fellow astronauts began a scientific mission aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia. Evelyn and her children, Laura, 12, and Matthew, 7, waited at the Florida landing site anticipating a family reunion that would never take place.

Evelyn Husband recounts the tragic loss of Columbia and its crew of seven in the book, “High Calling: The Courageous Life and Faith of Space Shuttle Columbia Commander Rick Husband.” Released in mid-January, the book was coauthored by New York Times best-selling author Donna VanLiere.

The Columbia families will be honored during Sunday’s Super Bowl pre-game activities in Houston, home of the Johnson Space Center and a large contingent of the astronaut community.

The most poignant aspect of High Calling is the fact that it is written, in part, in Rick Husband’s own words from his journals, giving voice to his struggles, his hopes and, ultimately, his confrontation with whose will would prevail — his own or God’s.

In the book, Evelyn recounts how her husband of 20 years, driven by childhood aspirations, became an astronaut. She then tells how his priorities changed from seeking the desires of his own heart to seeking the will of God.

From Rick’s journal:

“I’ve finally come to the point were I’ve put God’s will ahead of my desire to become an astronaut. Don’t get me wrong — I still want very badly to become an astronaut, but only if it is God’s will. I wish I had come to this point earlier, but better late than never.”

Maybe earlier, if he had allowed the Holy Spirit to lead his decision-making, Rick would not have lied on his NASA application. Wanting to be accepted into the astronaut corps and knowing he was qualified in every area, Husband was not honest about the fact that he had worn hard contact lenses when he was younger. Such lenses can damage eyesight, shutting the door on any chance of becoming an astronaut.

The couple went through a desert experience, literally and spiritually while stationed at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Evelyn miscarried twice during their time there. But, she wrote, she was learning to lean on God and immerse herself in His Word. And while struggling with his own personal issues, Evelyn said “Rick jumped in and started studying the Bible in a brand-new way. … That summer of 1991 became a defining moment for Rick. He was tired of wandering in the desert. He wanted to get into a love relationship with the God who kept pursuing him, the God who wouldn’t let him run away, the God who loved him no matter what he did, and he wanted to give his all to that God.”

Shortly thereafter Rick was selected to represent the Air Force in an exchange test pilot program with the Royal Air Force in Boscombe Down, Wilshire, England. It was there that the Husbands, now with 19-month-old Laura, became fast friends with Angus and Carole Hogg of Glasgow, Scotland. Evelyn told of how the Hoggs not only were friends but also godly mentors and encouragers.

Before long, Rick completely surrendered his life to Christ. In his journal he wrote:

“Okay, Lord, I don’t care what I do or where you send me; I just want to try to do [these] things: I want to be somebody that lives a life that glorifies You; I want to be a good husband; I want to be a good father; and come what may as far as the rest of it goes.”

It was then that Proverbs 3:5-6 became Rick’s life motto, Evelyn wrote.

In March 1992, Rick applied a fourth time to NASA. This time he told the truth about having worn hard contact lenses, with Evelyn noting in her book, “Rick was trusting God to get him over a big mountain.”

God honored Rick’s honesty and faithfulness in December 1994 with the realization of his dream — an appointment to NASA.

In August 1995, just a few months after returning to Texas, their son Matthew was born. Although Rick was deluged with studies in the astronaut training academy, Evelyn wrote that he never came home from work and dug into the books until he had spent time with his family and tucked the kids into bed.

Now his priorities were straight – God, family, job.

And for Evelyn when the last two elements of that list were pulled out from under her on Feb. 1, 2003, she too clung to Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

At the end of their 16-day scientific mission, the Columbia crew was coming home. Evelyn said she had thanked God for a successful mission and the fact that she was going to be with her husband soon. But as family members and invited guests waited at the landing site, happily talking and kids playing, something was going terribly wrong with Columbia.

The most stirring photograph in High Calling is of a grinning Evelyn, Laura and Matthew in front of the countdown clock. The look of anticipation of seeing Rick again is palpable. The clock shows just over 11 minutes before touchdown. But, unbeknownst to the family smiling into the camera, Daddy was already dead.

Once communications with the shuttle were lost, families were scurried to crew quarters and left alone until precise word of what happened could be given. In that time, Evelyn knew she had to pray with her children. She then called her father in Amarillo. He had been watching the broadcasts.

“‘Daddy,’ I said.

“‘Evelyn,’ he said. ‘Where are you, Precious?’ His voice sounded shaky, and I knew he’d been crying.

“‘We’re back at crew quarters. Do you know anything? Is it bad?’

“He began to cry and my heart sank.

“‘Yes, Sweetheart. It’s bad.’

“I hung up the phone and realized for the first time that Rick was dead. … I knew this was the Challenger all over again and that we were being ushered into a world that none of us ever wanted or believed we would live in.”

That world was one of a seemingly endless stream of funerals and memorials, constant reminders of the loss and gut-wrenching grief for her and her children.

Yet, despite her personal anguish, Evelyn Husband has allowed God to work through her and demonstrate His grace. People have come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior because of her witness and that of her husband, even after his death. Fellow Columbia widow and dear friend Sandy Anderson, too, has spoken out with Evelyn of the peace and joy people can have in the face of devastating loss.

Evelyn Husband came to that realization after losing Rick that she could not change anything about the past but she did have control over how she would live in the days to come.

“I knew I could trust God. He had proved Himself faithful to me again and again throughout my life, and I knew that He would continue to be faithful,” she wrote. “He has never left me. He didn’t leave Rick on February 1. He opened His arms and welcomed him home.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: RICK HUSBAND and HUSBAND’S BOOK.

    About the Author

  • Bonnie Pritchett