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The life and legacy of Rick Husband

As the one-year anniversary of the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy approaches, a new book shares the story of the courageous commander. Read an excerpt of Evelyn Husband's "High Calling: The Courageous Life and Faith of Space Shuttle Columbia Commander Rick Husband."
/ Source: TODAY

On Feb. 1, 2003, when the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart just minutes before its scheduled return to earth, America lost seven heroes. Evelyn Husband, wife of Columbia’s commander Rick Husband, lost much more — the love of her life, the father of her children, the backbone of her family. Now, as the one-year anniversary of the Columbia tragedy approaches, she shares the story of her family's journey in her new book titled, "High Calling: The Courageous Life and Faith of Space Shuttle Columbia Commander Rick Husband." She discusses the book on "Today." Read an excerpt here:

Launch Slips, Lice, and Blessings in Between
Saturday, January 4, began the last weekend Rick had at home before he went into quarantine, and he had a to-do list that just never ended. Rick was famous for his lists, and sometimes at the end of them he would write “Build Rome in a Day,” because he knew it was impossible to get everything done. That day, he had an impossible list: he wanted to be sure the cars were in good shape, the finances were in order, and small repairs were done around the house so that everything was in working order for us during his absence. But first thing in the morning, we wanted to get together with Mike and Sandy Anderson to pray for the launch and mission.

Laura was having trouble with a science project, and in the journal, Rick admitted he was in a “foot dragging mood,” so we moved our prayer time to ten. When Mike and Sandy arrived, their children, Kaycee and Sydney, ran upstairs to play with Laura and Matthew, and we didn’t hear a peep from any of them for the two hours we were together. 

Rick wrote: We had a great prayer time with Mike and Sandy. It was so nice to pray through all the “stuff” that was on our minds and to lay everything at the feet of Jesus. I felt much better after we prayed!

Something poignant happened during our time with Mike and Sandy. We sat at our dining room table, and Mike brought up Ron McNair, an African-American who was on the space shuttle Challenger when it exploded. Mike related what Ron’s family had gone through as a result of the Challenger accident and how he didn’t want to put his own family through that.

“One of the hardest things you do is say good-bye to your family,” Steve Lindsey says. “You think about your kids — will I see them again? I’m not worried about me when I go up. I know where I’m going if something happens, so I’m not afraid to die. I’m afraid that I won’t be there for my kids. That’s what worries me. That’s what worries every astronaut.” Sandy held on to Mike’s hand that morning and we prayed for the mission and for all of the crew members and their families, and we prayed that all of us would have peace about every aspect of the mission that was less than two weeks away.

We said good-bye to the Andersons at noon, and Matthew and I headed to Kroger to pick up some groceries while Rick started fixing things around the house. My cell phone rang, and I saw that it was Rick.

 “Evelyn, Laura has head lice,” he said. 

For two weeks, Laura had told me her head was itching, but I kept dismissing it as something in the air because we’d been running the heater for two weeks straight or as an allergic reaction to shampoo. I kept blowing it off because I was busy and didn’t have time to focus on an itchy head. My defenses went up immediately. 

“No, she doesn’t,” I said. 

“Yes, she does. I found something in her hair.”

“She doesn’t have lice.”

“I looked it up on the Internet and it’s identical. It’s the same thing. She has head lice.”

I was defensive because I felt my mothering skills were being challenged to the limit. If she had lice, that meant I had failed my family, and the ramifications were huge. Rick was only a few days from quarantine, and if we couldn’t eradicate the problem and the crew members got head lice, the mission could be delayed again, and it would be Evelyn Husband’s fault! In my mind, I could already see the newspaper headlines.

Laura has long, beautiful hair that she washes more often than even I think is necessary; she takes excellent care of it. We discovered that cleanliness has nothing to do with head lice. We called the NASA flight clinic, and they told us all the disgusting things you have to do to get rid of the lice — none of which were going to be simple or quick.

Rick and I had opposite personalities: He was very slow and deliberate, extremely meticulous and calm, while I bounced off the walls. We decided that he would take care of Laura that afternoon while I tried to get the bugs out of our house. I ran upstairs and ripped the sheets, blankets, pillows, and comforters off our beds. I threw the sheets and blankets in the washer and took the comforters to the dry cleaner.

In the journal Rick wrote: Laura and I settled down in the big bathroom for “treatments” while Evelyn started washing or bagging everything in sight! Evey’s outlook on life wasn’t too high at this point either!

My outlook actually stunk at that point! The washing machine overflowed into the dining room, and I quickly cleaned up that mess and started the washer again. Several minutes later it overflowed again. At that time, I thought it was necessary to have a little conversation with God. “Didn’t You hear us ask for peace three hours ago when the Andersons were here? Have You seen the to-do list Rick has today? Don’t You know he’s going into quarantine in a few days? What’s the deal?”

As I mopped up buckets of water from the floor, Rick gently washed Laura’s hair in Rit, the shampoo NASA had prescribed, and repeatedly told her how beautiful her hair was and that everything was going to be okay. When Matthew knew what was happening, he made himself scarce, careful not to invade our space during that tense time. While I continued to run through the house and bag up the stuffed animals for a two-week quarantine of their own, Rick proceeded to painstakingly take little sections of Laura’s hair and comb it with a tiny comb that gets out the eggs. Then he had to twirl each section up and pin it before he could move on to another section. It took hours, but Rick never made Laura feel as if he had anything else to do. He kept telling her how proud he was to have her as a daughter and how much he loved her and how thankful he was that she loved Jesus. Rick’s “Build Rome in a Day” list was long forgotten; Laura needed him.

As I ran through the house tearing things apart, I could hear them talking and laughing together, and I could hear Rick’s deep voice speaking tenderly to her. He knew that she was embarrassed and that her self-esteem had taken a hit, but he kept loving her and telling her again and again that everything would work out just fine. He was so gentle and good to her that day.

Laura was supposed to go to her best friend’s birthday party, and I was going to drop her off at a meeting point at five o’clock in Clear Lake. She didn’t want anyone to know that she had lice; I had to call and say we were running late. Several minutes later my friend thought she’d do us a favor and drove to our house to pick up Laura. When I answered the door, my crazy eyes must have told her it had not been the best of days. Rick and I were also supposed to be at a crew dinner with all the spouses that night at seven o’clock. I knew there was no way we could get everything done.

Rick finished with Laura around 6:30, and I sped across Houston to get her to a birthday party that was forty-five minutes away. But she breezed in with beautiful, lice-free hair. Rick gave Matthew a preventive treatment and then did one on himself before showing up at the crew dinner thirty minutes late. It was 9:30 when I finally arrived from the other side of town where I had dropped Laura. I didn’t say what had happened because Laura was embarrassed by it, so I just said we had a bad day. Someone later said I should have told them we had a bad hair day, which would have been the understatement of the century! 

At the end of that day’s journal entry, Rick wrote: God, as always, took care of us through a very challenging day in which we prayed a lot!

During my quiet times, I had been working on giving thanks for everything but found it difficult to thank God for Laura’s head lice. How could anyone be thankful for that? Almost immediately, a scene from the book The Hiding Place came to mind about Corrie Ten Boom and her sister, Betsie, who were prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp. Their quarters were infested with fleas, and they itched day and night. Corrie was complaining, and Betsie said they needed to give thanks to God for the fleas because they needed to be thankful for everything. Corrie couldn’t see it that way. As it turned out, the fleas kept the guards from entering their barracks, and they were able to have Bible studies with the other women and minister to them without anyone bothering them. Their fleas had been a blessing from God.

I felt as if the Lord was saying, I gave Laura five uninterrupted hours with her dad. I was laid low by that because I thought about how lovingly Rick had attended to Laura and how differently I would have handled it. He was patient; he loved on her; he edified her; he told her how beautiful she was. They wouldn’t have had that time together were it not for the lice — our list of things to do that day would never have allowed it. We never got to any of the items on that list, but who cares! God gave us a blessing instead.

Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc. from "High Calling: The Courageous Life and Faith of Space Shuttle Columbia Commander Rick Husband." Copyright 2003 by Evelyn Husband. All rights reserved. To learn more you can also visit: