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By Lane Luckie

HEMPHILL, Texas (KLTV/KTRE/CNN) - It's been 10 years since the Columbia space shuttle burned up on re-entry and disintegrated over Texas. All seven crew members were killed in the disaster.

A Texas town which helped search for the shuttle debris marked the grim anniversary on Thursday.

PHOTOS:10th anniversary of Columbia disaster

Astronaut Timothy Kopra served on the international space station and flew on space shuttle Discovery. Wonderful memories, but he wants east Texans to know his time in Hemphill is just as important as a trip in space.

"A recognition of the tremendous sacrifice and contributions of the Columbia crew. The great effort contributed by dozens of organizations, which helped us recover Columbia and also the heart and soul and the character of these small towns that helped us," said Kopra.

The day the shuttle went down, Sabine County immediately began forming a bond with NASA. It grows stronger every year.

"I think so. I come back here and it reminds of 10 years ago and trying to help with the Columbia recovery effort and all the great people I met in Hemphill, in Luffkin, Nacadoches. Great people," said Kopra.

The relationship brings NASA representatives to Hemphill when ever they're invited. The new director of the Johnson Space Center, Dr. Ellen Ochoa, an astronaut herself, wants east Texas to know what Columbia meant to the future of space science.

"It really gives us a chance to talk about what we've been able to accomplish in human space flights in the last ten years and really think that's a wonderful way to honor the crew,' said Ochoa.

The sentiment is returned by grateful Hemphill residents who anxiously lined up for autographs from astronaut Kopra. He and other NASA representatives can always count on a hero's welcome when they come to Hemphill, that's something they can't even get in space.

Columbia broke apart on re-entry on February 1, 2003.

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