February 1, 2003 - Following a successful 15 day, 22 hour mission consisting of mostly scientific experiments, Space Shuttle Columbia is destroyed during re-entry over the southwestern United States, resulting in the deaths of her seven crew.
These were Rick Husband, William McCool, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson, Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramon.
During the launch of STS-107 on January 16, a piece of foam insulation broke from the external tank, striking the port-side wing and breaching the Reinforced Carbon-Carbon panels that experience some of the most intense heat during re-entry. This was the fatal blow that would prevent Columbia and her crew from returning home at Kennedy.
The loss of Columbia signaled the beginning of the end of the Space Transportation System, and the United States would be left without a manned space vehicle for years to come.
However, the change brought by the loss of the Shuttle meant a new gap to be filled by the private sector
companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, Sierra Nevada Corp, among others, that could focus on the resupply of the ISS with crew and cargo, allowing NASA to shift it’s focus to developing a new crewed vehicle to continue a mission of exploration of our solar system.
“The cause of which they died will continue. Mankind was led into the darkness beyond our world with the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand. Our journey into space will go on.”
On February 1, 2003, NASA’s first Space Shuttle, Columbia, was destroyed on reentry, claiming the lives of all seven of her crew. On this 9th anniversary, we remember (clockwise, from left) Kalpana Chawla, David M. Brown, William C. McCool, Michael P. Anderson, Ilan Ramon, Laurel B. Clark, and Cmdr. Rick D. Husband.
With this anniversary, the saddest week on NASA’s calendar comes to an end.
In 1997, Kalpana Chawla became the first Indian woman to travel in space. She acted as the mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator on flight STS-87 of the Space Shuttle Columbia, traveling over 6.5 million miles in 252 orbits of Earth and logging more than 372 hours in space.
Chawla was selected as a crew member for flight STS-107 three years later. After multiple delays due to scheduling conflicts and technical difficulties, she returned to space on January 16, 2003 to spend approximately sixteen days in orbit conducting a series of experiments on microgravity and other topics.
Tragically, Space Shuttle Columbia encountered some difficulty reentering the Earth’s atmosphere, disintegrating over Texas and resulting in the death of Chawla and her six fellow crew members on flight STS-107. She has been memorialized through scholarship funds, college dormitories, hostels and more established in her name, including the Kalpana Chawla Government Medical College in her birthplace of Karnal Haryana, India.
The photo of the tragic STS-107 shuttle flight. The film was discovered amongst the wreckage, documenting the crew in-flight self portrait. All these brave individuals were lost on February 1, 2003. May they all rest in peace.
Today, 12 years ago, the seven astronauts aboard STS-107 were lost when the Columbia Space Shuttle Orbiter broke up during re-entry.
Columbia Wreckage Today
This may be as close as I ever get to photographing the Columbia Space Shuttle Orbiter. Many people are familiar with the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida (shown in the first photo). This monolithic structure processed every Shuttle and Saturn V flight. Now, on the 16th floor, in a re-purposed room, lies the final resting place of Space Shuttle Columbia.
As I go throughout my day today, I’ll reflect upon what I felt 12 years ago. When I witnessed the accident unfold on live TV as a child, I considered the risk of spaceflight for the first time. I came to a conclusion that has stuck with me ever since. Every astronaut knowingly faces the same risk and each of them are heroes, regardless of the success or failure of their mission, because they climb atop a rocket and go. Why do they go? To expand our knowledge of the universe around us. I can’t imagine what the world would look like without the science and engineering that has come out of the space program. I’d like to think that each astronaut enjoys the adventure accompanied by this responsibility.
12 years ago, I remember going outside and taking a moment to look up to the sky and reflect on the lost crew, whose names I did not yet know. As I looked toward the sky, I remembered hearing sonic booms from previous shuttle missions, as they overflew my home after reentry. I didn’t know if I would ever hear that again. I’m sure Rick Husband, William McCool, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson, Laurel Clark and Ilan Ramon would all be happy to know that those magnificent sonic booms continued after they were gone.
On February 1, 2003 the Space Shuttle Columbia (STS 107) disintegrated over Texas and Louisiana as it reentered Earth’s atmosphere. All seven crew members were lost. We will always keep them in our thoughts.
Pause today to remember the Crew of STS-107, who all died on this day 13 years ago, February 1, 2003, when the Space Shuttle Columbia became unstable and disintegrated on re-entry over Texas. The Crew:
The Flight Commander was Rick D. Husband, a U.S. Air Force colonel and mechanical engineer, who piloted a previous shuttle during the first docking with the International Space Station on STS-96.
The Pilot was William C. McCool, a 1983 graduate of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland and U.S. Navy commander.
The Payload Commander was Michael P. Anderson, a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel. He was also a physicist and mission specialist who was in charge of the science mission.
The Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon was a colonel in the Israeli Air Force and the first Israeli astronaut.
The Mission Specialist was Kalpana Chawla, an Indian-born aerospace engineer who was on her second space mission. She was the first Indian woman in space.
The Mission Specialist was David M. Brown, a U.S. Navy captain trained as an aviator and flight surgeon.
The Mission Specialist was Laurel Blair Salton Clark, a U.S. Navy captain and flight surgeon. Clark worked on biological experiments.
The Space Shuttle Columbia was named after the poetic designation for the United States of America. This poetic name (based on Christopher Columbus, thought then as the sole discoverer of America) was meant to be both inclusive and a little bit nostalgic, in the sense that America could be embodied in a name. Clearly these seven astronauts and mission specialists embodied the best spirit of America, the inclusion of an Indian and Israeli the strongest symbol yet of what America can accomplish when unified to a common purpose. Special thought to William McCool, graduate of the USNA-I pass almost daily the ‘McCool Marker’, a memorial on the grounds of the USNA golf course to celebrate his achievements both as a Naval Aviator but also his accomplishments as a Midshipman, where he served as Captian of the Cross Country team his senior year. The marker is placed on the cross country course 16 minutes from the finish line of his fastest run on the Navy course.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and his wife, Alexis, lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns as part of NASA’s Day of Remembrance, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015, at Arlington National Cemetery. The wreaths were laid in memory of those men and women who lost their lives in the quest for space exploration
Project Habu recently had the honor of touring behind the scenes at NASA Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana. All of the Space Shuttle External Fuel Tanks were manufactured at this site, including this tank, ET-94, the last remaining fully assembled External Tank.
During launch, the external tank contains liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants, which are stored at −182.8 °C and −252.8 °C respectively. One of the systems in place to maintain this cryogenic temperature is the thermal protection system surrounding the tank; the orange foam that gives the tank it’s distinctive look.
You may ask, why didn’t ET-94 fly? Some light may be shed on the subject when you learn that the tank made before this one, ET-93, flew on STS-107; the final, disastrous flight of Columbia.
Through the whole 8.5 minute duration of launch, this external tank feeds its cryogenic propellants to the orbiter’s three main engines. Then, it drops away from the orbiter to disintegrate in the atmosphere. During that 8.5 minute ride uphill, the tank is subject to extreme vibration and aerodynamic loads. On the launch of STS-107, a 1.7lb piece of insulative foam shed from ET-93, and struck the leading edge of the orbiter’s wing, putting a basketball sized hole in a reinforced carbon-carbon panel. Days later, during reentry, superheated plasma was allowed to enter the structure of the wing, impinging upon key systems and structural elements of the orbiter, causing the vehicle to break up. This resulted in the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia Orbiter and her crew.
During the accident, ET-94 was at Kennedy Space Center, in the vertical assembly building, being readied for its mission. ET-94 was shipped back to Michoud, then dissected and studied during the columbia accident investigation. ET-94 never flew, but she played an extremely important role in enabling a safer return to flight and closeout of the Shuttle Program.