On February 1, 2003 the Space Shuttle “Columbia” disintegrated over Texas during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. All seven crew members were killed and questions flooded the media. What happened? What went wrong? Why were they able to enter outer space and not return safely? Let’s take a closer look at the Columbia Space Shuttle Disaster.
The Space Shuttle Mission for “Columbia” had been delayed eighteen times over the previous two years. Its original launch date was January 11, 2001; it was to be the 113th Space Shuttle Launch. The loss of “Columbia” was due to damage sustained during the launch when a piece of foam insulation, known as the “Left Bipod Foam Ramp” broke off the main propellant tank. The debris from that piece of the shuttle struck the leading edge of the left wing and damaged the Shuttle’s thermal protection system. Some of the engineers of the shuttle suspected damage as they watched it in orbit, but NASA managers did not launch a full investigation on the grounds that there was little they could even do if such a problem had occurred or was found. It was during the “Columbia’s”re-entry that hot gases began to penetrate the internal wing structure which would eventually cause the disintegration of the space shuttle. A massive ground search was made after the catastrophe and crew member remains were found in Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas, along with many shuttle pieces.
Repercussions for future Space Programs
After the loss of “Columbia” the space shuttle program was suspended in order to find answers to questions. There was also a delay in the construction of the International Space Station because the actual space shuttles were the only available vehicle for station modules. In July of 2003, only five months after the Columbia disaster, polls revealed that Americans still wanted to move forward with a space program saying that it was a good investment. As the space program continued to receive positive feedback, President Bush announced the Vision for Space Exploration. He called for the retirement of the space shuttle fleet following the construction of the International Space Station, and called for the new development of the Crew Exploration Vehicle. This would eventually lead to the successful launch of Space Shuttle “Discovery”.
Members of the Columbia
There were seven members aboard the space shuttle Columbia. They are as follows:
1.Commander, Rick D. Husband. He was a US Air Force colonel and a mechanical engineer who had previously piloted a shuttle with the International Space Station.
2.Pilot, William C. McCool; also a US Navy Commander
3.Payload Specialist, Ilan Ramon. Ramon was a colonel in the Israeli Air Force and the first Israeli astronaut. There were suspicions about a terrorist act being the cause of the Columbia disaster because of an Israeli astronaut. That theory was quickly laid to rest.
4.Payload Commander, Michael P. Anderson was a US Air Force lieutenant colonel and physicist who was in charge of the science mission.
5. Mission Specialist, David M. Brown was a US Navy captain who was trained as an aviator and flight surgeon.
6.Mission Specialist, Kalpana Chawla, was an Indian-born aerospace engineer. This would be her second space mission.
7.Mission Specialist, Laurel Clark was a US Navy Captain and flight surgeon.
The Columbia Space Shuttle disaster was a tragic end to an amazing journey for its seven members. On February 4, 2003 President George Bush led a memorial service for the families of those fallen astronauts at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. Two days later a public service was offered so the nation could pay their respects as well.