Nine years ago today, February 1, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia was returning from a routine research mission to study microgravity and Earth science with a multitude of international scientific investigations conducted continuously during its 16 days in orbit, when it disintegrated over Texas and Louisiana. Although the flight path took it over North Texas, it was still visible from San Antonio. What I and other South Central Texans witnessed was several trails instead of just one. I knew that something was amiss and went back into the house and turned on CNN.
The loss of Columbia was a result of damage sustained during launch when a piece of foam insulation the size of a small briefcase broke off from the Space Shuttle external tank under the aerodynamic forces of launch. The debris struck the leading edge of the left wing, damaging the Shuttle’s thermal tiles, which shields it from the intense heat generated from atmospheric friction during re-entry. While Columbia was still in orbit, some engineers suspected damage, but NASA managers limited the investigation, on the grounds that little could be done even if problems were found.0
During re-entry of STS-107, the damaged area allowed the hot gases to penetrate and destroy the internal wing structure, rapidly causing the in-flight breakup of the vehicle. The debris field stretched from Nevada to Louisiana with the majority of the debris found in Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas.
In remembrance of the 17 brave men and women who gave their lives making the dream of spaceflight a reality:
Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Command Pilot
Edward H. White II, Senior Pilot
Roger B. Chaffee, Pilot
Francis R. Scobee, Commander
Michael J. Smith, Pilot
Judith A. Resnik, Mission Specialist
Ronald E. McNair, Mission Specialist
Ellison S. Onizuka, Mission Specialist
Gregory B. Jarvis, Payload Specialist
Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Payload Specialist (Teacher in Space)
Rick D. Husband, Commander
William C. McCool, Pilot
Michael P. Anderson, Payload Commander
David M. Brown, Mission Specialist
Kalpana Chawla, Mission Specialist
Laurel Blair Salton Clark, Mission Specialist
Ilan Ramon, Payload Specialist
What were you doing when the Columbia was lost?