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Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster

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The Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster happend on Saturday 1st, February, 2003 and was the second Space Shuttle Disaster and the first shuttle lost on landing. There was shock around the world over the tragedy.

Space Shuttle Columbia Crew


Space Shuttle Columbia was launched on January 16th, 2003 at 9.39am CST. Columbia (Flight STS-107) was on a 16-day science research mission in Earth orbit which performed experiments in space.

It was the 113th mission. Columbia was the oldest space shuttle in the fleet of four. It was the first space shuttle to be launched in Earth orbit in 1981.

The crew of Space Shuttle Columbia consisted of 7 astronauts:

 - Rick D. Husband - Commander
 - William C. McCool - Pilot
 - Michael P. Anderson
 - David M. Brown
 - Kalpana Chawla
 - Laurel Clark
 - Ilan Ramon - first Israeli in space


Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster Events

7-8 minutes before the failure, gauges started to loose readings in Columbia's left wing, left landing gear brake system and tyre.

7.59am (CST) temperature and pressure gauges went off scale.

8am - All vehicle data was lost at 207,135 ft above the Earth at Mach 18.3 (about 12,500 mph) when the Columbia Space Shuttle broke up over north-central Texas. It was about 16 minutes prior to its scheduled landing at Florida's Kennedy Space Center.


The last communication from Houston ground control to Columbia commander Rick Husband was:

"To Columbia, here is Houston; we see your tyre pressure messages and we did not copy your last message."

After a moment, Husband replied: "Roger but ..."

After a brief crackling noise, contact was lost. The Space Shuttle Columbia was scheduled to land 8.16am (2.16GMT).


Several white trails of smoke were seen coming from shuttle as it split up.

Residents in North Texas heard a loud boom.

Video of Columbia's descent over Texas showed the shuttle breaking up upon reentry.

Initial reports were of small bits of debris spread in a wide area in Texas. Nasa advised people not to touch shuttle debris as the shuttle engines use highly toxic chemicals.


In an address to the nation on Saturday 1st at 4.45 EST, President George W. Bush confirmed the space shuttle Columbia and its crew of seven were lost after the Orbiter broke up during reentry on its landing approach to the Kennedy Space Center.


What caused the Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster?

Security was tight at launch and no indication of sabotage.

Initial speculation was the vertical tail fin broke apart.

The reason for the break up: it seems the left wing was hit by a piece of foam from the Space Shuttle External Tank (ET) during launch. At the time of the launch it was judged that event did not represent safety concern.


Nasa did not request help in trying to observe the damaged area with ground telescopes or satellites, in part because it did not believe the pictures would be useful, whereas, on the first space shuttle launch in 1981, Columbia lost a few tiles and Nasa had requested the use of ground telescopes and satellites.

Even if they did find damage, there was nothing the crew could have done to fix it. There was no way they could carry work in space, hence the Shuttle was doomed from launch.

They could not fly to the International Space Station (ISS) because they would have been in the wrong orbit. They would have been stuck in space.


Due to the loss of Space Shuttle Columbia, the Shuttle fleet is grounded in order to investigate what caused the Space Shuttle Columbia to disintegrate as it re-entered the earth's atmosphere.

If necessary the ISS crew can return to Earth on board the three-seater Russian Soyuz Spacecraft which is docked to the ISS in case of emergencies.

The ISS crew were due to return to earth on board the US Space Shuttle Atlantis on March 1, 2003. The astronauts have enough supplies to last until June without a shuttle visit.

The grounding may threaten a temporary shutdown of manned missions to the ISS and delays in finishing its construction.


Did you know?

The first Space Shuttle Disaster was Challenger.

Barbara Morgan is to fly in November 2003 as the first teacher in space since the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster.

Related:


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Copyright 2000-2014 Vic Stathopoulos. All rights reserved.

Updated: Tuesday 1st, April, 2014

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