What About Columbia?
On Febuary 1, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon its re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere, breaking apart over Texas and parts of Louisiana. All seven crewmembers were killed, and although Columbia’s loss was considered a great tragedy for the United States and its manned space program, it is still overshadowed by Challenger’s ill-fated launch in the collective memory of most Americans.
The final flight of Columbia was doomed from its outset. 82 seconds after it launched, a suitcase-size piece of insulation foam broke from Columbia’s external tank, causing damage to panels on Columbia’s left wing. Although the damage was suspected by NASA engineers on the ground during Columbia’s 28th mission, NASA managers limited the investigation into their concerns, determining that little could be done to repair it in any case.
Flight STS-107 Crew on the Columbia:
Colonel Rick D. Husband, Commander (U.S. Air Force)
Commander William C. McCool, Pilot (U.S. Navy)
Lieutenant Michael P. Anderson, Payload Commander (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Ilan Ramon, Payload Specialist (Israeli Air Force)
Aerospace Engineer Kalpana Chawla, Mission Specialist
Captain David M. Brown, Mission Specialist (U.S. Navy)
Captain Laurel Clark, Mission Specialist (U.S. Navy)
A massive search eventually turned up the remains of Columbia’s crew and much of the shuttle debris, during which a helicopter crash killed two additional pilots who were assisting in the ground search effort – Debris Search Pilot Jules F. Mier Jr. and Debris Search Aviation Specialist Charles Krenek.