On February 1, 2003 (13 years ago Monday), the space shuttle Columbia mission STS-107, disintegrated in the atmosphere over Texas and Lousiana. Seven people died, and it caused a two year downtime for the Shuttle program while ships were reassessed and refitted to be safer; similar to what happened after the fire on Apollo 1.
This one is probably more in everyone’s mind as it was more recent. I remember recording news broadcasts because I wanted to be able to watch it later when I had time to take in everything. (I never did…I actually don’t know where those tapes are. )
The shuttle had a piece of foam fly off during lift off, allowing heat and gasses to enter the ship during re-entry and destabilize it. The crew, which included non-American members, was incapacitated nearly instantly (all links are Wiki):
- Commander: Rick D. Husband
- Pilot: William C. McCool
- Payload Commander: Michael P. Anderson
- Payload Specialist: Ilan Ramon
- Mission Specialist: Kalpana Chawla
- Mission Specialist: David M. Brown
- Mission Specialist: Laurel Blair Salton Clark
After the two years of investigation and review, many new safety protocols were put into place, including procedures on how to repair foam displacement while in orbit. However, it brought up the idea that the Shuttles were getting too old.
The Shuttle program ended in 2011, four years ago this July after 135 missions and 30 years. It had started in April 1981 with the launch of Columbia which completed successfully 27 of its 28 missions. The remaining shuttles were sent to various locations for storage and archival, and NASA’s space program began focus is on their next project: The Orion spacecraft.
For More Information:
Space.Com: Columbia Disaster: What NASA Learned
TheAtlantic: The History of the Space Shuttle