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Published On: Sat, Feb 1st, 2014

This Day in History: Space shuttle Columbia explodes on re-entry

The Space Shuttle Columbia disaster occurred on February 1, 2003, when Columbia disintegrated over Texas and Louisiana as it reentered Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven crew members.

This is the official crew photo from mission STS-107 on the Space Shuttle Columbia. From left to right are mission specialist David Brown, commander Rick Husband, mission specialist Laurel Clark, mission specialist Kalpana Chawla, mission specialist Michael Anderson, pilot William McCool, and Israeli payload specialist Ilan Ramon. All were killed when the shuttle disintegrated over Texas. photo/NASA

This is the official crew photo from mission STS-107 on the Space Shuttle Columbia. From left to right are mission specialist David Brown, commander Rick Husband, mission specialist Laurel Clark, mission specialist Kalpana Chawla, mission specialist Michael Anderson, pilot William McCool, and Israeli payload specialist Ilan Ramon.
All were killed when the shuttle disintegrated over Texas. photo/NASA

President George W. Bush addressed the United States: “This day has brought terrible news and great sadness to our country … The Columbia is lost; there are no survivors.”

Despite the disaster, Bush assured Americans that the space program would continue: “The cause in which they died will continue. […] Our journey into space will go on.”

As the investigation into the tragedy began space shuttle flight operations were delayed for over two years and construction of the International Space Station (ISS) was put on hold.

More than 2,000 debris fields were found in sparsely populated areas from Nacogdoches in East Texas, where a large amount of debris fell, to western Louisiana and the southwestern counties of Arkansas.

One debris field has been mapped along a path stretching from south of Fort Worth to Hemphill, Texas, as well as into parts of Louisiana.

On August 26, the CAIB issued its report on the accident. The report confirmed the immediate cause of the accident was a breach in the leading edge of the left wing, caused by insulating foam shed during launch. The report also delved deeply into the underlying organizational and cultural issues that led to the accident.

The report was highly critical of NASA’s decision-making and risk-assessment processes. It concluded the organizational structure and processes were sufficiently flawed and that a compromise of safety was expected no matter who was in the key decision-making positions.

In 2004, Bush conferred posthumous Congressional Space Medals of Honor to all 14 astronauts lost in the Challenger and Columbia accidents.

The April 12, 1981 launch of Space Shuttle Columbia photo NASA

The April 12, 1981 launch of Space Shuttle Columbia photo NASA

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  1. Fixing the NASA Piloted Program After Challenger: Views from 1989 and 1993 … – Wired says:

    […] badged to watch Space Shuttle launches from the Press Site bleachers, just three-and-a-half …This Day in History: Space shuttle Columbia explodes on re-entryThe Global DispatchRemembering NASA's fallen heroesOrlando SentinelRand Simberg column: Death […]

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