Millions around the world watched on February 1, 2003, when the Space Shuttle Columbia was ripped apart upon re-entry, and NASA investigations later revealed that the tragedy was likely preventable.
The Space Shuttle Columbia had made 27 successful trips to space and back, but its 28th, dubbed STS-107, was subjected to numerous delays and problems.
Its launch was originally scheduled for Jan. 11, 2001, but ultimately wouldn’t happen for another two years, on Jan. 16, 2003 — and only 80 seconds into the launch, a piece of foam insulation broke away from the shuttle’s tank and hit the Columbia’s left wing.
Some experts at NASA expressed concern that the wing could have suffered critical damage, but others felt that because similar incidents had occurred before without serious damage, the shuttle would surely be fine.they were proven wrong when the Columbia returned from orbit on February 1 and started to break apart 230,000 feet above the surface of the Earth. The remains of the crew and the debris of the shuttle were scattered across more than 2,000 locations.the Columbia disaster was one of the most tragic events in the history of the American space program — one that a later investigation determined could have been avoided entirely. So, what went wrong?
The History Of The Space Shuttle Columbia And Its Final Launch
Following the monumental success of the Apollo 11 space mission, humanity’s pursuit of life beyond the stars continued to make large strides, working toward the construction of the International Space Station and developing technology that could be used to repeatedly take mankind to space.whereas the Apollo 11 mission utilized a rocket that only allowed for a single trip, researchers and engineers later created a design for a shuttle that could take astronauts into orbit and bring them back. This shuttle was called the Columbia, named after the first American ship to travel the North American Pacific coast, and it debuted in April 1981.
According to Space, over the next two decades, the Columbia completed 27 successful missions. Meanwhile, the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster made history when it burst into a ball of flame and smoke during its launch in 1986 as the world watched it in a live broadcast.
The Columbia, it seemed, had managed to skirt any tragedy of its own, however.
So, 20 years after it was introduced, Columbia prepared for its 28th mission with a seven-person crew: Commander Rick Husband; payload commander Michael Anderson; mission specialists David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, and Laurel Clark; pilot William McCool; and payload specialist Ilan Ramon of the Israeli Space Agency — the first Israeli astronaut.
The crew embarked on a mission dubbed STS-107, a 16-day mission dedicated to various scientific experiments involving microgravity environments. They kept a video log of their experiments and time aboard the shuttle, offering a firsthand glance into life in space.
ut despite its successful launch, all was not well with the shuttle. Roughly a minute-and-a-half into their launch, a piece of foam fell from a “bipod ramp” attached to the shuttle’s external tank fell and struck Columbia’s left wing. It caused no issues during launch but raised concerns among NASA staff that the wing may have sustained significant damage.
Even as members of NASA staff called for photos of the wing in orbit, and the Department of Defense offered to examine it with orbital spy cameras, higher-ups within the space program opted not to press the issue — and argued that little could be done to fix it, even if the shuttle had been damaged.
Following the crash, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) would determine that the Columbia crew could have repaired the damage to the wing, if they had been aware of it, or that they could have remained in orbit for an additional two weeks and awaited rescue from the Atlantis shuttle, which was planned to launch on February 15.