February 4, 2003 – Memorial For Shuttle Columbia – Past Daily Reference Room
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February 4, 2003 – Shuttle Columbia, destroyed within minutes of re-entry to earth, killing all crew members aboard.
Columbia was destroyed at about 09:00 EST on February 1, 2003, while re-entering the atmosphere after a 16-day scientific mission. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board determined that a hole was punctured in the leading edge on one of Columbia’s wings, which was made of a carbon composite. The hole had formed when a piece of insulating foam from the external fuel tank peeled off during the launch 16 days earlier and struck the shuttle’s left wing. During the intense heat of re-entry, hot gases penetrated the interior of the wing, likely compromising the hydraulic system and leading to control failure of the control surfaces. The resulting loss of control exposed minimally protected areas of the orbiter to full-entry heating and dynamic pressures that eventually led to vehicle break up.
The report delved deeply into the underlying organizational and cultural issues that the Board believed contributed to the accident. The report was highly critical of NASA’s decision-making and risk-assessment processes. Further, the board determined that, unlike NASA’s early claims, a rescue mission would have been possible using the Shuttle Atlantis, which was essentially ready for launch, and might have saved the Columbia crewmembers. The nearly 84,000 pieces of collected debris of the vessel are stored in a 16th-floor office suite in the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center. The collection was opened to the media once and has since been open only to researchers. Unlike Challenger, which had a replacement orbiter built, Columbia did not.
The seven crew members who died aboard this final mission were: Rick Husband, Commander; William C. McCool, Pilot; Michael P. Anderson, Payload Commander/Mission Specialist 3; David M. Brown, Mission Specialist 1; Kalpana Chawla, Mission Specialist 2; Laurel Clark, Mission Specialist 4; and Ilan Ramon, Payload Specialist 1.
Here is the memorial service, as it was broadcast live on February 4, 2003 by National Public Radio.