Columbia disaster that scuttled the space shuttle
America may now be aiming to put astronauts back on the Moon, but for years the United States turned its back on manned missions after the Columbia space shuttle disaster.
Its space program suffered a catastrophic setback when the shuttle broke up while re-entering the atmosphere of the Earth on February 1, 2003, killing all seven astronauts.
After the Challenger explosion in 1986, which also killed the crew and prompted harsh criticism of NASA’s safety culture, this was the second shuttle disaster.
The two-and-a-half-year shutdown of the shuttle fleet sparked a significant shift in American space flight.
In 2004, President George W. Bush made the shockingly expensive program’s demise public.
Until Elon Musk’s Space X began flying passengers to the ISS in 2020, NASA was reliant on Russia for transport to the ISS for years following the last shuttle flight in 2011.
Washington is currently preparing for a manned mission to Mars, tentatively scheduled for late 2030s or early 2040s, in addition to the Moon.
The Columbia broke up into “trails of smoke” over eastern Texas at 203,000 feet (61,900 meters) just as the mission controller in Houston was talking to the Columbia commander, Rick Husband.
The message reads, “To Columbia, here is Houston… we did not copy your last.”
Husband quickly responded, ” Roger, but…” Contact was lost after a brief crackling sound.
At approximately 9:00 a.m. (1400 GMT), 16 minutes before it was scheduled to land, Columbia vanished from radar screens.
Local television stations captured the flaming debris from the 80-ton craft streaking across the sky over the southern United States, with parts scattered over Texas and Louisiana.
According to Bob Molter of Palestine, Texas, who was listening to National Public Radio, he saw the shuttle fall from the sky.
“I went outside because I thought there had been a train accident on the nearby line. There was a big boom that shook the house for more than a minute.
“But there was nothing, and then I looked up to see the smoke trails zigzagging across the sky,” she said.
The oldest space shuttle to reach orbit was Heroes Columbia.
It had been in operation for more than 20 years when it took off on its 28th flight on January 16, 2003, for a 16-day experimentation mission.
Due to the presence of Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, on board, Flight STS-107 was launched under extremely tight security following the September 11, 2001, attacks.
Following the tragedy, Bush rushed back to Washington and cut short his stay at the Camp David presidential retreat. He praised the crew, two of whom were women, as heroes in a televised speech.
A probe found that a piece of foam from the external fuel tank that cut through the orbiter’s left wing during liftoff caused the shuttle to disintegrate.
Because of this, it was unable to withstand the high temperatures brought on by re-entry.
The shuttle program came to an end in 1972 under President Richard Nixon. Over the next four decades, the shuttle program became the primary focus of US ambitions for human spaceflight.
In addition, the fleet served as space trucks by transporting more than 1,500 tonnes of supplies for the construction of the International Space Station and the first space telescope, Hubble.
NASA underwent sweeping changes following the Columbia disaster to enhance safety and culture.
Discovery, Endeavour, and Atlantis continued to carry out missions to the International Space Station (ISS) until 2011, when the agency resumed shuttle flights in July 2005.