Space Shuttle Columbia disaster
Overview
The Space Shuttle Columbia disaster occurred on February 1, 2003, when shortly before it was scheduled to conclude its 28th mission, STS-107
STS-107
-Mission parameters:*Mass:**Orbiter Liftoff: **Orbiter Landing: **Payload: *Perigee: *Apogee: *Inclination: 39.0°*Period: 90.1 min- Insignia :...

, the Space Shuttle Columbia
Space Shuttle Columbia
Space Shuttle Columbia was the first spaceworthy Space Shuttle in NASA's orbital fleet. First launched on the STS-1 mission, the first of the Space Shuttle program, it completed 27 missions before being destroyed during re-entry on February 1, 2003 near the end of its 28th, STS-107. All seven crew...

 disintegrated over Texas
Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

 and Louisiana during re-entry
Re-Entry
"Re-Entry" was the second album released by UK R&B / Hip Hop collective Big Brovaz. After the album was delayed in May 2006, the band finally release the follow-up to "Nu Flow" on 9 April 2007...

 into the Earth's atmosphere
Earth's atmosphere
The atmosphere of Earth is a layer of gases surrounding the planet Earth that is retained by Earth's gravity. The atmosphere protects life on Earth by absorbing ultraviolet solar radiation, warming the surface through heat retention , and reducing temperature extremes between day and night...

, resulting in the death of all seven crew members. Debris from Columbia fell to Earth in Texas along a path stretching from Trophy Club
Trophy Club, Texas
Trophy Club is an affluent town located in Denton and Tarrant Counties in the U.S. state of Texas. It is a wealthy northern suburb of the city of Fort Worth and is part of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. The population was 8,024 at the 2010 Census...

 to Tyler
Tyler, Texas
Tyler is a city in and the county seat of Smith County, Texas, in the United States. It takes its name from President John Tyler . The city had a population of 109,000 in 2010, according to the United States Census Bureau...

, as well as into parts of Louisiana
Louisiana
Louisiana is a state located in the southern region of the United States of America. Its capital is Baton Rouge and largest city is New Orleans. Louisiana is the only state in the U.S. with political subdivisions termed parishes, which are local governments equivalent to counties...

.

The loss of Columbia was a result of damage sustained during launch when a piece of foam insulation the size of a small briefcase broke off from the Space Shuttle external tank
Space Shuttle external tank
A Space Shuttle External Tank is the component of the Space Shuttle launch vehicle that contains the liquid hydrogen fuel and liquid oxygen oxidizer. During lift-off and ascent it supplies the fuel and oxidizer under pressure to the three Space Shuttle Main Engines in the orbiter...

 (the 'ET' main propellant tank) under the aerodynamic forces of launch.
Encyclopedia
The Space Shuttle Columbia disaster occurred on February 1, 2003, when shortly before it was scheduled to conclude its 28th mission, STS-107
STS-107
-Mission parameters:*Mass:**Orbiter Liftoff: **Orbiter Landing: **Payload: *Perigee: *Apogee: *Inclination: 39.0°*Period: 90.1 min- Insignia :...

, the Space Shuttle Columbia
Space Shuttle Columbia
Space Shuttle Columbia was the first spaceworthy Space Shuttle in NASA's orbital fleet. First launched on the STS-1 mission, the first of the Space Shuttle program, it completed 27 missions before being destroyed during re-entry on February 1, 2003 near the end of its 28th, STS-107. All seven crew...

 disintegrated over Texas
Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

 and Louisiana during re-entry
Re-Entry
"Re-Entry" was the second album released by UK R&B / Hip Hop collective Big Brovaz. After the album was delayed in May 2006, the band finally release the follow-up to "Nu Flow" on 9 April 2007...

 into the Earth's atmosphere
Earth's atmosphere
The atmosphere of Earth is a layer of gases surrounding the planet Earth that is retained by Earth's gravity. The atmosphere protects life on Earth by absorbing ultraviolet solar radiation, warming the surface through heat retention , and reducing temperature extremes between day and night...

, resulting in the death of all seven crew members. Debris from Columbia fell to Earth in Texas along a path stretching from Trophy Club
Trophy Club, Texas
Trophy Club is an affluent town located in Denton and Tarrant Counties in the U.S. state of Texas. It is a wealthy northern suburb of the city of Fort Worth and is part of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. The population was 8,024 at the 2010 Census...

 to Tyler
Tyler, Texas
Tyler is a city in and the county seat of Smith County, Texas, in the United States. It takes its name from President John Tyler . The city had a population of 109,000 in 2010, according to the United States Census Bureau...

, as well as into parts of Louisiana
Louisiana
Louisiana is a state located in the southern region of the United States of America. Its capital is Baton Rouge and largest city is New Orleans. Louisiana is the only state in the U.S. with political subdivisions termed parishes, which are local governments equivalent to counties...

.

The loss of Columbia was a result of damage sustained during launch when a piece of foam insulation the size of a small briefcase broke off from the Space Shuttle external tank
Space Shuttle external tank
A Space Shuttle External Tank is the component of the Space Shuttle launch vehicle that contains the liquid hydrogen fuel and liquid oxygen oxidizer. During lift-off and ascent it supplies the fuel and oxidizer under pressure to the three Space Shuttle Main Engines in the orbiter...

 (the 'ET' main propellant tank) under the aerodynamic forces of launch. The debris struck the leading edge
Leading edge
The leading edge is the part of the wing that first contacts the air; alternatively it is the foremost edge of an airfoil section. The first is an aerodynamic definition, the second a structural one....

 of the left wing, damaging the Shuttle's thermal protection system (TPS)
Space Shuttle thermal protection system
The Space Shuttle thermal protection system is the barrier that protects the Space Shuttle Orbiter during the searing heat of atmospheric reentry...

, which shields it from the intense heat generated from atmospheric friction during re-entry. While Columbia was still in orbit, some engineers suspected damage, but NASA
NASA
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation's civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research...

 managers limited the investigation, on the grounds that little could be done even if problems were found.

NASA's original shuttle design specifications stated that the external tank was not to shed foam or other debris; as such, strikes upon the shuttle itself were safety issues that needed to be resolved before a launch was cleared. Launches were often given the go-ahead as engineers came to see the foam shedding and debris strikes as inevitable and unresolvable, with the rationale that they were either not a threat to safety, or an acceptable risk. The majority of shuttle launches recorded such foam strikes and thermal tile scarring. On STS-112
STS-112
STS-112 was an 11-day space shuttle mission to the International Space Station flown by . Space Shuttle Atlantis was launched on 7 October 2002 at 19:45 UTC from the Kennedy Space Center's launch pad 39B to deliver the 28,000 pound Starboard 1 truss segment to the Space Station...

, two launches before, a chunk of foam broke away from the ET bipod ramp and hit the SRB-ET Attach Ring near the bottom of the left SRB
Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster
The Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters were the pair of large solid rockets used by the United States' NASA Space Shuttle during the first two minutes of powered flight. Together they provided about 83% of liftoff thrust for the Space Shuttle. They were located on either side of the rusty or...

 causing a dent four inches wide and three inches deep in it. After that mission, the situation was analyzed and NASA decided to press ahead under the justification that "The ET is safe to fly with no new concerns (and no added risk)" of further foam strikes, justification that was revisited while Columbia was still in orbit and Chair of the Mission Management Team (MMT) Linda Ham
Linda Ham
Linda Ham is currently the Constellation Program Transition Manager at NASA. She was formerly the program integration manager in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Space Shuttle Program Office...

 re-assessed, stating that the “Rationale was lousy then and still is”. Ham as well as Shuttle Program Manager Ron Dittemore
Ron Dittemore
Ron D. Dittemore former shuttle program manager of NASA, is currently the president of ATK Launch Systems Group, formerly known as ATK Thiokol Propulsion, part of Alliant Techsystems , Inc.- Education :...

 had both been present at the October 31, 2002 meeting where this decision to continue with launches was made.

During re-entry of STS-107, the damaged area allowed the hot gases to penetrate and destroy the internal wing structure, rapidly causing the in-flight breakup of the vehicle. An extensive ground search in parts of Texas, Louisiana
Louisiana
Louisiana is a state located in the southern region of the United States of America. Its capital is Baton Rouge and largest city is New Orleans. Louisiana is the only state in the U.S. with political subdivisions termed parishes, which are local governments equivalent to counties...

, and Arkansas
Arkansas
Arkansas is a state located in the southern region of the United States. Its name is an Algonquian name of the Quapaw Indians. Arkansas shares borders with six states , and its eastern border is largely defined by the Mississippi River...

 recovered crew remains and many vehicle fragments.

Mission STS-107
STS-107
-Mission parameters:*Mass:**Orbiter Liftoff: **Orbiter Landing: **Payload: *Perigee: *Apogee: *Inclination: 39.0°*Period: 90.1 min- Insignia :...

 was the 113th Space Shuttle launch. It was delayed 18 times over the two years from its planned launch date of January 11, 2001, to its actual launch date of January 16, 2003. (It was preceded by STS-113
STS-113
STS-113 was a Space Shuttle mission to the International Space Station flown by Space Shuttle Endeavour. During the 14-day mission in late 2002, Endeavour and its crew extended the ISS backbone with the P1 truss and exchanged the Expedition 5 and Expedition 6 crews aboard the station...

.) A launch delay due to cracks in the shuttle's propellant
Propellant
A propellant is a material that produces pressurized gas that:* can be directed through a nozzle, thereby producing thrust ;...

 distribution system occurred one month before a July 19, 2002 launch date. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board
Columbia Accident Investigation Board
The Columbia Accident Investigation Board was convened by NASA to investigate the destruction of the Space Shuttle Columbia during STS-107 upon atmospheric re-entry on February 1, 2003. In addition to determining the cause of the accident, the panel also recommended changes that should be made...

 (CAIB) determined that this delay had nothing to do with the catastrophic failure six months later.

The Columbia Accident Investigation Board's recommendations addressed both technical and organizational issues. Space Shuttle flight operations were delayed for two years, similar to the delay following the Challenger accident
Space Shuttle Challenger disaster
The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster occurred on January 28, 1986, when Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, leading to the deaths of its seven crew members. The spacecraft disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of central Florida at 11:38 am EST...

. Construction of the International Space Station
International Space Station
The International Space Station is a habitable, artificial satellite in low Earth orbit. The ISS follows the Salyut, Almaz, Cosmos, Skylab, and Mir space stations, as the 11th space station launched, not including the Genesis I and II prototypes...

 was put on hold, and for 29 months the station relied entirely on the Russian Federal Space Agency
Russian Federal Space Agency
The Russian Federal Space Agency , commonly called Roscosmos and abbreviated as FKA and RKA , is the government agency responsible for the Russian space science program and general aerospace research. It was previously the Russian Aviation and Space Agency .Headquarters of Roscosmos are located...

 for resupply until Shuttle flights resumed with STS-114
STS-114
-Original crew:This mission was to carry the Expedition 7 crew to the ISS and bring home the Expedition 6 crew. The original crew was to be:-Mission highlights:...

 and 41 months for crew rotation until STS-121
STS-121
STS-121 was a space shuttle mission to the International Space Station flown by Space Shuttle Discovery. The main purposes of the mission were to test new safety and repair techniques introduced following the Columbia disaster of February 2003 as well as to deliver supplies, equipment and...

. Major changes to shuttle operations, after missions resumed, included a thorough on-orbit inspection to determine how well the shuttle's thermal protection system had endured the ascent, and keeping a designated rescue mission at the ready in case irreparable damage was found. Also it had been decided that all missions would be flown only to ISS so that the crew could use that spacecraft as a "safe haven" if need be. Later NASA decided it would be an acceptable risk to make one exception to that policy for one final mission
STS-125
STS-125, or HST-SM4 , was the fifth and final space shuttle servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope .Launch occurred on 11 May 2009 at 2:01 pm EDT...

 to repair Hubble in its high-altitude low-inclination orbit.

Crew

  • Commander: Rick D. Husband, a U.S. Air Force
    United States Air Force
    The United States Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the American uniformed services. Initially part of the United States Army, the USAF was formed as a separate branch of the military on September 18, 1947 under the National Security Act of...

     colonel
    Colonel
    Colonel , abbreviated Col or COL, is a military rank of a senior commissioned officer. It or a corresponding rank exists in most armies and in many air forces; the naval equivalent rank is generally "Captain". It is also used in some police forces and other paramilitary rank structures...

     and mechanical engineer
    Mechanical engineering
    Mechanical engineering is a discipline of engineering that applies the principles of physics and materials science for analysis, design, manufacturing, and maintenance of mechanical systems. It is the branch of engineering that involves the production and usage of heat and mechanical power for the...

    , who piloted a previous shuttle during the first docking with the International Space Station
    International Space Station
    The International Space Station is a habitable, artificial satellite in low Earth orbit. The ISS follows the Salyut, Almaz, Cosmos, Skylab, and Mir space stations, as the 11th space station launched, not including the Genesis I and II prototypes...

     (STS-96
    STS-96
    STS-96 was a Space Shuttle mission to the International Space Station flown by Space Shuttle Discovery, and the first shuttle flight to dock with the International Space Station. The shuttle carried the Spacehab module in the payload, filled with cargo for station outfitting...

    ).
  • Pilot: William C. McCool
    William C. McCool
    William Cameron "Willie" McCool was a United States Navy Commander, NASA astronaut and the pilot of Space Shuttle Columbia mission STS-107...

    , a U.S. Navy
    United States Navy
    The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

     commander
    Commander
    Commander is a naval rank which is also sometimes used as a military title depending on the individual customs of a given military service. Commander is also used as a rank or title in some organizations outside of the armed forces, particularly in police and law enforcement.-Commander as a naval...

  • Payload Commander: Michael P. Anderson, a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel
    Colonel
    Colonel , abbreviated Col or COL, is a military rank of a senior commissioned officer. It or a corresponding rank exists in most armies and in many air forces; the naval equivalent rank is generally "Captain". It is also used in some police forces and other paramilitary rank structures...

     and physicist
    Physicist
    A physicist is a scientist who studies or practices physics. Physicists study a wide range of physical phenomena in many branches of physics spanning all length scales: from sub-atomic particles of which all ordinary matter is made to the behavior of the material Universe as a whole...

     who was in charge of the science mission.
  • Payload Specialist: Ilan Ramon
    Ilan Ramon
    Ilan Ramon was a fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force, and later the first Israeli astronaut....

    , a colonel in the Israeli Air Force
    Israeli Air Force
    The Israeli Air Force is the air force of the State of Israel and the aerial arm of the Israel Defense Forces. It was founded on May 28, 1948, shortly after the Israeli Declaration of Independence...

     and the first Israeli astronaut
    Astronaut
    An astronaut or cosmonaut is a person trained by a human spaceflight program to command, pilot, or serve as a crew member of a spacecraft....

    .
  • Mission Specialist: Kalpana Chawla
    Kalpana Chawla
    Kalpana Chawla was an Indian-American astronaut with NASA. She was one of seven crew members killed in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.-Early life:...

    , an India
    India
    India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

    n-born aerospace engineer
    Aerospace engineering
    Aerospace engineering is the primary branch of engineering concerned with the design, construction and science of aircraft and spacecraft. It is divided into two major and overlapping branches: aeronautical engineering and astronautical engineering...

     was on her second space mission.
  • Mission Specialist: David M. Brown, a U.S. Navy captain trained as an aviator and flight surgeon
    Flight surgeon
    A flight surgeon is a military medical officer assigned to duties in the clinical field variously known as aviation medicine, aerospace medicine, or flight medicine...

    . Brown worked on a number of scientific experiments.
  • Mission Specialist: Laurel Clark, a U.S. Navy captain and flight surgeon. Clark worked on a number of biological experiments.

Debris strike during launch

]

Approximately 82 seconds after launch from Kennedy Space Center
Kennedy Space Center
The John F. Kennedy Space Center is the NASA installation that has been the launch site for every United States human space flight since 1968. Although such flights are currently on hiatus, KSC continues to manage and operate unmanned rocket launch facilities for America's civilian space program...

's LC-39-A, a suitcase-size piece of thermal insulation
Thermal insulation
Thermal insulation is the reduction of the effects of the various processes of heat transfer between objects in thermal contact or in range of radiative influence. Heat transfer is the transfer of thermal energy between objects of differing temperature...

 foam broke off from the External Tank (ET), striking Columbia's left wing reinforced carbon-carbon
Reinforced carbon-carbon
Carbon fibre-reinforced carbon is a composite material consisting of carbon fibre reinforcement in a matrix of graphite. It was developed for the nose cones of intercontinental ballistic missiles, and is most widely known as the material for the nose cone and wing leading edges of the Space Shuttle...

 (RCC) panels. As demonstrated by ground experiments conducted by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, this likely created a 6 to 10 in (15.2 to 25.4 cm) diameter hole, allowing hot gases to enter the wing when Columbia later reentered the atmosphere. At the time of the foam strike, the orbiter was at an altitude of about 66000 ft (20.1 km; 12.5 mi), traveling at Mach 2.46 (1870 miles per hour or 836 m/s).

The Left Bipod Foam Ramp is an approximately three-foot (one-meter) aerodynamic component made entirely of foam. The foam, not normally considered to be a structural material, is required to bear some aerodynamic loads. Because of these special requirements, the casting-in-place and curing of the ramps may be performed only by a senior technician. The shuttle's main fuel tank
Space Shuttle external tank
A Space Shuttle External Tank is the component of the Space Shuttle launch vehicle that contains the liquid hydrogen fuel and liquid oxygen oxidizer. During lift-off and ascent it supplies the fuel and oxidizer under pressure to the three Space Shuttle Main Engines in the orbiter...

 is covered in foam as an insulator, to avoid ice forming on it when full of liquid hydrogen
Liquid hydrogen
Liquid hydrogen is the liquid state of the element hydrogen. Hydrogen is found naturally in the molecular H2 form.To exist as a liquid, H2 must be pressurized above and cooled below hydrogen's Critical point. However, for hydrogen to be in a full liquid state without boiling off, it needs to be...

 and oxygen
Liquid oxygen
Liquid oxygen — abbreviated LOx, LOX or Lox in the aerospace, submarine and gas industries — is one of the physical forms of elemental oxygen.-Physical properties:...

, which itself could damage the shuttle when shed during lift-off. The bipod ramp (having left and right sides) was originally designed to reduce aerodynamic stresses around the bipod attachment points at the external tank, but it was proven unnecessary in the wake of the accident and was removed from the external tank design for tanks flown after STS-107 (another foam ramp along the liquid oxygen line was also later removed from the tank design to eliminate it as a foam debris source, after complex analysis and tests proved this change safe).

Bipod Ramp insulation had been observed falling off, in whole or in part, on four previous flights: STS-7
STS-7
STS-7 was a NASA Space Shuttle mission, during which Space Shuttle Challenger deployed several satellites into orbit. The shuttle launched from Kennedy Space Center on 18 June 1983, and landed at Edwards Air Force Base on 24 June. STS-7 was the seventh shuttle mission, and was Challengers second...

 (1983), STS-32
STS-32
STS-32 was the 33rd mission of NASA's Space Shuttle program, and the 9th launch of Space Shuttle Columbia. Launching on 9 January 1990, it marked the first time since STS-61-C that Pad A at Kennedy Space Center's Complex 39 was used for a launch; it also marked the first use of Mobile Launcher...

 (1990), STS-50
STS-50
-Backup crew:-Mission parameters:*Mass:**Orbiter landing with payload: **Payload: *Perigee: *Apogee: *Inclination: 28.5°*Period: 90.6 min- Mission highlights:...

 (1992) and most recently STS-112
STS-112
STS-112 was an 11-day space shuttle mission to the International Space Station flown by . Space Shuttle Atlantis was launched on 7 October 2002 at 19:45 UTC from the Kennedy Space Center's launch pad 39B to deliver the 28,000 pound Starboard 1 truss segment to the Space Station...

 (just two launches prior to STS-107). Ironically, STS-112 had been the first flight with the "ET Cam", a video feed mounted on the ET for the purpose of giving greater insight to the foam shedding problem. Post-107 analysis revealed that (STS-52
STS-52
-Mission parameters:*Mass:**Orbiter landing with payload: **Payload: *Perigee: *Apogee: *Inclination: 28.5°*Period: 90.6 min-Mission highlights:...

 and -62
STS-62
STS-62 was a Space Shuttle program mission flown aboard . The primary payloads were the USMP-02 microgravity experiments package and the OAST-2 engineering and technology payload, both in the orbiter's cargo bay. The two-week mission also featured a number of biomedical experiments focusing on the...

) also had bipod ramp foam loss that went undetected. In addition, Protuberance Air Load (PAL) ramp foam has also shed pieces, plus spot losses from large-area foams. At least one previous strike caused no serious damage. NASA management came to refer to this phenomenon as "foam shedding." As with the O-ring erosions that ultimately doomed the Space Shuttle Challenger
Space Shuttle Challenger
Space Shuttle Challenger was NASA's second Space Shuttle orbiter to be put into service, Columbia having been the first. The shuttle was built by Rockwell International's Space Transportation Systems Division in Downey, California...

, NASA management became accustomed to these phenomena when no serious consequences resulted from these earlier episodes. This phenomenon was termed "normalization of deviance" by sociologist Diane Vaughan in her book on the Challenger launch decision process
Space Shuttle Challenger launch decision
The Space Shuttle Challenger launch decision was the decision-making process that led to the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986 despite inclement weather conditions and the warnings of many engineers working both for NASA and for NASA contractors Morton Thiokol and Rockwell...

.

Video taken during lift-off of STS-107 was routinely reviewed two hours later and revealed nothing unusual. The following day, higher-resolution film that had been processed overnight revealed the foam debris striking the left wing, potentially damaging the thermal protection on the Space Shuttle. At the time, the exact location where the foam struck the wing could not be determined due to the low resolution of the tracking camera footage.

Flight risk management

In a risk-management scenario similar to the Challenger disaster, NASA management failed to recognize the relevance of engineering concerns for safety for imaging to inspect possible damage, and failed to respond to engineer requests about the status of astronaut inspection of the left wing. Engineering made three separate requests for Department of Defense
United States Department of Defense
The United States Department of Defense is the U.S...

 (DOD) imaging of the shuttle in orbit to more precisely determine damage. While the images were not guaranteed to show the damage, the capability existed for imaging of sufficient resolution to provide meaningful examination. NASA management did not honor the requests and in some cases intervened to stop the DOD from assisting. The CAIB recommended subsequent shuttle flights be imaged while in orbit using ground-based or space-based Department of Defense assets.

NASA's chief thermal protection system
Space shuttle thermal protection system
The Space Shuttle thermal protection system is the barrier that protects the Space Shuttle Orbiter during the searing heat of atmospheric reentry...

 (TPS) engineer was concerned about left wing TPS damage and asked NASA management whether an astronaut would visually inspect it. NASA managers never responded.

Throughout the risk assessment process, senior NASA managers were influenced by their belief that nothing could be done even if damage was detected. This affected their stance on investigation urgency, thoroughness and possible contingency actions. They decided to conduct a parametric "what-if" scenario study more suited to determine risk probabilities of future events, instead of inspecting and assessing the actual damage. The investigation report in particular singled out NASA manager Linda Ham
Linda Ham
Linda Ham is currently the Constellation Program Transition Manager at NASA. She was formerly the program integration manager in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Space Shuttle Program Office...

 for exhibiting this attitude.

Much of the risk assessment hinged on damage predictions to the thermal protection system. These fall into two categories: damage to the silica tile on the wing lower surface, and damage to the reinforced carbon-carbon
Reinforced carbon-carbon
Carbon fibre-reinforced carbon is a composite material consisting of carbon fibre reinforcement in a matrix of graphite. It was developed for the nose cones of intercontinental ballistic missiles, and is most widely known as the material for the nose cone and wing leading edges of the Space Shuttle...

 (RCC) leading-edge panels. (The TPS includes a third category of components, thermal insulating blankets, but damage predictions are not typically performed on them. Damage assessments on the thermal blankets can be performed after an anomaly has been observed, and this has been done, at least once after the return to flight following Columbia's loss.)

Damage-prediction software was used to evaluate possible tile and RCC damage. The tool for predicting tile damage was known as "Crater", described by several NASA representatives in press briefings as not actually a software program but rather a statistical spreadsheet of observed past flight events and effects. The "Crater" tool predicted severe penetration of multiple tiles by the impact if it struck the TPS tile area, but NASA engineers downplayed this. The engineers believed that results showing that the model overstated damage from small projectiles meant that the same would be true of larger Spray-On Foam Insulation (SOFI) impacts. The program used to predict RCC damage was based on small ice impacts the size of cigarette butts, not larger SOFI impacts, as the ice impacts were the only recognized threats to RCC panels up to that point. Under 1 of 15 predicted SOFI impact paths, the software predicted an ice impact would completely penetrate the RCC panel. Engineers downplayed this, too, believing that impacts of the less dense SOFI material would result in less damage than ice impacts. In an e-mail exchange, NASA managers questioned whether the density of the SOFI could be used as justification for reducing predicted damage. Despite engineering concerns about the energy imparted by the SOFI material, NASA managers ultimately accepted the rationale to reduce predicted damage of the RCC panels from possible complete penetration to slight damage to the panel's thin coating.

Ultimately the NASA Mission Management Team felt there was insufficient evidence to indicate that the strike was an unsafe situation, so they declared the debris strike a "turnaround" issue (not of highest importance) and denied the requests for the Department of Defense
United States Department of Defense
The United States Department of Defense is the U.S...

 images.

Destruction during re-entry

The following is a timeline of Columbia's re-entry. The shuttle was scheduled to land at 9:16 a.m. EST.
  • 2:30 a.m. EST, February 1, 2003 – The Entry Flight Control Team
    Flight controller
    Flight controllers are personnel who aid in the operations of a space flight, working in Mission Control Centers such as NASA's Mission Control Center, or ESA's Operations Center. Flight controllers sit at computer consoles and use telemetry to monitor in real time various technical aspects of a...

     began duty in the Mission Control Center
    Mission Control Center
    A mission control center is an entity that manages aerospace vehicle flights, usually from the point of lift-off until the landing or the end of the mission. A staff of flight controllers and other support personnel monitor all aspects of the mission using telemetry, and send commands to the...

    .
The Flight Control Team had not been working on any issues or problems related to the planned de-orbit and re-entry of Columbia. In particular, the team had indicated no concerns about the debris impact to the left wing during ascent, and treated the re-entry like any other. The team worked through the de-orbit preparation checklist and re-entry checklist procedures. Weather forecasters, with the help of pilots in the Shuttle Training Aircraft
Shuttle Training Aircraft
The Shuttle Training Aircraft is a NASA training vehicle that duplicates the Space Shuttle's approach profile and handling qualities, allowing Space Shuttle pilots to simulate Shuttle landings under controlled conditions before attempting the task on board the orbiter.-Development:The aircraft's...

, evaluated landing-site weather conditions at the Kennedy Space Center.
  • 8:00 – Mission Control Center Entry Flight Director LeRoy Cain
    LeRoy E. Cain
    Leroy E. Cain is a NASA engineer. Formerly a flight director, he became the manager of Space Shuttle Launch Integration at Kennedy Space Center in November 2005....

     polled the Mission Control room for a GO/NO-GO decision for the de-orbit burn.
All weather observations and forecasts were within guidelines set by the flight rules, and all systems were normal.
  • 8:10 – The Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM) notified the crew that they were GO for de-orbit burn.
  • 8:15:30 (EI-1719) – Husband and McCool executed the de-orbit burn using Columbia’s two Orbital Maneuvering System engines.
The Orbiter was upside down and tail-first over the Indian Ocean
Indian Ocean
The Indian Ocean is the third largest of the world's oceanic divisions, covering approximately 20% of the water on the Earth's surface. It is bounded on the north by the Indian Subcontinent and Arabian Peninsula ; on the west by eastern Africa; on the east by Indochina, the Sunda Islands, and...

 at an altitude of 175 miles (281.6 km) when the burn was executed. The de-orbit maneuver was performed on the 255th orbit, and the 2-minute, 38-second burn slowed the Orbiter from 17500 mile per hour to begin its re-entry into the atmosphere. During the de-orbit burn, the crew felt about 10% of the effects of gravity. There were no problems during the burn, after which Husband maneuvered Columbia into a right-side-up, forward-facing position, with the Orbiter's nose pitched up.
  • 8:44:09 (EI+000) – Entry Interface (EI), arbitrarily defined as the point at which the Orbiter enters the discernible atmosphere at 400000 ft (121.9 km; 75.8 mi), occurred over the Pacific Ocean
    Pacific Ocean
    The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south, bounded by Asia and Australia in the west, and the Americas in the east.At 165.2 million square kilometres in area, this largest division of the World...

    .
As Columbia descended from outer space into the atmosphere, the heat produced by air molecules colliding with the Orbiter typically caused wing leading-edge temperatures to rise steadily, reaching an estimated 2500 °F (1,371.1 °C) during the next six minutes. (As former Space Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale stated in a press briefing, about 90% of this heating is the result of compression of the atmospheric gas caused by the orbiter's supersonic flight, rather than the result of friction.)

  • 8:48:39 (EI+270) – A sensor on the left wing leading edge spar showed strains higher than those seen on previous Columbia re-entries.
This was recorded only on the Modular Auxiliary Data System, which is similar in concept to a flight data recorder
Flight data recorder
A flight data recorder is an electronic device employed to record any instructions sent to any electronic systems on an aircraft. It is a device used to record specific aircraft performance parameters...

, and was not telemetered to ground controllers or displayed to the crew.
  • 8:49:32 (EI+323) – Columbia executed a planned roll to the right. Speed: Mach
    Mach number
    Mach number is the speed of an object moving through air, or any other fluid substance, divided by the speed of sound as it is in that substance for its particular physical conditions, including those of temperature and pressure...

     24.5.
Columbia began a banking turn to manage lift and therefore limit the Orbiter's rate of descent and heating.
  • 8:50:53 (EI+404) – Columbia entered a 10-minute period of peak heating, during which the thermal stresses were at their maximum. Speed: Mach 24.1; altitude: 243000 ft (74.1 km; 46 mi).
  • 8:52:00 (EI+471) – Columbia was approximately 300 miles (482.8 km) west of the California
    California
    California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

     coastline.
The wing leading-edge temperatures usually reached 2650 °F (1,454.4 °C) at this point.
  • 8:53:26 (EI+557) – Columbia crossed the California coast west of Sacramento
    Sacramento
    Sacramento is the capital of the state of California, in the United States of America.Sacramento may also refer to:- United States :*Sacramento County, California*Sacramento, Kentucky*Sacramento – San Joaquin River Delta...

    . Speed: Mach 23; altitude: 231600 ft (70.6 km; 43.9 mi).

The Orbiter's wing leading edge typically reached more than 2800 °F (1,537.8 °C) at this point.
  • 8:53:46 (EI+597) – Signs of debris being shed were sighted by people out to watch. Speed: Mach 22.8; altitude: 230200 ft (70.2 km; 43.6 mi).
The superheated air surrounding the Orbiter suddenly brightened, causing a streak in the Orbiter's luminescent trail that was quite noticeable in the pre-dawn skies over the West Coast. Observers witnessed another four similar events during the following 23 seconds. Dialogue on some of the amateur footage indicates the observers were aware of the abnormality of what they were filming.
  • 8:54:24 (EI+613) – The Maintenance, Mechanical, and Crew Systems (MMACS) officer informed the Flight Director that four hydraulic sensors in the left wing were indicating "off-scale low." In Mission Control, re-entry had been proceeding normally up to this point.
"Off-scale low" is a reading that falls below the minimum capability of the sensor, and it usually indicates that the sensor has failed (stopped functioning, due to internal or external factors), rather than that the quantity it measures is actually below the sensor's minimum response value.
The Entry Team continued to discuss the failed indicators.
  • 8:54:25 (EI+614) – Columbia crossed from California into Nevada
    Nevada
    Nevada is a state in the western, mountain west, and southwestern regions of the United States. With an area of and a population of about 2.7 million, it is the 7th-largest and 35th-most populous state. Over two-thirds of Nevada's people live in the Las Vegas metropolitan area, which contains its...

     airspace. Speed: Mach 22.5; altitude: 227400 ft (69.3 km; 43.1 mi).
Witnesses observed a bright flash at this point and 18 similar events in the next four minutes.
  • 8:55:00 (EI+651) – Nearly 11 minutes after Columbia re-entered the atmosphere, wing leading-edge temperatures normally reached nearly 3000 °F (1,648.9 °C).
  • 8:55:32 (EI+683) – Columbia crossed from Nevada into Utah
    Utah
    Utah is a state in the Western United States. It was the 45th state to join the Union, on January 4, 1896. Approximately 80% of Utah's 2,763,885 people live along the Wasatch Front, centering on Salt Lake City. This leaves vast expanses of the state nearly uninhabited, making the population the...

    . Speed: Mach 21.8; altitude: 223400 ft (68.1 km; 42.3 mi).
  • 8:55:52 (EI+703) – Columbia crossed from Utah into Arizona
    Arizona
    Arizona ; is a state located in the southwestern region of the United States. It is also part of the western United States and the mountain west. The capital and largest city is Phoenix...

    .
  • 8:56:30 (EI+741) – Columbia initiated a roll reversal, turning from right to left over Arizona.
  • 8:56:45 (EI+756) – Columbia crossed from Arizona to New Mexico
    New Mexico
    New Mexico is a state located in the southwest and western regions of the United States. New Mexico is also usually considered one of the Mountain States. With a population density of 16 per square mile, New Mexico is the sixth-most sparsely inhabited U.S...

    . Speed: Mach 20.9; altitude: 219000 ft (66.8 km; 41.5 mi).
  • 8:57:24 (EI+795) – Columbia crossed just north of Albuquerque.
  • 8:58:00 (EI+831) – At this point, wing leading-edge temperatures typically decreased to 2880 °F (1,582.2 °C).
  • 8:58:20 (EI+851) – Columbia crossed from New Mexico into Texas. Speed: Mach 19.5; altitude: 209800 ft (63.9 km; 39.7 mi).
At about this time, the Orbiter shed a Thermal Protection System tile, the most westerly piece of debris that has been recovered. Searchers found the tile in a field in Littlefield, Texas
Littlefield, Texas
Littlefield is a city in and the county seat of Lamb County, Texas, United States. The population was 6,507 at the 2000 census. It is located in a significant cotton growing region, northwest of Lubbock on the Llano Estacado just south of the beginning of the Texas Panhandle...

, just northwest of Lubbock
Lubbock, Texas
Lubbock is a city in and the county seat of Lubbock County, Texas, United States. The city is located in the northwestern part of the state, a region known historically as the Llano Estacado, and the home of Texas Tech University and Lubbock Christian University...

.
  • 8:59:15 (EI+906) – MMACS informed the Flight Director that pressure readings had been lost on both left main landing-gear tires. The Flight Director then told the Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM) to let the crew know that Mission Control saw the messages and was evaluating the indications, and added that the Flight Control Team did not understand the crew's last transmission.
  • 8:59:32 (EI+923) – A broken response from the mission commander was recorded: "Roger, uh, bu – [cut off in mid-word] ..." It was the last communication from the crew and the last telemetry
    Telemetry
    Telemetry is a technology that allows measurements to be made at a distance, usually via radio wave transmission and reception of the information. The word is derived from Greek roots: tele = remote, and metron = measure...

     signal received in Mission Control.
  • 8:59:37 (EI+928) – Hydraulic pressure, which is required to move the flight control surfaces, was lost at approximately GMT 13:59:37. At that time, the Master Alarm would have sounded for the loss of hydraulics and the crew would have become aware of a serious problem.
  • 9:00:18 (EI+969) – Videos and eyewitness reports by observers on the ground in and near Dallas
    Dallas, Texas
    Dallas is the third-largest city in Texas and the ninth-largest in the United States. The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is the largest metropolitan area in the South and fourth-largest metropolitan area in the United States...

     revealed that the Orbiter had disintegrated overhead, continuing to break up into more and smaller pieces, and leaving multiple contrail
    Contrail
    Contrails or vapour trails are artificial clouds that are the visible trails of condensed water vapour made by the exhaust of aircraft engines...

    s, as it continued eastward. In Mission Control, while the loss of signal was a cause for concern, there was no sign of any serious problem. Prior to orbiter breakup at GMT 14:00:18, the Columbia cabin pressure was nominal and the crew was capable of conscious actions.
  • 9:05 – Residents of north central Texas, particularly near Tyler
    Tyler, Texas
    Tyler is a city in and the county seat of Smith County, Texas, in the United States. It takes its name from President John Tyler . The city had a population of 109,000 in 2010, according to the United States Census Bureau...

    , reported a loud boom, a small concussion wave, smoke trails and debris in the clear skies above the counties east of Dallas.
  • 9:12:39 (EI+1710) – After hearing of reports of the shuttle being seen to break apart, the NASA flight director declared a contingency (events leading to loss of the vehicle) and alerted search and rescue teams in the debris area. He made a call to the Ground Controller
    Flight controller
    Flight controllers are personnel who aid in the operations of a space flight, working in Mission Control Centers such as NASA's Mission Control Center, or ESA's Operations Center. Flight controllers sit at computer consoles and use telemetry to monitor in real time various technical aspects of a...

    : "GC; flight, GC; flight. Lock the doors." Two minutes later Mission Control put contingency procedures into effect. Nobody was permitted to enter or leave the room, and flight controller
    Flight controller
    Flight controllers are personnel who aid in the operations of a space flight, working in Mission Control Centers such as NASA's Mission Control Center, or ESA's Operations Center. Flight controllers sit at computer consoles and use telemetry to monitor in real time various technical aspects of a...

    s had to preserve all the mission data for later investigation.

Presidential response

At 14:04 EST (19:04 UTC), President George W. Bush
George W. Bush
George Walker Bush is an American politician who served as the 43rd President of the United States, from 2001 to 2009. Before that, he was the 46th Governor of Texas, having served from 1995 to 2000....

 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."

Recovery of debris

More than 2,000 debris fields, including human remains, were found in sparsely populated areas southeast of Dallas from Nacogdoches
Nacogdoches, Texas
Nacogdoches is a city in Nacogdoches County, Texas, in the United States. The 2010 census recorded the city's population to be 32,996. It is the county seat of Nacogdoches County and is situated in East Texas. Nacogdoches is a sister city of Natchitoches, Louisiana.Nacogdoches is the home of...

 in East Texas
East Texas
East Texas is a distinct geographic and ecological area in the U.S. state of Texas.According to the Handbook of Texas, the East Texas area "may be separated from the rest of Texas roughly by a line extending from the Red River in north central Lamar County southwestward to east central Limestone...

, where a large amount of debris fell, to western Louisiana
Louisiana
Louisiana is a state located in the southern region of the United States of America. Its capital is Baton Rouge and largest city is New Orleans. Louisiana is the only state in the U.S. with political subdivisions termed parishes, which are local governments equivalent to counties...

 and the southwestern counties of Arkansas
Arkansas
Arkansas is a state located in the southern region of the United States. Its name is an Algonquian name of the Quapaw Indians. Arkansas shares borders with six states , and its eastern border is largely defined by the Mississippi River...

. Within the months following the tragedy the largest ever organized ground search took place. NASA issued warnings to the public that any debris could contain hazardous chemicals, that it should be left untouched, its location reported to local emergency services or government authorities, and that anyone in unauthorized possession of debris would be prosecuted. Because of the widespread area, volunteer amateur radio
Amateur radio
Amateur radio is the use of designated radio frequency spectrum for purposes of private recreation, non-commercial exchange of messages, wireless experimentation, self-training, and emergency communication...

 operators accompanied the search teams to provide communications support.

A group of small (1 mm) adult Caenorhabditis elegans
Caenorhabditis elegans
Caenorhabditis elegans is a free-living, transparent nematode , about 1 mm in length, which lives in temperate soil environments. Research into the molecular and developmental biology of C. elegans was begun in 1974 by Sydney Brenner and it has since been used extensively as a model...

 worms, living in petri dish
Petri dish
A Petri dish is a shallow glass or plastic cylindrical lidded dish that biologists use to culture cells or small moss plants. It was named after German bacteriologist Julius Richard Petri, who invented it when working as an assistant to Robert Koch...

es enclosed in aluminium canisters, survived re-entry and impact with the ground and were recovered weeks after the disaster. The culture was verified as still alive on April 28, 2003. They were part of a Biological Research in canisters experiment designed to study the effect of weightlessness on physiology
Physiology
Physiology is the science of the function of living systems. This includes how organisms, organ systems, organs, cells, and bio-molecules carry out the chemical or physical functions that exist in a living system. The highest honor awarded in physiology is the Nobel Prize in Physiology or...

; the experiment was conducted by Cassie Conley
Cassie Conley
Catharine Anastasia Conley is NASA's Planetary Protection Officer.-Education:Conley received her Ph.D. in Plant Biology from Cornell University in 1994, and obtained a postdoctoral fellow position at The Scripps Research Institute studying proteins involved in muscle contraction...

, NASA's current Planetary protection
Planetary protection
Planetary protection is the term used to describe a guiding principle in design of an interplanetary mission that aims to prevent biological contamination of both the target celestial body and the Earth. This principle arises from the scientific need to preserve planetary conditions for future...

 officer.

Debris Search Pilot Jules F. Mier Jr. and Debris Search Aviation Specialist Charles Krenek died in a helicopter crash that injured three others while they were contributing to the ground search effort.

Some Texas residents recovered some of the debris, ignoring the warnings, and attempted to sell it on the online auction site
Online auction business model
The online auction business model is one in which participants bid for products and services over the Internet. The functionality of buying and selling in an auction format is made possible through auction software which regulates the various processes involved.Several types of online auctions are...

 eBay
EBay
eBay Inc. is an American internet consumer-to-consumer corporation that manages eBay.com, an online auction and shopping website in which people and businesses buy and sell a broad variety of goods and services worldwide...

, starting at $10,000. The auction was quickly removed, but auctions for Columbia merchandise such as programs, photographs and patches, went up dramatically in value immediately following the disaster, creating a surge of Columbia-related listings. A three-day amnesty offered for looted shuttle debris brought in hundreds of illegally recovered pieces. There were approximately 40,000 recovered pieces of debris that were never identified. The largest pieces recovered include the front landing gear, and a window frame.

On May 9, 2008, it was reported that data from a disk drive on board Columbia survived the shuttle accident. The drive was used to store data from an experiment on the properties of shear thinning
Shear thinning
Shear thinning is an effect where a fluid's viscosity—the measure of a fluid's resistance to flow—decreases with an increasing rate of shear stress. Another name for a shear thinning fluid is a pseudoplastic. This property is found in certain complex solutions, such as lava, ketchup, whipped cream,...

. Although part of the 340MB drive was damaged, the area that contained the data was unharmed and could be recovered.

On July 29, 2011, Nacogdoches authorities notified NASA about the discovery of a 4 feet (1.2 m) diameter piece of debris that was found in a lake. NASA identified the piece as a "PRSD: power reactant storage and distribution".

Onboard video

One item recovered from the debris field was a videotape recording made by the astronauts during the start of re-entry. The video recording lasts for 13 minutes and shows the flight crew astronauts conducting routine re-entry procedures and joking with each other, none of them giving any indication of a problem. The video shows the flight-deck crew putting on their gloves and passing the video camera around in order to take footage of plasma
Plasma (physics)
In physics and chemistry, plasma is a state of matter similar to gas in which a certain portion of the particles are ionized. Heating a gas may ionize its molecules or atoms , thus turning it into a plasma, which contains charged particles: positive ions and negative electrons or ions...

 and flames visible outside the windows of the orbiter (a completely normal occurrence), and ends approximately four minutes prior to the start of the shuttle's disintegration. On normal flights, the recording would have continued through landing. According to the online introduction given by Scott Altman
Scott Altman
Scott Douglas "Scooter" Altman, is a United States Navy Captain test pilot and former NASA astronaut. He is a veteran of four space shuttle missions. His fourth mission on STS-125 was the last servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope.-Personal:Born in Lincoln, Illinois, Scott is married to...

, the remainder of the tape was "destroyed in the accident."

Investigation

Initial Investigation

NASA Space Shuttle Program Manager Ron Dittemore
Ron Dittemore
Ron D. Dittemore former shuttle program manager of NASA, is currently the president of ATK Launch Systems Group, formerly known as ATK Thiokol Propulsion, part of Alliant Techsystems , Inc.- Education :...

 reported that "The first indication was loss of temperature sensors and hydraulic systems on the left wing. They were followed seconds and minutes later by several other problems, including loss of tire pressure indications on the left main gear and then indications of excessive structural heating". Analysis of 31 seconds of telemetry data which had initially been filtered out because of data corruption within it showed the shuttle fighting to maintain its orientation, eventually using maximum thrust from its Reaction Control System jets.

The investigation focused on the foam strike from the very beginning. Incidents of debris strikes from ice and foam causing damage during take-off were already well known, and had damaged orbiters, most noticeably during STS-45
STS-45
STS-45 was a 1992 spaceflight using Space Shuttle Atlantis.-Crew:-Mission parameters:*Mass:**Orbiter landing with payload: **Payload: *Perigee: *Apogee: *Inclination: 57.0°*Period: 90.3 min...

, STS-27
STS-27
STS-27 was a NASA Space Shuttle mission, the 27th shuttle mission overall and the third flight of Space Shuttle Atlantis. Launching on 2 December 1988 on a four-day mission, it was the second shuttle flight after the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster of 1986. STS-27 carried a classified payload for...

, and STS-87
STS-87
STS-87 was a Space Shuttle mission launched from KSC pad 39-B on 19 November 1997. It was the 88th flight of the Space Shuttle, and the 24th flight of Columbia...

. Tile damage had also been traced to ablating insulating material from the cryogenic fuel tank in the past. The composition of the foam insulation had been changed in 1997 to exclude the use of freon
Haloalkane
The haloalkanes are a group of chemical compounds derived from alkanes containing one or more halogens. They are a subset of the general class of halocarbons, although the distinction is not often made. Haloalkanes are widely used commercially and, consequently, are known under many chemical and...

, a chemical that is suspected to cause ozone depletion
Ozone depletion
Ozone depletion describes two distinct but related phenomena observed since the late 1970s: a steady decline of about 4% per decade in the total volume of ozone in Earth's stratosphere , and a much larger springtime decrease in stratospheric ozone over Earth's polar regions. The latter phenomenon...

; while NASA was exempted from legislation phasing out CFCs, the agency chose to change the foam nonetheless. STS-107 used an older "lightweight tank" (a design that was succeeded by the "superlightweight tank", both being upgrades from the original space shuttle external tank) where the foam was sprayed on to the larger cylindrical surfaces using the newer freon-free foam. However, the bipod ramps were manufactured from BX-250 foam which was excluded from the EPA regulations and did use the original freon formula. The composition change did not contribute to the accident. In any case, the original formulation had shown frequent foam losses, as discussed earlier in this article.

Independent Investigation Board

Following protocols established after the loss
Space Shuttle Challenger disaster
The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster occurred on January 28, 1986, when Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, leading to the deaths of its seven crew members. The spacecraft disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of central Florida at 11:38 am EST...

 of Challenger
Space Shuttle Challenger
Space Shuttle Challenger was NASA's second Space Shuttle orbiter to be put into service, Columbia having been the first. The shuttle was built by Rockwell International's Space Transportation Systems Division in Downey, California...

, an independent investigating board was created immediately following the accident. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board, or CAIB, was chaired by Air Force Brigadier General Duane W. Deal and consisted of expert military and civilian analysts who investigated the accident in great detail.

Columbias flight data recorder was found near Hemphill, Texas
Hemphill, Texas
Hemphill is a city in Sabine County, Texas, United States. The population was 1,106 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Sabine County. It is located on State Highway 87 at the junction of State Highway 184, and is surrounded by the Sabine National Forest and the Toledo Bend...

 on March 20, 2003. Unlike commercial jet aircraft, the space shuttles do not have flight data recorders intended for after-crash analysis. Rather the vehicle data are transmitted in real time to the ground via telemetry
Telemetry
Telemetry is a technology that allows measurements to be made at a distance, usually via radio wave transmission and reception of the information. The word is derived from Greek roots: tele = remote, and metron = measure...

. However, since Columbia was the first shuttle, it had a special flight data OEX (Orbiter EXperiments) recorder, designed to help engineers better understand vehicle performance during the first test flights. After the initial Shuttle test-flights were completed, the recorder was never removed from Columbia and was still functioning on the crashed flight. It records many hundreds of different parameter
Parameter
Parameter from Ancient Greek παρά also “para” meaning “beside, subsidiary” and μέτρον also “metron” meaning “measure”, can be interpreted in mathematics, logic, linguistics, environmental science and other disciplines....

s and contained very extensive logs of structural and other data which allowed the CAIB to reconstruct many of the events during the process leading to breakup. Investigators could often use the loss of signals from sensors on the wing to track how the damage progressed. This was correlated with forensic debris analysis conducted at Lehigh University
Lehigh University
Lehigh University is a private, co-educational university located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in the Lehigh Valley region of the United States. It was established in 1865 by Asa Packer as a four-year technical school, but has grown to include studies in a wide variety of disciplines...

 and other tests to obtain a final conclusion about the probable events.

On July 7, 2003 foam impact tests were performed by Southwest Research Institute
Southwest Research Institute
Southwest Research Institute , headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, is one of the oldest and largest independent, nonprofit, applied research and development organizations in the United States...

, which used a compressed air gun to fire a foam block of similar size and mass to that which struck Columbia and at same estimated speed. To represent the leading edge of Columbia's left wing, RCC
Reinforced carbon-carbon
Carbon fibre-reinforced carbon is a composite material consisting of carbon fibre reinforcement in a matrix of graphite. It was developed for the nose cones of intercontinental ballistic missiles, and is most widely known as the material for the nose cone and wing leading edges of the Space Shuttle...

 panels from NASA stock, along with the actual leading-edge panels from Enterprise
Space Shuttle Enterprise
The Space Shuttle Enterprise was the first Space Shuttle orbiter. It was built for NASA as part of the Space Shuttle program to perform test flights in the atmosphere. It was constructed without engines or a functional heat shield, and was therefore not capable of spaceflight...

, which were fiberglass, were mounted to a simulating structural metal frame. Over many days, tens of these blocks of foam were shot at the wing leading edge model at various angles, aimed at different specific RCC panels, most of which produced only cracks or surface damage to the RCC. In the final round of testing, a block fired at the side of an RCC panel created a hole 41 by in the protective RCC panel. The tests clearly demonstrated that a foam impact of the type Columbia sustained could seriously breach the thermal protection system on the wing leading edge.

Conclusions

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 compromise of safety was expected no matter who was in the key decision-making positions. An example was the position of Shuttle Program Manager, where one individual was responsible for achieving safe, timely launches and acceptable costs, which are often conflicting goals. The CAIB report found that NASA had accepted deviations from design criteria as normal when they happened on several flights and did not lead to mission-compromising consequences. One of those was the conflict between a design specification stating the thermal protection system
Space shuttle thermal protection system
The Space Shuttle thermal protection system is the barrier that protects the Space Shuttle Orbiter during the searing heat of atmospheric reentry...

 was not designed to withstand significant impacts and the common occurrence of impact damage to it during flight. The board made recommendations for significant changes in processes and organizational culture.

On December 30, 2008 NASA released a further report, entitled Columbia Crew Survival Investigation Report, produced by a second commission, the Spacecraft Crew Survival Integrated Investigation Team (SCSIIT). NASA had commissioned this group, "to perform a comprehensive analysis of the accident, focusing on factors and events affecting crew survival, and to develop recommendations for improving crew survival for all future human space flight vehicles." The report concluded that: "The Columbia depressurization event occurred so rapidly that the crew members were incapacitated within seconds, before they could configure the suit for full protection from loss of cabin pressure. Although circulatory systems functioned for a brief time, the effects of the depressurization were severe enough that the crew could not have regained consciousness. This event was lethal to the crew."

The report also concluded:
  • The crew did not have time to prepare themselves. Some crew members were not wearing their safety gloves, and one crew member was not wearing a helmet. New policies now give the crew more time to prepare for descent.
  • The crew's safety harnesses malfunctioned during the violent descent. The harnesses on the three remaining shuttles were upgraded after the accident.

The key recommendations of the report included that future spacecraft crew survival systems should not rely on manual activation to protect the crew.

Possible emergency procedures

The CAIB determined a rescue mission, though risky, might have been possible provided NASA management took action soon enough.
The CAIB determined that had NASA management acted in time, two possible contingency procedures were available: a rescue mission by shuttle Atlantis
Space Shuttle Atlantis
The Space Shuttle Atlantis is a retired Space Shuttle orbiter in the Space Shuttle fleet belonging to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration , the spaceflight and space exploration agency of the United States...

, and an emergency spacewalk to attempt repairs to the left wing thermal protection.

Normally a rescue mission is not possible, due to the time required to prepare a shuttle for launch, and the limited consumables (power, water, air) of an orbiting shuttle. However, Atlantis was well along in processing for a March 1 launch on STS-114
STS-114
-Original crew:This mission was to carry the Expedition 7 crew to the ISS and bring home the Expedition 6 crew. The original crew was to be:-Mission highlights:...

, and Columbia carried an unusually large quantity of consumables due to an Extended Duration Orbiter
Extended Duration Orbiter
The Extended Duration Orbiter program was a project by NASA to prepare for long-term microgravity research aboard Space Station Freedom, which later evolved into the International Space Station. Scientists and NASA needed practical experience in managing progressively longer times for their...

 package. The CAIB determined that this would have allowed Columbia to stay in orbit until flight day 30 (February 15). NASA investigators determined that Atlantis processing could have been expedited with no skipped safety checks for a February 10 launch. Hence if nothing went wrong there was a five-day overlap for a possible rescue. As mission control could deorbit a shuttle but could not control the orbiter's reentry and landing, it would likely have sent Columbia into the Pacific Ocean; NASA has since developed the Remote Control Orbiter system to permit mission control to land a shuttle.

NASA investigators determined on-orbit repair by the shuttle astronauts was possible but risky, primarily due to the uncertain resiliency of the repair using available materials. Columbia did not carry the Canadarm, or Remote Manipulator System, which would normally be used for camera inspection or transporting a spacewalking astronaut to the wing. Therefore an unusual emergency Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA)
Extra-vehicular activity
Extra-vehicular activity is work done by an astronaut away from the Earth, and outside of a spacecraft. The term most commonly applies to an EVA made outside a craft orbiting Earth , but also applies to an EVA made on the surface of the Moon...

 would have been required. While there was no astronaut EVA training for maneuvering to the wing, astronauts are always prepared for a similarly difficult emergency EVA to close the external tank umbilical doors located on the orbiter underside, which is necessary for reentry. Similar methods could have reached the shuttle left wing for inspection or repair.

For the repair, the CAIB determined the astronauts would have to use tools and small pieces of titanium, or other metal, scavenged from the crew cabin. These metals would help protect the wing structure and would be held in place during re-entry by a water-filled bag that had turned into ice in the cold of space. The ice and metal would help restore wing leading edge geometry, preventing a turbulent airflow over the wing and therefore keeping heating and burn-through levels low enough for the crew to survive re-entry and bail out before landing. Because the NASA team could not verify that the repairs would survive even a modified re-entry, the rescue option had a considerably higher chance of bringing Columbia's crew back alive.

Fears of terrorism

Despite some initial fears after announcement in the news that Columbia suffered an explosion over Palestine, Texas
Palestine, Texas
Palestine is a city in Anderson County, Texas, in the United States. As of the 2000 census, the city population was 17,598, and 18,458 in the 2009 estimate. It is the county seat of Anderson County and is situated in East Texas...

 and that the addition of the first Israel
Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

i astronaut
Astronaut
An astronaut or cosmonaut is a person trained by a human spaceflight program to command, pilot, or serve as a crew member of a spacecraft....

 to the crew had made the Columbia a more likely target for terrorists
Terrorism
Terrorism is the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion. In the international community, however, terrorism has no universally agreed, legally binding, criminal law definition...

, there is no evidence to support any theory that terrorism was involved. Security surrounding the launch and landing of the space shuttle had been increased to ward off any potential terrorist attack and the Merritt Island launch facility, like all sensitive government areas, had increased security measures put in place in the wake of the September 11 attacks
September 11, 2001 attacks
The September 11 attacks The September 11 attacks The September 11 attacks (also referred to as September 11, September 11th or 9/119/11 is pronounced "nine eleven". The slash is not part of the pronunciation...

. Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the United States Department of Homeland Security
United States Department of Homeland Security
The United States Department of Homeland Security is a cabinet department of the United States federal government, created in response to the September 11 attacks, and with the primary responsibilities of protecting the territory of the United States and protectorates from and responding to...

, stated: "There is no information at this time that this was a terrorist incident."

Purple streak image

The San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco Chronicle
thumb|right|upright|The Chronicle Building following the [[1906 San Francisco earthquake|1906 earthquake]] and fireThe San Francisco Chronicle is a newspaper serving primarily the San Francisco Bay Area of the U.S. state of California, but distributed throughout Northern and Central California,...

 reported that an amateur astronomer had taken a five-second exposure that appeared to show "a purplish line near the shuttle" during re-entry. The CAIB report concluded that image was the result of "camera vibrations during a long-exposure".

Film hoax

In a hoax inspired by the destruction of Columbia, some images that were purported to be satellite photographs of the shuttle's explosion turned out to be screen captures from the opening scene of the 1998 film Armageddon, where the shuttle Atlantis
Space Shuttle Atlantis
The Space Shuttle Atlantis is a retired Space Shuttle orbiter in the Space Shuttle fleet belonging to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration , the spaceflight and space exploration agency of the United States...

 is destroyed by asteroid fragments. In reality, Columbia disintegrated rather than exploded. In response to the disaster, FX pulled Armageddon from that night's schedule, replacing it with Aliens
Aliens (film)
Aliens is a 1986 science fiction action film directed by James Cameron and starring Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, William Hope, and Bill Paxton...

.

Film

In the 2007 film The Invasion
The Invasion (film)
The Invasion is a 2007 science fiction thriller film starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, with additional scenes written by the Wachowski brothers and directed by James McTeigue....

, the cause for the infection is loosely based on the Columbia disaster.

Memorials

On February 4, 2003, President George W. Bush
George W. Bush
George Walker Bush is an American politician who served as the 43rd President of the United States, from 2001 to 2009. Before that, he was the 46th Governor of Texas, having served from 1995 to 2000....

 and his wife Laura
Laura Bush
Laura Lane Welch Bush is the wife of the 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush. She was the First Lady of the United States from January 20, 2001, to January 20, 2009. She has held a love of books and reading since childhood and her life and education have reflected that interest...

 led a memorial service for the astronauts' families at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center
Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center
The Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's center for human spaceflight training, research and flight control. The center consists of a complex of 100 buildings constructed on 1,620 acres in Houston, Texas, USA...

. Two days later, Vice President Dick Cheney
Dick Cheney
Richard Bruce "Dick" Cheney served as the 46th Vice President of the United States , under George W. Bush....

 and his wife Lynne
Lynne Cheney
Lynne Ann Cheney is the wife of former United States Vice President Dick Cheney and served as the Second Lady of the United States from 2001 to 2009...

 led official Washington and the rest of the nation in paying tribute at a similar service at Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral
The Washington National Cathedral, officially named the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, is a cathedral of the Episcopal Church located in Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States. Of neogothic design, it is the sixth-largest cathedral in the world, the second-largest in...

. During that service, singer Patti LaBelle
Patti LaBelle
Patricia Louise Holte-Edwards , better known under the stage name, Patti LaBelle, is a Grammy Award winning American singer, author and actress who has spent over 50 years in the music industry...

 sang "Way Up There".

On March 26 the United States House of Representatives
United States House of Representatives
The United States House of Representatives is one of the two Houses of the United States Congress, the bicameral legislature which also includes the Senate.The composition and powers of the House are established in Article One of the Constitution...

' Science Committee approved funds for the construction of a memorial at Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia, is a military cemetery in the United States of America, established during the American Civil War on the grounds of Arlington House, formerly the estate of the family of Confederate general Robert E. Lee's wife Mary Anna Lee, a great...

 for the STS-107 crew. A similar memorial was built at the cemetery for the last crew of Challenger
Space Shuttle Challenger
Space Shuttle Challenger was NASA's second Space Shuttle orbiter to be put into service, Columbia having been the first. The shuttle was built by Rockwell International's Space Transportation Systems Division in Downey, California...

. On October 28, 2003, the names of the astronauts were added to the Space Mirror Memorial at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is the visitor center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It features exhibits and displays, historic spacecraft and memorabilia, shows, two IMAX theaters, a range of bus tours of the spaceport, and the Shuttle Launch Experience, a simulated ride into...

.

The Houston Astros
Houston Astros
The Houston Astros are a Major League Baseball team located in Houston, Texas. They are a member of the National League Central division. The Astros are expected to join the American League West division in 2013. Since , they have played their home games at Minute Maid Park, known as Enron Field...

, who reside in the same city as Johnson Space Center and whose team name honors the U.S. space program, honored the crew on April 1, 2003, the Opening Day
Opening Day
Opening Day is the day on which professional baseball leagues begin their regular season. For Major League Baseball and most of the minor leagues, this day falls during the first week of April. For baseball fans, Opening Day serves as a symbol of rebirth; writer Thomas Boswell once penned a book...

 of the season, by having seven simultaneous first pitches
Ceremonial first pitch
The ceremonial first ball is a longstanding ritual of American baseball in which a guest of honor throws a ball to mark the end of pregame festivities and the start of the game. Originally, the guest threw a ball from his/her place in the grandstand to the pitcher or catcher of the home team...

 thrown by family and friends of the Columbia crew. For the National Anthem
The Star-Spangled Banner
"The Star-Spangled Banner" is the national anthem of the United States of America. The lyrics come from "Defence of Fort McHenry", a poem written in 1814 by the 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet, Francis Scott Key, after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British Royal Navy ships...

, 107 NASA personnel, including flight controllers and others involved in Columbias final mission, carried a U.S. flag onto the field. In addition, the Astros wore the mission patch on their sleeves and replaced all dugout advertising with the mission patch logo for the entire season.

In 2004, Bush conferred posthumous Congressional Space Medals of Honor
Congressional Space Medal of Honor
The Congressional Space Medal of Honor was authorized by the United States Congress in 1969 to recognize "any astronaut who in the performance of his duties has distinguished himself by exceptionally meritorious efforts and contributions to the welfare of the Nation and mankind." The highest award...

 to all 14 astronauts lost in the Challenger and Columbia accidents.

NASA named several places in honor of Columbia and her crew. Seven asteroid
Asteroid
Asteroids are a class of small Solar System bodies in orbit around the Sun. They have also been called planetoids, especially the larger ones...

s discovered in July 2001 at the Mount Palomar observatory were officially given the names of the seven astronauts: 51823 Rickhusband
51823 Rickhusband
51823 Rickhusband is an asteroid named for astronaut Rick Husband, who was killed in the STS-107 space shuttle reentry disaster on February 1, 2003. 51823 Rickhusband was discovered on July 18, 2001 at Palomar Observatory by the JPL Near Earth Asteroid Tracking Program.-External links:* *...

, 51824 Mikeanderson
51824 Mikeanderson
51824 Mikeanderson is an asteroid named for astronaut Mike Anderson, who was killed in the STS-107 space shuttle reentry disaster on February 1, 2003. 51824 Mikeanderson was discovered on July 19, 2001 at Palomar Observatory by the JPL Near Earth Asteroid Tracking Program.- External links :* *...

, 51825 Davidbrown
51825 Davidbrown
51825 Davidbrown is an asteroid named for astronaut David Brown, who was killed in the STS-107 space shuttle reentry disaster on February 1, 2003. 51825 Davidbrown was discovered on July 19, 2001 at Palomar Observatory by the JPL Near Earth Asteroid Tracking Program.-External links:* *...

, 51826 Kalpanachawla
51826 Kalpanachawla
51826 Kalpanachawla is an asteroid named for Indian-born astronaut Kalpana Chawla, who was killed in the STS-107 space shuttle reentry disaster on February 1, 2003. 51826 Kalpanachawla was discovered on July 19, 2001 at Palomar Observatory by the JPL Near Earth Asteroid Tracking Program....

, 51827 Laurelclark
51827 Laurelclark
51827 Laurelclark is an asteroid named for astronaut Laurel Clark, who was killed in the STS-107 space shuttle reentry disaster on February 1, 2003. 51827 Laurelclark was discovered on July 20, 2001 at Palomar Observatory by the JPL Near Earth Asteroid Tracking Program.-External links:* *...

, 51828 Ilanramon
51828 Ilanramon
51828 Ilanramon is an asteroid named for astronaut Ilan Ramon, who was killed in the STS-107 space shuttle reentry disaster on February 1, 2003. 51828 Ilanramon was discovered on July 20, 2001 at Palomar Observatory by the JPL Near Earth Asteroid Tracking Program.-External links:* * -References:...

, 51829 Williemccool
51829 Williemccool
51829 Williemccool is an asteroid named for astronaut Willie McCool, who was killed in the STS-107 space shuttle reentry disaster on February 1, 2003. 51829 Williemccool was discovered on July 21, 2001 at Palomar Observatory by the JPL Near Earth Asteroid Tracking Program.-External links:* *...

. On Mars
Mars
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System. The planet is named after the Roman god of war, Mars. It is often described as the "Red Planet", as the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance...

, the landing site of the rover Spirit was named Columbia Memorial Station, and included a memorial plaque to the Columbia crew mounted on the back of its high gain antenna. A complex of seven hills east of the Spirit landing site was dubbed the Columbia Hills; each of the seven hills was individually named for a member of the crew, and Husband Hill
Husband Hill
Husband Hill is one of the Columbia Hills in Gusev crater, Mars, which are close to the landing site of NASA's Spirit rover. It was named in honor of Rick D...

 in particular was ascended and explored by the rover. Back on Earth, NASA's National Scientific Balloon Facility was renamed the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility
Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility
The Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility is a NASA facility responsible for providing launch, tracking and control, airspace coordination, telemetry and command systems, and recovery services for unmanned, high altitude balloons...

.

Other tributes included the decision by Amarillo, Texas
Amarillo, Texas
Amarillo is the 14th-largest city, by population, in the state of Texas, the largest in the Texas Panhandle, and the seat of Potter County. A portion of the city extends into Randall County. The population was 190,695 at the 2010 census...

, to rename its airport Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport
Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport
Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport is a public airport located six miles east of the central business district of Amarillo, a city in Potter and Randall Counties, Texas, United States...

, after its native son and commander of STS-107. State Route 904 was renamed Lt. Michael P. Anderson Memorial Highway, as it runs through Cheney
Cheney, Washington
Cheney is a city in Spokane County, Washington, United States. The full time resident population was 10,590 as of 2010 census. Eastern Washington University is located in Cheney, and its population grows to approximately 17,600 people on a temporary basis when classes at Eastern Washington...

, Washington – the town where he graduated from high school. A mountain peak near Kit Carson Peak
Kit Carson Peak
Kit Carson Peak is one of the 54 fourteeners in the state of Colorado. It lies in the Sangre de Cristo Range near Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle and is named after the frontiersman Kit Carson...

 and Challenger Point
Challenger Point
Challenger Point is a fourteener in the Sangre de Cristo range, located in the southern part of the U.S. state of Colorado. The summit is on the northwest shoulder of Kit Carson Mountain, and is a subpeak of the latter...

 in the Sangre de Cristo Range
Sangre de Cristo Range
The Sangre de Cristo Range, called the East Range locally in the San Luis Valley, is a narrow mountain range of the Rocky Mountains running north and south along the east side of the Rio Grande Rift in southern Colorado in the United States...

 was renamed Columbia Point
Columbia Point
Columbia Point is a 13,980 foot subpeak of Kit Carson Peak, in Colorado, USA. It was known informally as Kat Carson, but was officially named Columbia Point in 2003 to honor the seven astronauts who died when the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated during re-entry on February 1, 2003...

, and a dedication plaque was placed on the point in August 2003. Seven dormitories were named in honor of Columbia crew members at the Florida Institute of Technology
Florida Institute of Technology
Florida Institute of Technology, also known as Florida Tech, is an independent private technical research university located in Melbourne, Florida, United States. Founded in 1958 as Brevard Engineering College, the institute has been known by its present name since 1966. Florida Tech's curriculum...

, Creighton University
Creighton University
Creighton University is a private, coeducational, Jesuit, Roman Catholic university located in Omaha, Nebraska, United States. Founded by the Society of Jesus in 1878, the school is one of 28 member institutions of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. The university is accredited by...

, The University of Texas at Arlington, and the Columbia Elementary school in the Brevard County School District
Brevard County School District
Brevard Public Schools is a school district serving Brevard County, Florida, and based in Viera, Florida.In 2009, the district had about 72,519 students. 24% attend a school other than the one to which they are assigned. In 2009, the School Board was Brevard's largest local government employer with...

. The Huntsville City Schools
Huntsville City Schools
Huntsville City Schools is the school district serving Huntsville, Alabama. As of the 2007-08 school year, the system had 22,839 students and employed 1,933 teachers...

 in Huntsville
Huntsville, Alabama
Huntsville is a city located primarily in Madison County in the central part of the far northern region of the U.S. state of Alabama. Huntsville is the county seat of Madison County. The city extends west into neighboring Limestone County. Huntsville's population was 180,105 as of the 2010 Census....

, Alabama, a city strongly associated with NASA, named their most recent high school Columbia High School as a memorial to the crew. A Department of Defense school in Guam was re-named Commander William C. McCool Elementary School. The City of Palmdale
Palmdale, California
Palmdale is a city located in the center of northern Los Angeles County, California, United States.Palmdale was the first community within the Antelope Valley to incorporate as a city on August 24, 1962; 47 years later, voters approved creating a charter city in November, 2009. Palmdale is...

, the birthplace of the entire shuttle fleet, renamed a major thoroughfare Avenue M to Columbia Way after the disaster in honor of the lost shuttle and its crew.

In October 2004, both houses of Congress passed a resolution authored by US Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard and co-sponsored by the entire contingent of California representatives to Congress, naming Downey California’s Space Science Learning Center the Columbia Memorial Space Science Learning Center (CMSSLC is located at the former manufacturing site of the space shuttles, including the Columbia and the Challenger).

The US Air Force's Squadron Officer School
Squadron Officer School
Squadron Officer School , is a five-week long Professional Military Education course for U.S. Air Force Captains. It fulfills the U.S. Air Force's requirement for primary developmental education . SOS is based at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, and the in-residence version of the course is taught there...

 at Maxwell Air Force Base
Maxwell Air Force Base
Maxwell Air Force Base , officially known as Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, is a United States Air Force installation under the Air Education and Training Command . The installation is located in Montgomery, Alabama, US. It was named in honor of Second Lieutenant William C...

, Alabama
Alabama
Alabama is a state located in the southeastern region of the United States. It is bordered by Tennessee to the north, Georgia to the east, Florida and the Gulf of Mexico to the south, and Mississippi to the west. Alabama ranks 30th in total land area and ranks second in the size of its inland...

 renamed their auditorium in Husband's honor. He was a distinguished graduate from the program. The US Test Pilot School, Edwards AFB, CA named the pilot lounge in Husband's honor.

A newly constructed elementary school located on Fairchild Air Force Base, near Spokane, Washington
Spokane, Washington
Spokane is a city located in the Northwestern United States in the state of Washington. It is the largest city of Spokane County of which it is also the county seat, and the metropolitan center of the Inland Northwest region...

 was named Michael Anderson Elementary School; Anderson had attended Blair Elementary (the base's previous elementary school) during his 5th grade year while his father was stationed at Fairchild. Anderson later graduated from nearby Cheney High School in 1977.

NASA later named a supercomputer
Supercomputer
A supercomputer is a computer at the frontline of current processing capacity, particularly speed of calculation.Supercomputers are used for highly calculation-intensive tasks such as problems including quantum physics, weather forecasting, climate research, molecular modeling A supercomputer is a...

 "Columbia"
Columbia (supercomputer)
Named in honor of the crew who died in the Columbia disaster, Columbia is a supercomputer built by Silicon Graphics for NASA. Its main purpose was to simulate the violent collision and merger of spiral galaxies that lead to the formation of elliptical galaxies...

 in the crew's honor.

A U.S. Navy compound at a major coalition military base in Afghanistan
Afghanistan
Afghanistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country located in the centre of Asia, forming South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. With a population of about 29 million, it has an area of , making it the 42nd most populous and 41st largest nation in the world...

 is named Camp McCool in honor of Pilot William C. McCool. In addition, the athletic field at Coronado High School in Lubbock, Texas
Lubbock, Texas
Lubbock is a city in and the county seat of Lubbock County, Texas, United States. The city is located in the northwestern part of the state, a region known historically as the Llano Estacado, and the home of Texas Tech University and Lubbock Christian University...

, was re-named the "Willie McCool Track and Field" in his honor; McCool was a Coronado graduate.

A proposed reservoir in Cherokee County
Cherokee County, Texas
As of the census of 2000, there were 46,659 people, 16,651 households, and 12,105 families residing in the county. The population density was 44 people per square mile . There were 19,173 housing units at an average density of 18 per square mile...

 in Eastern Texas is to be named Lake Columbia.

On February 5, 2003 the space agency of India, ISRO, renamed one of its meteorological satellites METSAT as Kalpana-1
Kalpana-1
Kalpana-1 is the first dedicated meteorological satellite launched by Indian Space Research Organisation using Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle on 2002-09-12. This was the first satellite launched by the PSLV into the Geostationary orbit....

. It was renamed by the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee
Atal Bihari Vajpayee
Atal Bihari Vajpayee is an Indian statesman who served as the tenth Prime Minister of India three times – first for a brief term of 13 days in 1996, and then for two terms from 1998 to 2004. After his first brief period as Prime Minister in 1996, Vajpayee headed a coalition government from...

 in memory of Kalpana Chawla
Kalpana Chawla
Kalpana Chawla was an Indian-American astronaut with NASA. She was one of seven crew members killed in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.-Early life:...

 - a NASA astronaut who perished in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

Ilan Ramon High School was established in 2006 in Hod HaSharon
Hod HaSharon
Hod HaSharon is a city in the Center District of Israel.Officially declared a city in 1990, Hod HaSharon was created from the union in 1964 of four neighboring villages: Magdiel, Ramatayim, Hadar, and Ramat Hadar...

, Israel
Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

, in tribute to the first Israeli astronaut. The school's symbol shows the planet Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

 with an aircraft orbiting around it.

The National Naval Medical Center
National Naval Medical Center
The National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, USA — commonly known as the Bethesda Naval Hospital — was for decades the flagship of the United States Navy's system of medical centers. A federal institution, it conducted medical and dental research as well as providing health care for...

 honored one of Navy Medicine's own in a ceremony July 11 2003, officially dedicating NNMC's Laurel Clark Memorial Auditorium.

Effect on space programs

Following the loss of Columbia, the space shuttle program
Space Shuttle program
NASA's Space Shuttle program, officially called Space Transportation System , was the United States government's manned launch vehicle program from 1981 to 2011...

 was suspended. The further construction of the International Space Station
International Space Station
The International Space Station is a habitable, artificial satellite in low Earth orbit. The ISS follows the Salyut, Almaz, Cosmos, Skylab, and Mir space stations, as the 11th space station launched, not including the Genesis I and II prototypes...

 was also delayed, as the space shuttles were the only available delivery vehicle for station modules. The station was supplied using Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n unmanned Progress
Progress spacecraft
The Progress is a Russian expendable freighter spacecraft. The spacecraft is an unmanned resupply spacecraft during its flight but upon docking with a space station, it allows astronauts inside, hence it is classified manned by the manufacturer. It was derived from the Soyuz spacecraft, and is...

 ships, and crews were exchanged using Russian-manned Soyuz spacecraft
Soyuz spacecraft
Soyuz , Union) is a series of spacecraft initially designed for the Soviet space programme by the Korolyov Design Bureau in the 1960s, and still in service today...

, and forced to operate on a skeleton crew of two.

Less than a year after the accident, President Bush announced the Vision for Space Exploration
Vision for Space Exploration
The Vision for Space Exploration is the United States space policy which was announced on January 14, 2004 by President George W. Bush. It is seen as a response to the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, the state of human spaceflight at NASA, and a way to regain public enthusiasm for space...

, calling for the space shuttle fleet to continue flying to "fulfill our obligations to our international partners" by completing the International Space Station
International Space Station
The International Space Station is a habitable, artificial satellite in low Earth orbit. The ISS follows the Salyut, Almaz, Cosmos, Skylab, and Mir space stations, as the 11th space station launched, not including the Genesis I and II prototypes...

 (ISS), with retirement by the year 2010 following the completion of the ISS, to be replaced by a newly developed Crew Exploration Vehicle
Crew Exploration Vehicle
The Crew Exploration Vehicle was the conceptual component of the U.S. NASA Vision for Space Exploration that later became known as the Orion spacecraft...

 for travel to lunar orbit and landing and to Mars. NASA planned to return the space shuttle to service around September 2004; that date was pushed back to July 2005.

On July 26, 2005, at 10:39 am EST, Space Shuttle Discovery cleared the tower on the "Return to Flight" mission STS-114
STS-114
-Original crew:This mission was to carry the Expedition 7 crew to the ISS and bring home the Expedition 6 crew. The original crew was to be:-Mission highlights:...

, marking the shuttle's return to space. Overall the STS-114
STS-114
-Original crew:This mission was to carry the Expedition 7 crew to the ISS and bring home the Expedition 6 crew. The original crew was to be:-Mission highlights:...

 flight was highly successful, but a similar piece of foam from a different portion of the tank was shed, although the debris did not strike the Orbiter. Due to this, NASA once again grounded the shuttles until the remaining problem was understood and a solution implemented. After delaying their re-entry by two days due to adverse weather conditions, Commander Eileen Collins
Eileen Collins
Eileen Marie Collins is a retired American astronaut and a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel. A former military instructor and test pilot, Collins was the first female pilot and first female commander of a Space Shuttle. She was awarded several medals for her work. Col. Collins has logged 38 days 8...

 and Pilot Jim Kelly
Jim Kelly
James Edward Kelly is a former American football quarterback in the NFL for the Buffalo Bills and the USFL's Houston Gamblers....

 returned Discovery safely to Earth on August 9, 2005.

Later that same month, the external tank
Space Shuttle external tank
A Space Shuttle External Tank is the component of the Space Shuttle launch vehicle that contains the liquid hydrogen fuel and liquid oxygen oxidizer. During lift-off and ascent it supplies the fuel and oxidizer under pressure to the three Space Shuttle Main Engines in the orbiter...

 construction site, Michoud Assembly Facility
Michoud Assembly Facility
The Michoud Assembly Facility is an 832-acre site owned by NASA and located in New Orleans East, a large district within the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, United States. Organizationally, it is part of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center...

 located in New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is a major United States port and the largest city and metropolitan area in the state of Louisiana. The New Orleans metropolitan area has a population of 1,235,650 as of 2009, the 46th largest in the USA. The New Orleans – Metairie – Bogalusa combined statistical area has a population...

 was damaged by Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season was a powerful Atlantic hurricane. It is the costliest natural disaster, as well as one of the five deadliest hurricanes, in the history of the United States. Among recorded Atlantic hurricanes, it was the sixth strongest overall...

, with all work shifts canceled up to September 26, 2005. At the time, there was concern that this would set back further shuttle flights by at least two months and possibly more.

The second "Return to Flight" mission, STS-121
STS-121
STS-121 was a space shuttle mission to the International Space Station flown by Space Shuttle Discovery. The main purposes of the mission were to test new safety and repair techniques introduced following the Columbia disaster of February 2003 as well as to deliver supplies, equipment and...

, launched on July 4, 2006, at 2:37:55 pm (EDT), after two previous launches were scrubbed because of lingering thunderstorms and high winds around the launch pad. The launch took place despite objections from its chief engineer and safety head. This mission increased the ISS crew to three. A 5 inches (127 mm) crack in the foam insulation of the external tank gave cause for concern; however, the Mission Management Team gave the go for launch. Space Shuttle Discovery touched down successfully on July 17, 2006 at 9:14:43 am (EDT) on Runway 15 at the Kennedy Space Center
Kennedy Space Center
The John F. Kennedy Space Center is the NASA installation that has been the launch site for every United States human space flight since 1968. Although such flights are currently on hiatus, KSC continues to manage and operate unmanned rocket launch facilities for America's civilian space program...

.

On August 13, 2006, NASA announced STS-121 had shed more foam than they expected. While this did not delay the launch for the next mission, STS-115
STS-115
Note:The P3/P4 Truss segment and batteries were so heavy that the crew count was reduced from seven to six.-Crew notes:...

, originally set to lift off on August 27, the weather and other technical glitches did, with a lightning strike, Hurricane Ernesto
Hurricane Ernesto (2006)
Hurricane Ernesto was the costliest tropical cyclone of the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season. The sixth tropical storm and first hurricane of the season, Ernesto developed from a tropical wave on August 24 in the eastern Caribbean Sea...

 and a faulty fuel tank sensor combining to delay the launch until September 9. On September 19, landing was delayed an extra day to examine Atlantis after objects were found floating near the shuttle in the same orbit. When no damage was detected, Atlantis landed successfully on September 21.

The Columbia Crew Survival Investigation Report released by NASA on December 30, 2008 made further recommendations to improve a crew's survival chances on future space vehicles, such as the Orion
Orion (spacecraft)
Orion is a spacecraft designed by Lockheed Martin for NASA, the space agency of the United States. Orion development began in 2005 as part of the Constellation program, where Orion would fulfill the function of a Crew Exploration Vehicle....

 moon program. These include improvements in crew restraints, finding ways to deal more effectively with catastrophic cabin depressurization, more "graceful degradation" of vehicles during a disaster so crews will have a better chance at survival, and automated parachute systems.

See also

  • Apollo 1
    Apollo 1
    Apollo 1 was scheduled to be the first manned mission of the Apollo manned lunar landing program, with a target launch date of February 21, 1967. A cabin fire during a launch pad test on January 27 at Launch Pad 34 at Cape Canaveral killed all three crew members: Command Pilot Virgil "Gus"...

  • Space Shuttle Challenger disaster
    Space Shuttle Challenger disaster
    The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster occurred on January 28, 1986, when Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, leading to the deaths of its seven crew members. The spacecraft disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of central Florida at 11:38 am EST...

  • Expedition 6
    Expedition 6
    Expedition 6 was the sixth expedition to the International Space Station. It was the last three man crew to reside on the station until the arrival of STS-121...


External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
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