Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster

Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster: February 1st, 2003, world rose to the news of Columbia space shuttle being telecasted on almost every news channel all around the globe but this time the nature of the news wasn’t celebratory. 

Columbia space shuttle was NASA’s first space-related orbiter which first launched on April 12, 1981. Till its last voyage, it has already completed 27 missions, in its 22 years of life span. Human space travel was inching towards the point at which it might be considered routine. But the universe likes to surprise us now and then.

Columbia space shuttle disintegrated upon re-entering the atmosphere

Columbia space shuttle

About last voyage – On January 16, 2003, STS-107 , 28th mission of the Columbia on its way to  carry out a series of microgravity science experiments with 7 astronauts commander Rick Husband, mission specialist David Brown,  mission specialist Laurel Clark, mission specialist Kalpana Chawla, mission specialist Michael Anderson, pilot William McCool, and Israeli payload specialist Ilan Ramon.

What really happened: Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster

On 1st Feb 2013, reentering the earth’s atmosphere the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated into pieces leaving the space community in shock and grief with no traces of any of the astronauts being alive.

Let’s rewind to the launch day, just 80 seconds into the flight a large chunk of foam insulation tethered off from the “bipod ramp” — a piece used to attach the external tank to the shuttle. Scientists found that the suitcase-sized piece of foam hit the shuttle’s left wing as it fell and struck one of Columbia’s wings, making a small hole. And that was the moment from where everything went downhill. This small hole made a massive void in the history of space exploration which no one could fill. When the shuttle was attempting to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere 16 days later, hot gases entered through that small hole causing the shuttle to break apart and the rest is history.

What went wrong : Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster

Foam shedding was the name given to this problem of foam being tethered off from the shuttle as it has become so common in NASA’s launches. In the previous 4 cases of foam shedding, no incident or repercussions were recorded or were traced back to this problem. That’s where the problems piled up. It took only one small lack in taking any preventive measures which started this chain reaction which leads to this massive unwanted outcome.

The shuttle met its fatal end over the state of east Texas so the sonar and divers were deployed to search the lakes and reservoirs across the 400km debris field across East Texas and into Louisiana. Most of the parts were traveling at supersonic speed as they impacted the surface they buried themselves 14 feet into the earth. Pieces of debris from space shuttle have been discovered in Texas even eight years after the disaster. Discovery of wreckage is painstaking yet beneficial to analyze the disaster from every possible angle.

Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster: “It could have been avoided?”

“The accident wasn’t caused by a single event or a single person but by a series of technical and cultural missteps stemming all the way back to the first shuttle launch in 1981,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for human exploration and operations.

We all can have our theories on rescue orbital missions but the most basic thing we need to realize is that we need to stay vigilant and alert and in that process recognize that even the smallest potential flaw can become a big hazard. Even small problems can serve as major failures.

This year marks the 16th anniversary of Columbia’s last space shuttle mission. Evidently, the tragic incident occurred which shocked everyone to the core, the quest for space exploration was far from over.


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