Picking up the pieces of Columbia

Feb. 1, 2003, midnight | By Kevin Chang, Nora Toiv | 19 years, 10 months ago

The space shuttle Columbia exploded over north Texas on Feb 1 during the re-entry phase of its return to Earth after a 16 day-long mission, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

The cause of the the disintegration of the Columbia is undetermined. According to The Washington Post, the launch debris that hit the left wing on take off is probably not the only reason that the shuttle exploded and may not have even played a part. "Right now, it just does not make sense to us that a piece of debris is the root cause to explain the loss of the Columbia crew," shuttle program mamager Ron Dittemore said at a news conference. "There has got to be another reason."

According to the Associated Press, NASA lost contact with Columbia at about 9 a.m. EST on Feb 1, 2003, approximately 16 minutes before it was scheduled to land at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Eyewitnesses in the Dallas-Fort Worth area reported hearing loud noises and looking up to see several vapor trails made by pieces of Columbia. Debris from the shuttle was scattered over five states, and a substantial amount was found in the city of Nacogdoches, Texas. The nose, one of the major parts of the shuttle found so far, fell in Hemphill Texas. Remains have been found in 15 locations.

There has been amateur video of what looks like the capsule blowing up in mid-air. Anyone who finds debris has been asked to notify local law enforcement authorities and to stay away, since the debris will be critical to efforts to determine what went wrong and could be coated in toxic propellant. There have been reports of people seeking souveniers among the remains. Two people havv been charged with stealing government property. Some people have been reported to have checked into hospitals after touching debris, but there have been no reports of serious injury.

The final radio transmission between Mission Control and the shuttle gave no indication of any trouble. Aboard the shuttle was the first Israeli astronaut, payload specialist Ilan Ramon, and six American astronauts, mission commander Rick Husband, pilot William "Willy" McCool, payload commander Michael Anderson, and missions specialists Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, and Laurel Clark.

NBC4 news (nbc4.com) reported that Brown, who grew up in northern Virginia, brought a banner from Yorktown High School that had been to the top of Mt. Everest with him on the flight.

The last space shuttle to explode was the Challenger in 1986. Columbia was on a research mission and had been under tight security.

Other sources of information: cnn.com, washingtonpost.com, nasa.gov (official statement).

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Kevin Chang. Kevin Chang was born on April 28, 1985. This makes him a bull, and coincidentally, a Taurus. Somehow, he ended up in the Magnet program at Montgomery Blair High School, where he is now a SENIOR! 03! Yes, he is a geek. He is often … More »

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