Another...Not so Fun, Fact

Woody's Workshop

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I watched this one live too. Very Saddening.

February 01
Columbia Space Shuttle mission ends in disaster

On February 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia breaks up while entering the atmosphere over Texas, killing all seven crew members on board.

The Columbia‘s 28th space mission, designated STS-107, was originally scheduled to launch on January 11, 2001, but was delayed numerous times for a variety of reasons over nearly two years. Columbia finally launched on January 16, 2003, with a crew of seven. Eighty seconds into the launch, a piece of foam insulation broke off from the shuttle’s propellant tank and hit the edge of the shuttle’s left wing.

Cameras focused on the launch sequence revealed the foam collision but engineers could not pinpoint the location and extent of the damage. Although similar incidents had occurred on three prior shuttle launches without causing critical damage, some engineers at the space agency believed that the damage to the wing could cause a catastrophic failure. Their concerns were not addressed in the two weeks that Columbia spent in orbit because NASA management believed that even if major damage had been caused, there was little that could be done to remedy the situation.

Columbia reentered the earth’s atmosphere on the morning of February 1. It wasn’t until 10 minutes later, at 8:53 a.m.–as the shuttle was 231,000 feet above the California coastline traveling at 23 times the speed of sound–that the first indications of trouble began. Because the heat-resistant tiles covering the left wing’s leading edge had been damaged or were missing, wind and heat entered the wing and blew it apart.

The first debris began falling to the ground in west Texas near Lubbock at 8:58 a.m. One minute later, the last communication from the crew was heard, and at 9 a.m. the shuttle disintegrated over southeast Texas, near Dallas. Residents in the area heard a loud boom and saw streaks of smoke in the sky. Debris and the remains of the crew were found in more than 2,000 locations across East Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana. Making the tragedy even worse, two pilots aboard a search helicopter were killed in a crash while looking for debris. Strangely, worms that the crew had used in a study that were stored in a canister aboard the Columbia did survive.

In August 2003, an investigation board issued a report that revealed that it in fact would have been possible either for the Columbia crew to repair the damage to the wing or for the crew to be rescued from the shuttle. The Columbia could have stayed in orbit until February 15 and the already planned launch of the shuttle Atlantis could have been moved up as early as February 10, leaving a short window for repairing the wing or getting the crew off of the Columbia.

In the aftermath of the Columbia disaster, the space shuttle program was grounded until July 16, 2005, when the space shuttle Discovery was put into orbit.

READ MORE: Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

Link to Article (Scroll down the page to read the "Nipplegate" story. Not appropriate to post here.)
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I've always wondered about the first space shuttle STS-1 landing (which was also the Columbia) and why it didn't have the issues that Columbia did in 2003 when it came apart, because on both missions they lost some protective tiles. 16 tiles were lost and 148 were damaged on STS-1. I'm guessing the missing tile locations had a lot to do with it, and instead of allowing the damage to be localized on STS-1 the missing tiles on STS-107 allowed more damage which became catastrophic once the outside aluminum frame melted away.

From the internet: "During remarks at a 2003 gathering, John Young stated that a protruding tile gap filler ducted hot gas into the right main landing gear well, which caused significant damage, including the buckling of the landing gear. Buckling of the door, but not the landing gear, was documented in the post-flight anomaly report."

STS-27 also had some missing tiles and barely avoided destruction because of a lot of luck with where the missing tile was located.

The more I learn about the Shuttle history the more I'm okay that it ended when it did. It seems like more disasters were inevitable and they were lucky more didn't happen.