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Space Shuttle Columbia Destroyed

The crew of STS-107. L to R: Brown,Husband, Clark, Chawla, Anderson, McCool,Ramon

The Space Shuttle Columbia disaster occurred on February 1, 2003, when shortly before it was scheduled to conclude its 28th mission, STS-107, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas and Louisiana during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, resulting in the death of all seven crew members. Debris from Columbia fell to Earth in Texas. A debris field has been mapped along a path stretching from south of Fort Worth to Hempill, Texas, as well as into parts of Louisiana.
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 theSpace Shuttle external tank (the 'ET' main propellant tank) under the aerodynamic forces of launch. The debris struck the leading edge of the left wing, damaging the Shuttle's thermal protection system (TPS), which shields the vehicle from the intense heat generated from atmospheric compression during re-entry. While Columbia was still in orbit, some engineers suspected damage, but NASA managers limited the investigation, under the rationale that the Columbia crew could not have fixed the problem. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) later concluded that a rescue mission using Atlantis may have been possible.
NASA's original shuttle design specifications stated that the external tank was not to shed foam or other debris; therefore, strikes upon the vehicle 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, 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 solid rocket booster (SRB) 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 re-assessed, stating that the “Rationale was lousy then and still is”. Ham as well as Shuttle Program Manager Ron Dittemore 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 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, and Arkansas recovered crew remains and many vehicle fragments.
Mission STS-107 was the 113th Space Shuttle launch. The mission was delayed 18 times over the two years from the planned launch date of January 11, 2001, to the actual launch date of January 16, 2003. (It was preceded by STS-113.) A launch delay due to cracks in the shuttle's propellant distribution system occurred one month before a July 19, 2002, launch date. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board 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 over two years, similar to the delay following the Challenger accident. Construction of the International Space Station was put on hold, and for 29 months the station relied entirely on the Russian Federal Space Agency for resupply until Shuttle flights resumed with STS-114 and 41 months for crew rotation until STS-121. 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 the 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 to repair the Hubble Space Telescope in its high-altitude low-inclination orbit.

Space Shuttle Columbia disaster
STS-107 Flight Insignia.svg

STS-107 flight insignia
Date1 February 2003
Time08:59 EST (13:59 UTC)
LocationOver Texas and Louisiana
OutcomeGrounding of the Space Shuttle fleet for over two years during which various safety measures, improvement in crew restraint, effective ways to deal with catastrophic cabin depressurization and an automated parachute system were initiated.
Rick D. Husband
William C. McCool
Michael P. Anderson
Kalpana Chawla
David M. Brown
Laurel Clark
Ilan Ramon
InquiriesColumbia Accident Investigation Board
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