Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Feb. 1, 2003: Second Shuttle Lost

Feb. 1, 2003: Second Shuttle Lost:

Photo: NASA

2003: Columbia disintegrates as it re-enters the atmosphere, killing the seven astronauts on board and dealing a near-fatal blow to the already troubled space shuttle program. As it is, it will be more than two years before another shuttle is launched.

Damage to the orbiter’s thermal protection system, which occurred at launch when foam insulation detached from the main propellant tank and struck the left wing, was immediately suspected and quickly confirmed as the cause of the accident. But as with the Challenger catastrophe in 1986, NASA itself came in for a great deal of criticism.

In this case, ground control managers were faulted for limiting an onboard investigation of the damage, even though engineers had expressed concerns as the mission progressed. NASA’s rationale — that little could be done to repair the damage regardless of what was found — didn’t fly with the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, which concluded that, although risky, the shuttle Atlantis could have been dispatched to retrieve the crew.

President Bush addressed the nation on the afternoon of Feb. 1: “This day has brought terrible news and great sadness to the country…. The Columbia is lost; there are no survivors. The cause in which they died will continue. Our journey into space will go on.”

It did, but there was a break. The shuttle program was suspended (the next shuttle flight did not take place until July 2005) and the Russians took over the task of ferrying crews and supplies to the International Space Station.

The Columbia was the oldest shuttle in the fleet, excluding the prototype Enterprise, and was completing its 28th mission at the time of the accident.

(Source: Wikipedia)

This article first appeared on Feb. 1, 2007.

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