On February 1, 2003, after a seventeen day mission, the Space Shuttle Columbia suffered catastrophic failure upon reentry into the atmosphere. All seven crew members were lost.


NASA History. Columbia Introduction

Space.com. Columbia Disaster

The Challenger tragedy happened when I was in Junior High. I was an adult when the Columbia was lost. I think I heard the news on the television; it happened in the morning so I might have woken up to the news. Whereas with the Challenger I was just horrified at what was obviously a freak accident, with the Columbia I remember really wanting to know why it happened. They had spent a couple of weeks in orbit. The shuttle had gone up and down many times. So what happened?

We eventually learned that a small piece of foam got knocked off during liftoff. Such a small thing, but it was enough to cause catastrophic failure. As the weeks went on and NASA came under intense scrutiny, my desire to know why was replaced by a disgust of all the blame that was being flung about. The shuttles were grounded for two years. We changed from a society reaching out to space to a society that questioned whether we really needed to go.

The dream didn’t die. But irreparable harm was done to the faith of the people in the promise of space.

Ad astra per aspera.


Do you remember this event? How did it affect you and the people in your life?


2 thoughts on “Space Shuttle Columbia

  1. Space Shuttle Columbia

    I remember Columbia’s first and last mission. STS-1 was perfect for a space geek like me who’d grown up with Apollo. It was like something out of Star Trek. Her first launch in April, 1981 coincided with the end of my senior year of high school. I thought it was the most amazing thing!

    Then there was STS-107. Honestly, I didn’t even know she had been launched, I was busy being a wife and mom of a competitive gymnast. We were planning a trip to Baltimore from our home in Newport News, VA (not that far from where it all started at NASA Langley Research Center) for a regional gymnastics competition. So, February 1st, 2003 found us packing to leave Baltimore to come home. I flipped on the TV in our hotel room as I was gathering all our stuff to go home. They were showing shots from the MCC from the de-orbit burn. I kept one eye on the TV and one eye on the family, making sure that we had all our stuff. My husband was a little frustrated with me, I think…although he was well aware of my NASA addiction. The announcer said Columbia was scheduled to land around 9:15am Eastern time, so as the time got closer, I started paying more attention. The channel I was watching (a certain news network) switched to the MCC and I could see all the controllers doing their thing, talking to the crew. I remember vividly the call about the hydraulic return temperature sensors. I started thinking, hmm…Columbia is the oldest shuttle, maybe it’s just instrumentation. Then came the call about the tire pressures, and from then on, no communication with Columbia. The capcom kept calling “Columbia, Houston, comm check”. Then they cut to the video from Dallas…and the shuttle coming apart. Then they cut back to the MCC…and I heard Leroy Cain saying “lock the doors”. I felt like I had been punched. We got in the car for the 6 hour drive home and the whole way home, I was glued to news stations trying to get reports of what had happened. When we got home, I flipped on the TV and watched the video that showed the shuttle coming apart. I had friends that worked at LaRC and we talked a lot about what had happened. The day the CAIB report was posted on the NASA site, I downloaded it. I’ve read the whole thing, and most, if not all the books written about her last flight. I’ve also watched most of the documentaries too. I will never, ever forget Charles Hobaugh’s voice as he kept calling “Columbia, Houston, comm check. Columbia, Houston UHF comm check”.


  2. I was in elementary school when the space shuttle Challenger blew up. We weren’t one of the classes that was following live but I was so excited about it. I’ve always had an interest in space and for years wanted to be an astronaut. When I first saw that on the news it was like it wasn’t real – but something from a movie.

    Years later, I was up early the day that Columbia was due to land. I was going wedding dress shopping. It should have made for a fun and happy day. But it wasn’t long until the news came that Mission Control had lost contact with Columbia during re-entry. I knew exactly what that meant – they didn’t make it. I normally hate to listen to new radio but that day it was all I was listening too in the hope that there had been an issue with Columbia’s communication and that they landed somewhere else due to something weird happening during landing. When I got home and saw the pictures on TV of what was supposed to be Columbia breaking up and that people were finding debris, I was sick to my stomach. All I could wonder then was why.
    (Born in late 1978)


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