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.
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?