Shuttle Columbia Lost

By Marc Boucher
February 1, 2003
Filed under
Shuttle Columbia Lost
STS-107 Crew

Space Shuttle Columbia broke up as it reentered Earth’s atmosphere this morning as it was over Texas – the crew is lost. Debris has been found in Texas and Louisiana.

NASA reported that “communication and tracking of the shuttle was lost at 9 a.m. at an altitude of about 203,000 feet above north central Texas while traveling approximately 12,500 miles per hour (Mach 18). No communication and tracking information was received in Mission Control after that time.”

At a press conference by Space Shuttle Program Manager Ron Dittemore and Chief Flight Director Milt Heflin discussed the last moments of the shuttle. An indication of a problem with the shuttle appeared just minutes before contact was lost with the shuttle at 8:00 a.m. central standard time. Onboard temperature sensors on the left wing in the hydrolic systems were lost as were other sensors on the left wing. A few minutes later the shuttle disintegrated.

The shuttle left wing was an area of concern just after the launch on January 16 as piece of foam from the external fuel tank impacted the wing. After a thorough investigation Dittemore said it “did not represent a safety concern”. Dittemore cautioned however that it was too early to say if the two events were related, “I don’t believe it was the cause of the problem.”

Earlier in the day President Bush made a statement to the country saying “In an age when space flight has come to seem almost routine, it is easy to overlook the dangers of travel by rocket, and the difficulties of navigating the fierce outer atmosphere of the Earth. These astronauts knew the dangers, and they faced them willingly, knowing they had a high and noble purpose in life. Because of their courage and daring and idealism, we will miss them all the more.”

NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe issued a statement were he said “This is indeed a tragic day for the NASA family, for the families of the astronauts who flew on STS-107, and likewise is tragic for the Nation. The loss of this valued crew is something we will never be able to get over. We have assured the families that we will do everything, everything we can possibly do to guarantee that we work our way through this horrific tragedy.”

At this time further shuttle flights are on hold. This has a potential significant effect on the International Space Station. At this time the astronauts on the space station have enough consumables to last them through June. As well in an emergency the space station crew can use a docked Russian Soyuz spacecraft to get back to earth. However everytime a shuttle visits the space station it boosts the orbit the station to higher orbit. Without this boost the station would eventually burn up in the atmostphere.

Dittemore said a number of teams have been established to investigate the tragedy.

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