Columbia, We Remember Thee Well

February 10, 2013 in Publisher's Corner

The Columbia Crew Shortly Before the Disaster

Pictured is the STS-107 shuttle Columbia crew in orbit, the photo being recovered from an undeveloped film canister in the wreckage. The shirt colors indicate their mission shifts. From left (bottom row): Kalpana Chawla, mission specialist; Rick Husband, commander; Laurel Clark, mission specialist; and Ilan Ramon, payload specialist. From left (top row) are astronauts David Brown, mission specialist; William McCool, pilot; and Michael Anderson, payload commander. Ramon represents the Israeli Space Agency. Source: NASA/JSC.

Feb. 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia broke up as it returned to Earth, killing all seven astronauts aboard. While their lives may be lost, the spirit of those pioneers is not. Even though NASA suspended space shuttle flights for more than two years following the disaster, the American space program continues undaunted. This is not because we have forgotten the bravery, brilliance and sacrifice of those lost over the years. It is because we honor them, moving ever forward.

“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,” said Sean O’Keefe, NASA’s administrator at the time.

A two-year investigation  determined a large piece of foam had fallen from the shuttle’s external fuel tank, catastrophically breaching the leading edge of the port wing. The hole allowed atmospheric gases to bleed into the spacecraft during its fiery re-entry, resulting in the loss of sensors, damage to the wing’s internal structure and eventually, Columbia itself. NASA came under intense scrutiny since the problem with the foam had been known for years.

The crew consisted of Rick Husband, commander; Michael Anderson, payload commander; David Brown, mission specialist; Kalpana Chawla, mission specialist; Laurel Clark, mission specialist; William McCool, pilot; and Ilan Ramon, payload specialist from the Israeli Space Agency. The crew, working 24-hours a day in two shifts, performed about 80 experiments in life sciences, material sciences, fluid physics and other areas.

NASA’s Day of Remembrance pays tribute to the loss of the Columbia and its crew every year, along with several other space-bound crews. Coincidentally, the Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia crews were all lost in the same calendar week.

While space travel remains dangerous, our astronaut heroes remain determined in their mission to explore man’s final frontier. Let us remember their spirit. Let us not forget from whence we came. And let us look with wonder to where we will go.

Humblest regards,

Michael Hammill