Today, its the 16th anniversary of the fateful day when Columbia’s last space shuttle mission suffered a catastrophic and fatal end on February 1, 2003, taking away life of its 7 onboard crew members. Columbia disintegrated over Texas during its re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, shortly before it was scheduled to conclude its 28th mission, STS-107!
What was STS-107?
STS-107 was the 113th flight of the Space Shuttle program, and the final flight of Space Shuttle Columbia. The mission was launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on January 16, 2003. It stayed in its orbit for 15 days, 22 hours, 20 minutes and 32 seconds, and its main aim was to do study the microgravity phenomenons. During its lifetime of less than 16 days, the team onboard conducted a number of scientific experiments, which included videos taken to study atmospheric dust, experiments to test the reaction of zero gravity on the web formation of the Garden Orb Spider and many other experiments. On an average, around 80 experiments in life sciences, material sciences, fluid physics and other matters were performed.
The team onboard :
Commander: The commander of mission was “Rick D. Husband”, who was a U.S. Air Force colonel and mechanical engineer. Pilot: “William C. McCool”, a U.S. Navy commander was the Pilot for the mission.
Payload commander: The Payload commander was “Michael P. Anderson”, who was a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel and physicist.
Payload specialist: Ilan Ramon, a colonel in the Israeli Air Force and the first Israeli astronaut was the Payload Specialist.
Mission specialists: “Kalpana Chawla”, an aerospace engineer who was on her second space mission, “David M. Brown”, a U.S. Navy captain and “Laurel Blair Salton Clark”, a U.S. Navy captain and flight surgeon who worked on biological experiments onboard, were the three mission specialists.
What caused the drastic end?
The catastrophic end of this mission is related to its launch itself. According to reports, About 82 seconds after Columbia left the ground, a piece of foam fell from a “bipod ramp” that was part of a structure that attached the external tank to the shuttle. Bits of foam had detached in past missions also without any serious mishap, and, at the time of the mission launch, NASA engineers did not think that the foam carried enough momentum to cause significant damage. Although some engineers had wanted ground-based cameras to take photos of the orbiting shuttle to look for the damage, but the officials did not look into it, consequently leading to a big mishap.
During Columbia’s atmospheric reentry, hot gases penetrated the damaged tile section and melted major structural elements of the wing, which eventually collapsed. The temperatures rose abruptly within sections of the left wing and the space shuttle broke into pieces within a few minutes.The tragic disintegration of the craft was recorded by television cameras and U.S. Air Force radar. Its major components and the remains of the crew were recovered later over the following month.
The Columbia space shuttle tragedy is one of those human disasters which the world can never forget.
RIP, the brave hearts of the mission!