Today in History: Columbia shuttle launches, disaster awaits


On the 16th of January 2003, the space shuttle Columbia, with her seven crew members on board, launched into orbit, but would later meet her destruction.

The mission of the shuttle, namely STS-107 (a research-based mission) was originally supposed to launch in January of 2001, but was delayed for two years.

When the ship finally did launch, in 2003, an event took place, creating a time bomb for the shuttle’s re-entry, when a piece of foam insulation broke off and struck her left wing.

After spending 16 days in orbit, with her crew having conducted various experiments, the shuttle would attempt to return to earth, heading in over Texas towards Florida’s Kennedy Space Centre, before disintegrating in images which shocked the world

All seven astronauts were killed.

It is believed that, upon re-entry, the damage caused to the left wing allowed for hot gases to enter, ultimately leading to the craft ripping apart at a speed many times above the sound barrier.

The “Columbia Disaster”, as it became known, would postpone all space shuttle missions for two years and has been considered to be the second-worst disaster in the space shuttle program’s history, behind the Challenger disaster of 1986.


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