On February 1, 2003 tragedy once again struck the NASA family when the Space Shuttle Columbia broke up while it was returning to earth.
The Columbia broke apart in flames 200,000 feet over Texas killing all seven astronauts just minutes before they were to glide to a landing in Florida.
THE JOURNEY BEGINS: Nixon announced the Space Shuttle program 45 years ago
At approximately 9:00 a.m., within seconds of the last communication received from the Columbia crew, residents in Texas and Louisiana reported hearing a loud noise and seeing debris falling from the skies.
The remnants of the shuttle were scattered across a large part of East Texas as it entered the atmosphere. Within hours locals were calling to report pieces of the spacecraft strewn about their property, along roads, and in backyards.
The incident, which claimed the lives of seven astronauts came just days after the seventeenth anniversary of the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.
HISTORY OF THE PROGRAM: Despite hurdles, space shuttle was key to a grander vision
Commander Rick Husband; Pilot William McCool; Kalpana Chawla; Michael Anderson; Dr. Laurel Clark; Dr. David Brown; and Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli in space, all lost their lives.
Fourteen years later reminders of Columbia are everywhere, including up in the sky. Everything from asteroids, lunar craters and Martian hills, to schools, parks, streets and even an airport (Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport) bear the Columbia astronauts’ names.
Some 84,000 pounds of wreckage, representing 40 percent of NASA’s oldest space shuttle, are stored at Kennedy and loaned for engineering research. The wreckage serves as a training tool for those studying disasters like Columbia.
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