Remembering the Columbia Space Shuttle Disaster 20 Years Later

The Space Shuttle Columbia on its last launch on January 16, 2003.

The space shuttle Columbia during its final launch on January 16, 2003.
photo: NASA

The 28th flight of NASA’s space shuttle Columbia ended in disaster on February 1, 2003 while 27 miles over the state of Texas, marking the second catastrophic mission for NASA’s shuttle program. Twenty years later, the tragic event serves as an important reminder of the dangers of space exploration – and why astronaut safety should always come first.

A falling lump of insulation foam weighing no more than 1.67 pounds was all it took to bring down the 179,000 pound space shuttle Columbia. The debris made a cut in the orbiter’s left wing and compromised the shuttle’s thermal protection system. The orbiter broke up on re-entry on February 1, 2003, resulting in the deaths of all seven crew members on board.

A subsequent investigation uncovered serious flaws in NASA’s safety culture, but the shuttle’s exorbitant cost and poor safety performance signaled the beginning of the end for the program, which ended just eight years later. Remembering the Columbia Space Shuttle Disaster 20 Years Later

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