NASA to mark 10th anniversary of Columbia disaster today

1 Feb 2013

Columbia crew. Top, from left: David Brown, William McCool, Michael Anderson. Bottom, from left: Kalpana Chawla, Rick Husband, Laurel Clark and Ilan Ramon, payload specialist. Image via NASA

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the Columbia space shuttle disaster, which resulted in the deaths of its seven astronauts. NASA is marking the anniversary with ceremonies at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and in Texas.

On this day in 2003, the Columbia shuttle broke apart over Texas when returning from a 16-day space mission.

The crew of Columbia was just 16 minutes from landing when NASA’s mission control lost contact with the shuttle.

Later analysis revealed that a piece of foam had fallen from the external tank during launch and had opened a hole in one of the shuttle’s wings, leading to the break-up of the orbiter upon re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

The crew members lost in the disaster were commander Rick Husband, co-pilot William McCool, mission specialists Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, Michael Anderson, David Brown and Ilan Ramon, an Israeli fighter pilot who was payload specialist during the Columbia mission.

“Ten years ago, seven brave astronauts gave their lives in the name of exploration when America’s first flight-ready space shuttle, Columbia, failed to return safely to Earth,” said US President Barack Obama today.

He said today is a day to pause and remember those who paid the “ultimate sacrifice” on the journey of exploration.

“Right now we are working to fulfil their highest aspirations by pursuing a path in space never seen before, one that will eventually put Americans on Mars,” said Obama.

February 1 is also the day when NASA remembers other astronauts who have died during missions, including the seven crew members who lost their lives during the space shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986, plus the Apollo 1 crew.

Today, NASA TV will provide live coverage of a wreath-laying ceremony at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida at 10am (ET), 11am (EDT) or 3pm (GMT).

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic