The Terrible Events of The Columbia Mission

The Terrible Events of The Columbia Mission

On the sixteenth of January, 2003, at 10:39 am, the Columbia lifted off for the first shuttle mission of the year.

By the 1st of February, the space shuttle started its descent over the pacific towards the United States. The crew got ready for a routine landing.  One of the crew members was engineer and astronaut Kalpana Chawla, the first Indian woman to go to space. Suddenly, however, something went wrong, and the ship’s left side was damaged. But what exactly had caused this catastrophic disaster? 

The STS-107 crew includes, from the left, Mission Specialist David Brown, Commander Rick Husband, Mission Specialists Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla and Michael Anderson, Pilot William McCool and Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon. (NASA photo)

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. Video from the launch appeared to show the foam striking Columbia’s left-wing. NASA was investigating the foam strike that took place during launch and was aware of this malfunction. Several agencies pushed for further investigation but this was declined by NASA and the landing of the Columbia was approved. This action caused the climax of the disaster!

As the shuttle approached for its routine landing at the Kennedy space center, abnormal readings showed up at Mission Control. Temperature readings from sensors located on the left wing were lost. Then, tire pressure readings from the left side of the shuttle also vanished.

At that point, Columbia was near Dallas, traveling 18 times the speed of sound and still 200,700 feet (61,170 meters) above the ground. Mission Control made several attempts to get in touch with the astronauts but were left with no communication.

It was later found that a hole on the left-wing allowed atmospheric gases to bleed into the shuttle as it went through its fiery re-entry, leading to the loss of the sensors and eventually, Columbia itself.

This compromised the mission and costed 7 endeared lives. The Columbia mission was the second space shuttle disaster after Challenger, which saw a catastrophic failure during launch in 1986 and a consequent explosion.

The Columbia crew consisting of Rick Husband, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, William MC Cool, Laurel Clark, and Iian Ramon. 

The Columbia has successfully conducted 27 missions before its failure and was the first-ever space shuttle to go to space. Thus it was a huge breakthrough for the scientific world. The crew had the mission of gathering information and conducting research. In the biological applications, two separate OBPR (the office of best practice regulations, which applies impact analysis for policy development) experiments allowed different types of cultures to grow together- their development enhanced genetic characteristics. One use of these results was the combatting of prostate cancer and the other improvement of crop yield. There was, in addition, another experiment that showed the usefulness of plant products grown in space. 

 It was a tragic moment in the history of mankind and a motive to ensure that no further disasters happen ever again. Every year, on the First of February, people from all over the world grieve on this day: the death anniversary of the crew of the Columbia Space Shuttle.

-Vedant Kothari


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