Columbia STS-107

Painful Memories

We left our Cocoa Beach hotel in the pre-dawn hours of February 6, 2018 with our tickets in hand for the first launch of Space X’s “Falcon Heavy, our reward for arriving early was a spot on the third bus to the Apollo-Saturn V center. At 4 miles from Launch Complex 39a this is the prime location for “VIP” viewing.

The Columbia Disaster

We were privileged to visit the Shuttle Landing Facility on the way, this hangar on the SLF access road was pointed out by the guide. Here was where the remains of Space Shuttle Columbia were collected after the disaster.

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STS-107 was the 113th flight of the Space Shuttle program, and the 28th and final flight of Space Shuttle Columbia. The mission launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on January 16, 2003 and during its 15 days, 22 hours, 20 minutes, 32 seconds in orbit conducted a multitude of international scientific experiments. It was also the 88th post-Challenger disaster mission. An in-flight break up during reentry into the atmosphere on February 1 killed all seven crew members and disintegrated Columbia. — wikipedia

Immediately after the disaster, NASA convened the Columbia accident Investigation Board to determine the cause of the disintegration. The source of the failure was determined to have been caused by a piece of foam that broke off during launch and damaged the thermal protection system (reinforced carbon-carbon panels and thermal protection tiles) on the leading edge of the orbiter’s left wing. During re-entry the damaged wing slowly overheated and came apart, eventually leading to loss of control and disintegration of the vehicle. The cockpit window frame is now exhibited in a memorial inside the Space Shuttle Atlantis Pavilion at the Kennedy Space Center. — wikipedia

The damage to the thermal protection system on the wing was similar to that Atlantis had sustained in 1988 during STS-27, the second mission after the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. However, the damage on STS-27 occurred at a spot that had more robust metal (a thin steel plate near the landing gear), and that mission survived the re-entry. — wikipedia

Sources of information for this post: I used information from the Wikipedia site for the key words “STS-107.”

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