Shuttle Columbia's Last Liftoff

Ten years ago today — January 16, 2003 — the Space Shuttle Columbia launched from Kennedy Space Center on a mission that would end sixteen minutes too soon.

(STS-107 crew in-flight photo. NASA image.)

At the time the shuttle launched, we (by which I mean the public) thought the mission profile was nominal. The STS-107 crew — Rick D. Husband, William C. McCool, Michael P. Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David M. Brown, Laurel B. S. Clark, and Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon — busied themselves with scientific investigations around the clock during their 15 days in space.

KSC landing was planned for Feb. 1 after a 16-day mission, but Columbia and crew were lost during reentry over East Texas at about 9 a.m. EST, 16 minutes prior to the scheduled touchdown at KSC. A seven-month investigation followed, including a four month search across Texas to recover debris. The search was headquartered at Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, La. Nearly 85,000 pieces of orbiter debris were shipped to KSC and housed in the Columbia Debris Hangar near the Shuttle Landing Facility. The KSC debris reconstruction team identified pieces as to location on the orbiter, and determined damaged areas. About 38 percent of the orbiter Columbia was eventually recovered.

In perhaps a fitting tribute to the STS-107 crew, some of the science experiments were found during the debris recovery effort. While much of the data the astronauts gathered had been transmitted during flight to colleagues on the ground, the recovered experiments produced additional valuable information.

Visit the STS-107 memorial page for more information.

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