The space shuttle Columbia became a feat of engineering excellence. It was most complex machine ever built to bring humans to and from space and beyond and which has successfully expanded the era of space exploration. The space shuttle has an unsurpassed legacy of achievement.
The first of NASA’s Space Shuttle fleet was the orbiter known as Columbia, named after a sailing vessel that operated out of Boston in 1792 and explored the mouth of the Columbia River. . Construction on Columbia started in 1975 in Palmdale, California and it was delivered to the Kennedy Space Center in 1979. The shuttle was named after a ship that operated out of Boston in 1792 and explored the Columbia river. One of the first U.S. Navy ships to circumnavigate the globe was also named Columbia.
The shuttle experienced many programs which resulted in a delay of its first launch. Columbia successfully took off and completed its Orbital Flight Test Program missions in 1981 on April 12th, which was the 20th anniversary of the first spaceflight and first manned human spaceflight in history known as Vostok 1. Columbia orbited the Earth 36 times, commanded by John Young, a Gemini and Apollo program veteran, before landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
Columbia’s last successful mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope launched in 2002 and was the shuttle’s 27th flight. Its next mission, STS-107, saw a loss of the orbiter when it disintegrated during reentry into the atmosphere and killed all seven of its crew. In 2011, President Bush retired the Shuttle orbiter fleet and the 30 year Space Shuttle program in favor of the new Constellation program with a new shuttle fleet including spacecraft Orion. The many costs and delays involved in this new program were the reason it was cancelled by President Obama in favor of using private companies to service the International Space Station. Today, U.S. crews will access the ISS via the Russian Soyuz spacecraft until a U.S. crew vehicle is ready.
Sadly, on February 1, 2003, on mission STS-107, the Columbia ran into trouble while flying over Texas, as a piece of foam insulation broke off from the shuttle’s propellant tank and damaged the edge of the shuttle’s left wing. This caused the shuttle to break apart just minutes before Columbia was scheduled to land at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. All seven crew members on board were killed instantly.
The crew members were:
- Commander: Rick D. Husband, a U.S. Air Force colonel and mechanical engineer, who piloted a previous shuttle during the first docking with the International Space Station (STS-96).
- Pilot: William C. McCool, a U.S. Navy commander.
- Payload Commander: Michael P. Anderson, a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, physicist and mission specialist who was in charge of the science mission.
- Payload Specialist: Ilan Ramon, a colonel in the Israeli Air Force and the first Israeli astronaut.
- Mission Specialist: Kalpana Chawla, an Indian-born aerospace engineer who was on her second space mission.
- Mission Specialist: David M. Brown, a U.S. Navy captain trained as an aviator and flight surgeon. Brown worked on scientific experiments.
- Mission Specialist: Laurel Blair Salton Clark, a U.S. Navy captain and flight surgeon. Clark worked on biological experiments.
The Columbia disaster was the second major tragedy in the history of the space shuttle program. A few minutes after launch on January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger broke apart and all seven astronauts on board perished as well.