1 February 2003, 09:00:18 a.m., Eastern Standard Time: Space Shuttle Columbia, nearing the end of Mission STS-107, traveling Mach 19.5 (13,434 miles per hour, 21,620 kilometers per hour) at 209,800 feet (63,950 meters) over Texas, suffered catastrophic structural failure and disintegrated. All seven members of the crew were killed.
81.7 seconds after liftoff on 16 January, Columbia was at approximately 66,000 feet (20,100 meters) altitude and 12.5 miles (20.1 kilometers) down range, accelerating through Mach 2.46 (1,623 miles per hour, 2,612 kilometers per hour). Several pieces of insulating foam broke off of the external fuel tank (what NASA referred to as “foam shedding”) and struck the leading edge and underside of Columbia‘s left wing. It is believed that at least one of these pieces of foam punctured a hole in the wing’s surface, estimated to be 6 inches × 10 inches (15 × 25 centimeters).
During reentry, the internal structure of the wing was no longer protected by the heat resistant material of the leading edge. The extreme heat caused structural failure.
Columbia (OV-102) was America’s first space shuttle. It flew into space for the first time 11 April 1981. STS-107 was its 28th flight. During those missions, Columbia orbited the Earth 4,808 times and spent 300 days, 17 hours, 40 minutes, 22 seconds in space flight. 160 astronauts served aboard her. She traveled 125,204,911 miles (201,497,722 kilometers).
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© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes