Columbia shuttle disaster

Disaster struck against a clear blue sky in Texas on February 01, when the Columbia shuttle, scheduled to land just 16 minutes later, disintegrated in a shower of debris. Seven lives were snuffed out in the firmament, including that of Indian born Kalpana Chawla and first time Israeli Astronaut, Ilan Ramon.


Here is a timeline of what happened:

Crewmember Laura Clark takes the wake up call and expresses enthusiasm over their return to earth. The 16-day science mission has been successful, despite some minor problems.

8:15 AM - Columbia begins its de-orbit burn; it fires the breaking rockets.


8.53 AM - The shuttle is over California when the first indications of problems occur. There is a loss of temperature sensors in the hydraulics system resulting in rise in temperature and pressure on the left wing.

8.53-8.58 - Shuttle moves over Nevada, Mexico, while experiencing a higher rise in temperature on the main fuselage above the left wing, later the sensors on the left side of the vehicle stop working. At this point, Columbia has an altitude of nearly 40 miles; its speed is in excess of Mach 18 (18 times the speed of sound). It is still 1,400 miles from the Kennedy runway.


8.59 - Columbia is over west Texas, data is lost from the sensor of the left-tyre. Crew is alerted, two of the four yaw jets on the right side fire for one-and-a-half seconds to try to correct the vehicle's attitude. But in vain. All vehicle data is lost. The last words heard from the crew were "Roger... erm..."

Shortly after that some witnesses in Texas describe hearing a loud bang and seeing several white trails against the sky.


Reports of debris begin coming in, while NASA admonishes that no debris should be touched as they could contain toxic material harmful to humans.

On hindsight, some officials suggest the problem began during the take off itself on January 16. During take off, heat-resistant tiles on the underside of the shuttle's left wing were significantly damaged by debris. Though this was noted by NASA officials, they did not deem it to be too dangerous to call the shuttle back. But now, there are suggestions that this could have caused the intense frictional heat of re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere.

While investigations continue about what went wrong, it is going to be a several months till we come to know the reality behind this catastrophe.

And as the investigations continue, we take a look at several websites, which ran specials on this disastrous event.


Farewell Columbia

America relives a nightmare as another space shuttle disintegrates in a blue morning sky.This special from TIME has news coverage, viewpoints, information on the crew, a flashback to the Challenger tragedy of 1986 and a photo gallery.

Lost: Space Shuttle Columbia

This special from CNN has the latest news updates, an animation of the tragedy, a slide show, information about the crew and several related features and articles.

Space Shuttle Columbia

Interactive guide to how the disaster unfolded

This special from Guardian gives the latest news, features on the latest investigations, comment and analysis, pictures, a section for the crewmembers and articles related to the future of space programs.

STS - 107 Columbia Disaster

Apart from having the top news stories, this special from has profiles of the crew members, a presentation on Shuttle Columbia's Long Road to Space and a interactive section titled Interactive Space Shuttle.

The Chawlas' odyssey

This is a Rediff special and tribute to Kalpana Chawla.