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Space Shuttle Columbia Fast Facts

CNN Editorial Research

Here’s a look at the Space Shuttle Columbia. On February 1, 2003, the Columbia broke up upon re-entry during mission STS-107, killing all seven crew members. It was the second loss of a shuttle in 113 shuttle flights.


Space Shuttle Columbia, the first reusable spacecraft, was the oldest in the shuttle fleet. It completed 27 missions; STS-107 was its 28th mission.

The Columbia Accident Investigation Board determined that the cause of the accident was a piece of insulating foam that broke off and struck a hole in the leading edge of the left wing less than two minutes into the flight.

The investigation into the cause of the break up cost over $400 million, involved more than 2,500 workers, and over 85,000 pieces of debris, equaling over 38% of the shuttle.

April 12-14, 1981 – STS-1 is the first space shuttle mission. The Columbia orbits Earth 37 times before landing.

The shuttle was called Columbia after the Columbia River which was named by boat captain Robert Gray in 1792.

The Crew of Mission STS 107

Michael Anderson, Payload Commander – December 25, 1959-February 1, 2003 (age 43). Born in Plattsburg, New York (but considered Spokane, Washington, his hometown), Anderson was a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Air Force and logged over 211 hours in space during his first space flight aboard the Shuttle Endeavour. He was the third African-American astronaut to die in the line of duty. He was survived by his wife, Sandra, and two children.

David Brown, Mission Specialist – April 16, 1956-February 1, 2003 (age 46). Born in Arlington, Virginia. Brown was a Captain in the US Navy and a flight surgeon. He was selected for pilot training in 1988 and became a NASA astronaut in 1996. He had logged over 2,700 flight hours with 1,700 in high performance military aircraft.

Kalpana Chawla, Mission Specialist – July 1, 1961-February 1, 2003 (age 41). Born in Karnal, India, Chawla was the first native of India to fly in the US space shuttle and was one of the 6 astronaut crew that flew Columbia on its 24th flight in November-December 1997. She was survived by her husband, Jean-Pierre Harrison.

Laurel Clark, Mission Specialist – March 10, 1961-February 1, 2003 (age 41). Born in Ames, Iowa (but considered Racine, Wisconsin, her hometown), Clark was a US Navy Captain and medical doctor. She joined NASA in 1996. She was survived by her husband, Jonathan, and one child.

Rick Husband, Shuttle Commander – July 12, 1957-February 1, 2003 (age 45). Born in Amarillo, Texas, Husband was a Colonel in the US Air Force and logged over 3,800 hours of flight time in more than 40 different types of aircraft. He was survived by his wife, Evelyn, and two children.

William “Willie” McCool, Shuttle Pilot – September 23, 1961-February 1, 2003 (age 41). Born in San Diego, California, McCool was a Commander in the US Navy and a graduate of the US Naval Academy. This was his first Shuttle mission. He was survived by his wife, Atilana, and three children.

Ilan Ramon, Payload Specialist – June 20, 1954-February 1, 2003 (age 48). Born in Tel Aviv, Israel, Ramon was the first Israeli Astronaut to fly aboard a space shuttle. He was survived by his wife, Rona, and four children.


November 7, 1977 – Final assembly of the shuttle begins.

December 16, 1979 – The first orbiter integration test begins. It is completed on January 14, 1980.

March 1981 – Two workers are killed, and four others are nearly asphyxiated in a nitrogen-filled compartment of the Columbia during a launch rehearsal.

April 1981 – The Columbia’s first test launch is halted in the final seconds of countdown and is delayed for two days because of a software problem. Once it lifts off, everything works but the toilet, which becomes a chronic problem.

April 12, 1981 – Columbia becomes the first shuttle to orbit the earth.

December 8, 1983 – A small fire ignites on the US space shuttle Columbia during landing; no astronauts are injured.

August 1991 – After its 11th mission, Columbia is removed from the shuttle launch lineup to undergo inspection and retrofit at Rockwell International’s Palmdale, California, assembly plant.

February 9, 1992 – The orbiter returns to the Kennedy Space Center after receiving 50 modifications, including the addition of carbon brakes, drag chute, improved nose wheel steering, removal of development flight instrumentation, and an enhancement of its thermal protection system.

June 25, 1992 – Columbia’s first mission after its retrofit is STS-50. This is also the first ever extended-duration space shuttle mission.

October 8, 1994 – Columbia is transported to Palmdale, California, for its first Orbiter Maintenance Down Period (ODMP). This orbiter modification and refurbishment time is expected to take approximately six months.

April 4-8, 1997 – STS-83 is cut short by shuttle managers due to a problem with fuel cell No. 2, which displays evidence of internal voltage degradation after the launch.

July 1999 – During STS-93, Chandra X-Ray Observatory is placed in orbit.

September 24, 1999 – Columbia is transported to Palmdale, California, for its second ODMP. Workers perform more than 100 modifications on the vehicle.

March 1-12, 2002 – Columbia’s flight, STS-109, is a servicing mission for the Hubble Space Telescope.

January 16, 2003 – Columbia lifts off from Kennedy Space Center.

February 1, 2003 – Columbia breaks up upon re-entry during mission STS-107, killing all seven members of the crew.

February 3, 2003 – A large section of the Columbia’s cabin is found in eastern Texas.

March 20, 2003 – The electronic box containing vital information on the descent of the space shuttle is found intact in a field near Hemphill, Texas.

July 7, 2003 – During a test, a chunk of foam blows open a 16-inch hole in a mock-up of the shuttle wing. Investigators declare this the “smoking gun” that shows the Columbia crew flew their entire mission with a huge hole in their wing, causing the shuttle to break apart upon reentry.

August 26, 2003 – The Columbia Accident Investigation Board releases a report that says mistakes and organizational problems at NASA were partly to blame for the break-up of the shuttle. The report indicates that engineers recognized that when foam hit the shuttle’s wings upon lift-off, the shuttle was in possibly grave danger, but management failed to take the incident seriously enough.

January 3, 2004 – NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Spirit lands on MARS. The back of the spacecraft bears a plaque with the names of the seven Columbia astronauts written on it. The landing area is named the Columbia Memorial Station.

February 1, 2008 – A fifth anniversary memorial ceremony for the STS-107 astronauts is scheduled to be held on NASA-TV.

December 30, 2008 – NASA releases a 400-page report that states that helmets that did not conform to the head, failed seat restraints, and the lack of upper body restraints played a major role in the deaths of shuttle astronauts before the ship disintegrated. The report goes on to state that even if procedures and equipment had worked perfectly, the astronauts might have lived longer and been able to take more actions, but they still would not have survived.

August 2, 2011 – Debris from the shuttle is discovered in Texas, unearthed as the result of a drought.

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