On the 1st of February 2003, Space Shuttle Columbia, one of NASA’s premier space shuttles🚀 disintegrated while re-entering earth’s atmosphere after a 16-day mission.
It led to the death😢 of all seven crew members including Indian-born Kalpana Chawla who was a mission specialist on that expedition.
What was the cause?
While returning to Earth, a piece of foam insulation broke off😟 from the shuttle’s external tank and struck its left wing.
The damage allowed hot atmospheric gases💭 to penetrate the shuttle’s heat shield and destroy its internal wing structure.
It caused the spacecraft to become unstable↘ and break apart.
Later on during the investigation🔍, it turned out that the technical fault such as the one, in this case, had occurred before without becoming any cause for concern.
A legendary workhorse
Columbia was the first☝ space shuttle to fly in space with its maiden flight in 1981.
It successfully completed✌ 27 missions before the disaster.
Following the loss of Columbia, NASA grounded🚫 its three remaining shuttles: Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour leading to the suspension of the entire space shuttle program.
NASA redesigned🧐 its shuttles’ external tanks and implemented other safety measures.
It maintained its shuttle fleet long enough to complete🙂 the construction of the International Space Station.
Eventually, it retired its whole space shuttle program in 2011 after 135 missions🛰 in total.