Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster

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The Space Shuttle Columbia was the second space shuttle disaster and the first shuttle lost on land happened on February 1, 2003. In this mission, six American astronauts and Israel's first spaceman died when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated 200,000ft above Texas. They are David Brown, Rick Husband, Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson, William McCool and Ilan Ramon. Rick husband is the Columbia's commander was a US air force colonel recruited to the space program in 1994. He made his first flight in 1999; last week's was his second. William McCool is the Columbia pilot was on his first flight. A naval commander and test pilot, he was selected for the space program in April 1996, and trained at the Johnson space centre. Michael Anderson is one of only a handful of African-American astronauts, Anderson had logged 211 hours in space before the Columbia disaster. A USAF lieutenant-colonel, he joined Nasa in 1994. Kalpana Chawla is an experienced astronaut who made her first flight on STS-87 in 1997. David Brown was a military flight surgeon before joining the astronaut corps. Laurel Clark joined Nasa in the same year as Brown, and was trained as a space flight surgeon. Lastly is the Ilan Ramon, an Israeli air force colonel, Ramon was his country's first astronaut. He took part in the 1973 Yom Kippur war and the 1981 bombing raid that destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor. With the Columbia accident, not only has the nation lost a four-billion-dollar shuttle, seven outstanding astronauts and priceless experimental results, it has also lost confidence in manned space flight and space exploration.

February 1, 2003 was a sunny day. It was the perfect day for the Columbia shuttle return to earth. Everyone at NASA was excited for their return because the shuttle would bring back a lot of useful information from the 16 days mission. No one suspected tragedy will happen.

At around 9am, the shuttle lost contact with NASA. The mission controllers thought it was a temporary problem because of the shuttle reentry into the atmosphere and also the temperature sensors on the inboard and outboard elevons (A control surface on an airplane that combines the functions of an elevator and an aileron.) on the left wing had stopped functioning minutes before. NASA start to recognize something unusual happened when several 911 calls were made by the residents in Texas, Arkansas and the Louisiana area. The space shuttle Columbia and her seven crewmembers were lost.

Immediately after losing of the shuttle and the seven crewmembers, NASA stopped all shuttle operations at Kennedy Space Center. They collected all the remains piece of the Columbia shuttle and grid on the floor of the Reusable Launch Vehicle Hangar. The Columbia Reconstruction Project Team attempted to reconstruct the bottom of the orbiter as part of the investigation into the accident. The engineers found that a 20-inch piece of hardened insulation foam breaking off the main fuel tank and hitting the shuttle’s left wing during the launch on January 16th. They asked the top shuttle managers for outside agency assistance, but the request was denied. This is because the shuttle managers concluded that there was no safety concern due to the foam’s impact and decided to let the mission continue.

Other possible causes were pilot mistake and space debris. After investigations continued in the next few weeks, some molten aluminum debris from the shuttle’s wing structure, as well as molten steel debris, had been found. When the engineers eliminated the other possibilities, they began to focus on the foam from the external tank only.

When the shuttle reenters the atmosphere, the temperature on its surface can reach nearly 1649oC. So the Thermal Protection System (Various materials applied to the outer structure protect the orbiter from excessive heat) on the shuttle is critical. There are four different materials in the space shuttles Thermal Protection System (TPS)....
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