STS-107: Columbia down

Space ShuttleAFter nearly 17 days in orbit performing experiments in the SPACEHAB module its cargo bay, Space Shuttle Columbia deorbits to return to Earth for a planned landing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. During reentry, a gaping hole in the leading edge of Columbia’s left wing – damage caused by a piece of foam shaken loose from the external fuel tank during liftoff – allows superheated plasma to leak into the shuttle’s superstructure, tearing the vehicle apart. The entire crew (Commander Rick Husband, Pilot Willie McCool, Payload Commander Michael Anderson, mission specialists Kalpana Chawla, David Brown and Laurel Clark, and payload specialist Ilan Ramon) is lost. At first, ground controllers are only aware of a series of sensor failures in the wing, followed by a loss of contact; ground-based cameras finally spot an expanding cloud of debris falling at supersonic speeds. As with the loss of Challenger in 1986, an extensive investigation and review of NASA procedures follows the loss of Columbia and her crew, resulting in a two-year grounding of the remaining shuttle fleet and a pause in construction of the International Space Station.