March 2003
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The lost shuttle: Columbia
By Ryan U., Grade 12, Marystown Central High, Burin, NL

February 1, 2003 should have been a day of celebration, as the NASA space shuttle Columbia (STS-107) was supposed to return to Earth after completing their stay in space. Any space shuttle landing is a joyous occasion because there are always uncertanties about what will happen during re-entry. But the return of Columbia was to be more exciting, as Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut, was a crew member on the shuttle.

Columbia's crew

At about 9a.m. EST, the command center at Houston, Texas lost all contact with Columbia. The spacecraft was at an altitude of about 200,000 feet over Texas. It was traveling at about 12,500 miles per hour when contact was lost and was some 16 minutes from its estimated landing time.

Preliminary reports show that during re-entry, the space shuttle experienced problems on its left side where sensors showed a dramatic rise in heat, and the pressure in the tire was also increasing.

After news about contact with the shuttle being lost spread, people in Texas heard a boom, and looked out their window to see a big ball of fire racing toward the earth, and then they watched in horror as what was believed to be the space shuttle disintegrated under extreme pressure and heat, and fell to the ground.

Now began the job of locating all the debris, and looking through it all to see what went wrong on that dreadful morning. This task wasn't as easy as it sounds, as the debris field stretched from California to Texas, where it finally broke apart.

Detailed reports days after the tragedy, said that during launch, a piece of insulation fell off the fuel tank, striking the left wing. This could have possibly done damage to the ceramic tiles. And during re-entry the sensors indicated heat increases on that left wing. So as of now, they are blaming the loss of 7 astronauts on that piece of insulation.

We will find out more in the days to come as the investigation advances.


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