The 28th flight of NASA’s Space Shuttle Columbia ended in disaster on February 1, 2003, while it was 27 miles above the state of Texas, marking the second catastrophic mission of NASA’s shuttle program. Twenty years later, the tragic event serves as an important reminder of the dangers posed by space exploration—and why astronaut safety should always be a priority.
A falling chunk of insulating foam weighing no more than 1.67 pounds—that’s all it took to take down the 179,000-pound Space Shuttle Columbia. The debris formed a gash in the orbiter’s left wing, compromising the Shuttle’s thermal protection system. The orbiter disintegrated during reentry on February 1, 2003, resulting in the deaths of all seven crew members on board.
An ensuing investigation uncovered serious faults with NASA’s safety culture, but the Shuttle’s exorbitant cost and poor safety performance signaled the beginning of the end for the program, which ended just eight years later.