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Columbia space shuttle disaster: 17 years later

Posted at 2:21 PM, Feb 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-01 15:21:08-05

Feb. 1 marks 17 years since the Columbia space shuttle tragedy.

In 2003, space shuttle Columbia broke up as it returned to Earth, killing the seven astronauts on board.

The crew launched on Jan. 16, 2003. Onboard were Rick D. Husband, Commander; William C. McCool, Pilot; Michael P. Anderson, Payload Commander; David M. Brown, Mission Specialist; Kalpana Chawla, Mission Specialist; Laurel Blair Salton Clark, Mission Specialist and Ilan Ramon, Payload Specialist.

The crew returned on Feb. 1, 2003.

An investigation would later determine that tiles damaged during lift-off allowed super-heated atmospheric gasses to penetrate the shuttle's wing during re-entry, causing the ship to become unstable and quickly disintegrate. The crew was not told about any risk and didn't know something was wrong until very late in re-entry, according to ABC News.

The space shuttle broke apart during its return to Earth over Texas.

NASA suspended space shuttle flights for more than two years as it investigated the disaster.

An investigation board determined that a large piece of foam fell from the shuttle's external tank and breached the spacecraft wing, according to Space.com.

This problem with foam had been known for years, and NASA came under intense scrutiny in Congress and in the media for allowing the situation to continue.

This time of year marks multiple somber anniversaries for NASA. The Apollo 1 fire that killed three was on Jan. 27, 1967. On Jan. 28, 1986, the Challenger space shuttle broke apart shortly after takeoff, killing all seven onboard.