Space shuttle Columbia launches on mission STS-107, January 16, 2003.
CREDIT: NASA

How the Columbia Shuttle Disaster Changed Spacecraft Safety Forever

by Clara Moskowitz, SPACE.com Assistant Managing Editor
Date: 29 January 2013 Time: 07:00 AM ET

Ten years after the devastating Columbia space shuttle accident that took the lives of seven astronauts, NASA is building a new spacecraft that will take humans farther into space than ever before, and will incorporate the safety lessons learned from the disaster that befell the agency Feb. 1, 2003.

That day, the shuttle Columbia was returning from a 16-day trip to space devoted to science research. But what began as a routine re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere ended disastrously as the orbiter disintegrated about 200,000 feet (61 kilometers) over Texas.

Later analysis found that Columbia was doomed during its launch, when a small bit of foam insulation broke off the shuttle’s external fuel tank and tore a hole in the orbiter’s wing. That hole prevented Columbia from withstanding the scorching heat of re-entry.

Afterward, the independent team that investigated the accident, called the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB), found a number of factors, from the safety culture at NASA to the design of the shuttle, that led to the disaster. [Photos: The Columbia Space Shuttle Tragedy]

All of the lessons the agency learned were incorporated into every subsequent flight NASA flew, and are now being used to inform the design of its next-generation spaceship, Orion. That vehicle is slated to carry people to asteroids, the moon and Mars sometime in the mid-2020s.

Read more: How the Columbia Shuttle Disaster Changed Spacecraft Safety Forever | Space.com.

Home           Top of page