Voyage Ends in Tragedy
At 7:53am CST,
the Space Shuttle Columbia–traveling at mach 18, several times the
speed of sound and just minutes before an expected perfect landing
in Florida–suddenly lost contact with Houston Mission Control and
it quickly became a moment to mourn. By 8:00am, about 203,000 feet
above Texas, people over the peaceful cow roaming country of North
East Texas suddenly heard what was described as a loud fast train
and furious rumbling and then sounds of explosions. Several people
saw the trail of fire from the ship thrusting toward the ground.
earlier, as the shuttle passed Southern California on its way to
Florida, photographers saw what may have been the beginning of the
Columbia breaking up. The photographers, expecting to take routine
shots, were startled to see red flares streaking across the nose
and wing of the shuttle. People in Texas minutes later with home
video cameras, captured the tragic and devastating end of the shuttle
breaking up in mid-flight, killing the entire courageous crew of
7: six Americans and one Israeli.
Right before the
sensors quit and the last words from the Astronauts, “roger
that”, were heard, officials say the Columbia was “in
a good communications area” and that communications were clear.
“Then, we lost communications and tried to reach Columbia via
UHF channels, but still no response.”
this image from television, contrails from what appears to
be the space shuttle Columbia can be seen streaking across
the sky over Texas on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2003.
Pronk,WFAA-TV, Dallas / AP Photo
addressed the nation shortly after the tragedy: “In the skies
today we saw destruction and tragedy. Yet farther than we can see
there is comfort and hope. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘Lift
your eyes and look to the heavens. Who created all these? He who
brings out the starry hosts one by one and calls them each by name.
Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them
“The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names
of the seven souls we mourn today. The crew of the shuttle Columbia
did not return safely to Earth; yet we can pray that all are safely
One of the 7
tragedies is the loss of Israel’s first astronaut who had
become a namesake in Israel. Ilan Ramon was a hero to countless
Israelis. The Israeli fighter pilot had flown in critical missions,
logging over 4,000 hours in flight.
Ilan flew an
F-16 into Iraq on an important secret mission in Operation Peace
for Galilee to destroy the nearly operational Iraqi nuclear reactor
near Baghdad, in 1981.
NASA, Ramon, who also has degrees in science, electronics and computer
engineering, had duties on Columbia that included working with a
multispectral camera for recording desert aerosol–an experiment
designed to study how desert dust and other contaminants in the
Earth’s atmosphere affect rainfall and other weather on Earth.
Ilan Ramon has
been so loved by his country, that nearly 300 Israelis and dignitaries
came to the U.S. for Columbia’s launch. Back home in Israel, many
classrooms had assignments that included tracking his progress with
the shuttle mission. A high school in Israel even had him take an
experiment up with him on the growth of crystals. A few days before
the tragedy, he e-mailed the high school with the test results that
may now be used to advance medicine.
It was also important
for Ilan to bring with him items from his Jewish heritage. A special
hand crafted mezuzah was taken up with him. And, although he is a
secular Jew, he consulted with rabbis about bringing kosher food.
NASA found the appropriate supplier for the first kosher food prepared
for space travel. One of the most significant items that Ilan brought
on his space journey was a copy of a sketch drawn during the time
of the Holocaust by Petr Ginz, a 14-year-old Jewish boy. The young
artist and would be future astronaut later died at Auschwitz, but
his drawing of what the Earth would look like from the moon survived.
Holocaust survivor Yehoyahin Yosef, a professor of planetary physics
at Tel Aviv University, gave Ramon a pocket sized Torah scroll that
he used to study for his bar mitzvah when he was in the Bergen-Belsen
Landscape”, created by Petr Ginz.
Ramon, a colonel in the Israeli Air Force, contacted Yad Vashem’s
Art Museum requesting a Holocaust related item to take with
him on his launch into space on the shuttle Columbia, due
to the significance of the Holocaust to him as a Jew and as
Ramon spent four years preparing for this space mission and in a
NASA preflight message he said, “We are a global community,
and when you get to space science, that is the best tool and way
of living like a global community.” “Space is inspiring,
and whenever you talk about space, everyone, not only kids, even
us, we are thrilled.”
During an in-flight
interview with the astronauts, Columbia Mission Specialist David
Brown, with Commander Rick Husband nodding in agreement, said “we
know Ilan as a person, and as a crew mate he is tops.” “We
enjoy his sense of humor, he’s technically tops…he was
and is the tops.”
In the days
before Columbia lifted off, the astronauts with NASA conducted interviews
to discuss their work in space and to also express how they felt
about embarking on the upcoming scientific voyage:
aboard Columbia’s Spacehab: Back Row: (L-R)
astronaut David Brown, Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, astronaut
Kalpana Chawla, pilot William McCool, and astronaut Laurel
Clark. Front Row: (L-R) commander Rick Husband
and astronaut Michael Anderson, wave to a television camera
in this view Jan. 20, 2003. An apple is floating in the foreground.
talked about his anticipation into space. “I feel blessed
to have an extended duration space flight, to have more opportunity
to absorb the whole experience,” he said. However, he said
“it’s going to be a jam packed 16 days on Orbit.”
a pediatrician and beloved wife and mother said, “This mission
is extremely exciting; it’s a great feeling to be part of
a team of researchers and investigators that have been working for
years to bring all this into fruition. “
Anderson worked on STS-89 during the eighth Shuttle-Mir docking
mission during which the crew transferred more than 9,000 pounds
of scientific equipment, logistical hardware and water from Space
Shuttle Endeavour to Mir.
spoke of team spirit saying, “I really like to think of my
role as one of helping the rest of the crew do their jobs, trying
to make their jobs easier, and if I do my job well that should make
their jobs that much more easier, we should have a better time on
orbit and have a much more successful mission.”
Made on Columbia in Space
This was mission
specialist Kalpana Chawla’s second trip into space. The "Voice
of America" reported on her last trip to space in 1997, where
she was blamed for allowing a small satellite to spin out of control.
India’s national newspaper "The Hindi" reported on some
of the work she performed while on the Columbia mission. Chawla
apparently detected a leak in the Combustion Module 2, which "provides
control and communication facilities for all fire-related experiments"
and repaired it on January 29th. Chawla was the first Indian-born
woman in space to the delight of her former homeland.
For More on
the Seven, Click HERE
Up the Foam Mystery
For 21 years
the Columbia shuttle’s missions have gone well. When the shuttle
launched on January 16th it was initially scheduled to leave a day
earlier, but due to safety concerns the launch was held back.
safety concerns, Columbia was launched. Everything seemed fine,
although about 80 seconds after lift off a 2 foot piece of foam,
weighing about 2 pounds, fell off.
manager Ron Dittemore summed up the shock of the shuttle breakup
saying, “Things were going so well, but they turned out so
badly.” Dittemore addressed questions concerning analysis
of the piece of foam that apparently hit Columbia’s left wing. There
had been reports that the incident had not been analyzed.
up the misinformation, divulging that “right after launch…there
was a piece of foam that is used as insulation on the external tank
in the area of what we call the bi-pod…” “There is
a piece of foam that was shed, and in our review the following day
of the launch films, we saw this piece of debris drop off and it
looked to us that it impacted the orbiter on the left wing… We
spent a goodly amount of time reviewing that film and then analyzing
what that potential impact of debris on the wing might do and would
there be any consequences. It was judged that event did not represent
a safety concern… The technical community got together and
across the country and judged that to be acceptable…”
analysis" is what is needed now said Dittemore. He went on
to explain the necessity to "look at everything" before
making conclusions: “We’ve got to…piece together
the events," as to, "whether or not this was a tile problem,
or whether it was a structural issue, or some other event.”
Federal agencies will be using the debris found to help them in
the analysis and investigation.
the Columbia has been strewn across the southern United States with
pieces ending up in fields and parking lots. Sadly, human remains
have reportedly been found on the border of Texas and Louisiana.
disaster has been difficult for people across the country and across
the world. Russian President Vladimir Putin, along with other world
leaders, sent President Bush their sympathies. Putin sent a telegram
that went on Russia’s First Channel television. Putin said
Russia "sympathizes deeply with you over the tragedy which
has struck your country." It was also reported in Russia that
Putin sent condolences to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Local leaders in
the United States spoke of their experiences with the shuttle crew.
Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay reminisced on television,
telling of how he prayed with astronaut Rick Husband and his wife
before the mission was to take place. California Congressman Brad
Sherman released a statement that spoke of the time he and Ramon and
his family spent together in California and how he now misses his
came to know Ilan Ramon when he and his wife Rona came to visit
my district as my guests in August 2000. Ilan was an inspiration
to all of us who believe that the future of humankind includes space,
and to all of us who support a close U.S.-Israel relationship."
As all of Israel
grieves for the loss of its hero, the government offered its condolences
for the U.S. deaths in the tragedy: "The Israeli government
and people share the sorrow of the Ramon family, and of the families
of the other astronauts, who perished today (Saturday), February
1, 2003, in the space shuttle Columbia disaster. The Israeli government
sends condolences on behalf of the entire Jewish people to Rona
Ramon and the Ramon family, the families of the American astronauts,
US President George W. Bush, and the entire American people.”
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said, "Let us pray together and
support each other."
Bush Speaks at Memorial to Honor Columbia Space Shuttle Crew
(February 4, 2003)