On this day: The Space Shuttle Columbia blows up on re-entry, 2003

Rob Waugh

Ten years ago this Friday, the Space Shuttle Columbia was just 16 minutes from landing at Kennedy Space Center when disaster struck.

Flying upside down over the Indian Ocean, Commander Rick Husband and pilot William McCool fired the Shuttle’s braking rockets at 8:15 a.m on February 1, 2003.

At 8.51am, when the Shuttle was 237,000 feet above the Earth, sensors began to show it was overheating in Earth’s atmosphere.

A plume of heat streamed through the wing from a tiny hole - as it re-entered, the orbiter disintegrated, killing all seven astronauts on board.

A piece of foam, falling from a fuel tank during launch, had torn a small hole in the Shuttle’s wing and heat shielding on its journey towards space.

10th anniversary of the space shuttle Columbia disasterTen years ago today, NASA’s Space Shuttle Columbia exploded on re-entry, killing all seven astronauts on board.

The Shuttle’s flight had been a routine 17-day science mission conducting experiments in low gravity.

It was the second major disaster to hit NASA’s Space Shuttle programme - the only manned missions the space agency had launched since 1981.

The disaster had a huge impact on manned space flight.

President Bush said, "Mankind is led into the darkness beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand. Our journey into space will go on."

After Columbia, new safety rules meant that Space Shuttles only flew missions to the International Space Station, so astronauts could use that as a refuge.

A spare Shuttle stood on standby as a rescue vessel in case of damage on launch.

No Shuttle flew until 2005 and the last Space Shuttles were retired in 2011.

On Friday, NASA will pay tribute to the crews of Apollo 1 and space shuttles Challenger and Columbia, during the agency's Day of Remembrance on the 10th anniversary of the Columbia accident.

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