Marianne J. Dyson

STS-107 Columbia Quotes

STS-107 Mission Patch (NASA image)

The quotes and information below were collected to help anyone who wishes to write about Columbia gain a deeper understanding of the crew, their mission, and space shuttle operations. -- Marianne Dyson

Quotes from the Columbia Crew, Friends, and Family

"It [space] was just so incredibly adventurous and exciting to me. I just thought there was no doubt in my mind that is what I want to do when I grow up." Rick Husband before his first flight. Houston Chronicle, 2-2-03, p. 8.

"Ever since I was a little kid, I've known this was what I wanted to do. I was probably 4 or 5 years old." Michael Anderson said during a preflight interview. Houston Chronicle, 2-2-03, p. 9.

"When you look at the stars and the galaxy, you feel you are not just from any particular piece of land, but from the solar system." Laurel Clark after her first flight in 1997. Houston Chronicle, 2-4-03, p. 8A.

"I'm looking forward to the flight, of course," Chawla told a press conference Jan. 3. "After you go to space once, you sort of get addicted. You want to have the same experience. Doing it again is like having a good dream once again." Houston Chronicle, 2-1-03, p. 8.

"We will try to learn more about the human body and other biological organisms and how they function in space. We will look at dust storms and see how they affect the environment. We will look at the ozone layer." Michael Anderson said during a preflight interview. Houston Chronicle, 2-2-03, p. 9.

"I remember growing up and thinking astronauts and their jobs were the coolest things you could possibly do. But I absolutely couldn't identify with people who were astronauts. I thought they were movie stars. I thought I was kind of a normal kid." David Brown during preflight interview. Houston Chronicle, 2-2-03, p. 9.

"Why can't any of you go, then my mom won't have to go?" Clark's 8-year-old son asked his grandmother at Columbia's launch. Houston Chronicle, 2-2-03, p. 9.

"Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified. Do not be discouraged for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." Command Rick Husband reading from the book of Joshua the night before launch. Houston Chronicle, 2-5-03, p.28A.

"The colors are stunning. In a single view, I see - looking out at the edge of the earth: red at the horizon line, blending to orange and yellow, followed by a thin white line, then light blue, gradually turning to dark blue and various gradually darker shades of gray, then black and a million stars above. It's breathtaking." Pilot Willie McCool e-mail to friends during STS-107. Houston Chronicle, 2-6-03, p. 15A.

"Hello from above our magnificent planet Earth. The perspective is truly awe-inspiring....I have seen some incredible sights: lightning spreading over the Pacific, the Aurora Australis lighting up the entire visible horizon...the crescent moon setting over the limb of Earth... Every orbit we go over a slightly different part of the Earth... Whenever I do get to look out, it is glorious. Even the stars have a special brightness. I've seen my ‘friend' Orion several times. ... I feel blessed to be here representing our country and carrying out the research of scientists around the world. ...Thanks to many of you who have supported me and my adventures throughout the years. This was definitely one to beat all. I hope you could feel the positive energy that beamed to the whole planet as we glided over our shared planet. Love to all, Laurel." Mission Specialist Laurel Clark e-mail to family and friends during STS-107. Houston Chronicle, 2-6-03, p. 15A.

"My most moving moment was reading a letter that Ilan Ramon brought from a Holocaust survivor whose 7-year-old daughter died. I was stunned such a beautiful planet could harbor such bad things." Mission Specialist David Brown e-mail to parents during STS-107. Houston Chronicle, 2-6-03, p. 15A.

"Life continues in a lot of places, and life is a magical thing." Laurel Clark on seeing life emerge from a cocoon in space. In Bush's speech, 2-4-03.

"It's beyond imagination until you actually get up and see it and experience it and feel it." Willie McCool said in a National Public Radio interview during STS-107. Houston Chronicle, 2-2-03, p. 8.

"If I'd been born in space, I would desire to visit the beautiful Earth more than to visit space. It's a wonderful planet." David Brown e-mail to parents during STS-107. Houston Chronicle, 2-4-03, p. 8A.

"The quiet that envelops space makes the beauty even more powerful, and I only hope that the quiet can one day spread to my country." Ilan Ramon as he flew over Israel during STS-107. In Bush's speech, 2-4-03.

"From the beginning, I wanted to be a fighter pilot because I grew up with it and was surrounded by it. It looks like a lot of fun. And my dad did it. He's one of the best guys, so that inspired me. Now I want to go to space like my dad." 15-year old Asaf Ramon, son of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon. Houston Chronicle, 2-5-03, p.14A.

"An aunt said Clark's favorite thing to do at home was to take care of her flowers. ‘She worried about them not getting watered when she was away,'" said Marge Brown. Houston Chronicle, 2-4-03, p. 8A.

Brown's "closest companion was his 14-year-old Labrador retriever, Duggins, who had to be put to sleep a few weeks before the shuttle launch." Houston Chronicle, 2-4-03, p. 8A. (He was there to greet Dave in heaven.)

"There is a bond between the two countries that is written in blood. ... We will continue the way he wanted to, with joy and a zest for life." Rona Ramon, widow of Ilan Ramon. Houston Chronicle, 2-3-03, p. 10A.

"Dave was really looking [forward] to coming back to Earth and particularly going to schools and talking to kids about that, and telling them to pursue their dreams and support things built around dreams." Cliff Gauthier, Dave Brown's coach and friend. Houston Chronicle, 2-2-03, p. 9.

"This represents more than anything the determination of the Jewish people to survive everything despite horrible periods, black days to reach periods of hope and relief." Ilan Ramon during STS-107. Houston Chronicle, 2-2-03, p.9.

In the last-request forms that astronauts fill out before every flight, Commander Rick Husband left his pastor a personal note, "Tell them about Jesus; he's real to me." Houston Chronicle, 2-6-03, p. 18A.

"If this thing doesn't come out right, don't worry about me, I'm just going on higher." Mission Specialist Michael Anderson to his pastor before STS-107. In Bush's speech, 2-4-03.

"I keep thinking of everything from the day he was born until now. I have no son. It's very sad, and I don't know what else to say." Eliezar Wolferman, Ramon's father. Houston Chronicle, 2-2-03, p.11.

"He wrote about the divine happiness of looking at Earth. He wrote that he would like to keep floating for the rest of his life. That was the last sentence he wrote to us." Ronit Federman, Ramon's friend since high school. Houston Chronicle, 2-2-03, p.11.

A statement from the Astronaut Families. Houston Chronicle, 2-4-03, p.1.

STS-107 launch, 1-16-03, 10:39 EST. NASA image.

"On January 16th, we saw our loved ones launch into a brilliant, cloud-free sky. Their hearts were full of enthusiasm, pride in country, faith in their God and a willingness to accept risk in the pursuit of knowledge - knowledge that they might improve the quality of life for all mankind... Although we grieve deeply, as do the families of Apollo 1 and Challenger before us, the bold exploration of space must go on. Once the root cause of this tragedy is found and corrected, the legacy of Columbia must carry on for the benefit of our children and yours."


"Thousands of people, including Shuttle debris searchers, NASA personnel, the public, and the accident investigation board helped to determine what happened to the Space Shuttle Columbia and her crew. Together they produced this well- documented report. We are indebted to all of them. We all benefit from this hindsight.

NASA contingency planners conceived of an outline for an investigation board and its general membership, and thus set fact-finding off to a fast start. The space planners also foresaw a need for assigning NASA astronauts to assist each family. We are very grateful for their help.

The crew accepted the risk of space flight, because they believed in their scientific mission. Their scientific work was not in vain. One report estimates the known completion of the Columbia crew's scientific investigations to be 60 to 70 percent.

The little boy who chased butterflies grew up to be a space explorer. We miss him terribly. Hundreds and hundreds of letters of sympathy and support have helped in this time of grief. We thank the writers wholeheartedly.

Now it is time to study and implement the report, and to resume exploration. As David said of a possible catastrophe, 'The program will go on. It must go on.'"

Paul & Dorothy Brown, parents; Douglas R. Brown, brother

Quotes from Political Leaders

"The Columbia is lost. There are no survivors. ... These astronauts knew the dangers and they faced them willingly, knowing they had a high and noble purpose in life. Because of their courage and daring and idealism, we will miss them all the more. ... The cause in which they died will continue. 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. ... 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 is missing.' The same Creator who named 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 home." President Bush in address to the nation, 2-1-03.

"They dedicated their lives to pushing scientific challenges for all of us on earth. ... They did it with a happy heart, willingly, with great enthusiasm. ... The loss of this valiant crew is something we will never be able to get over." NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe. Press conference, 2-1-01.

"Two generations ago, the United States embarked on a course of space exploration," Vice President Dick Cheney said. "Today, despite this tragedy, we remain on that course.... The Columbia is lost, but the dreams that inspired its crew remain with us. Those dreams are carried by the families of the astronauts, who even in grief, have urged that America go on with our space program." Houston Chronicle, 2-7-03, p. 20A.

"These brave people gave their lies to conquer the dangers of space in the name of peace, science and the progress of civilization. We will always remember them." Russian President Vladimir Putin in telegram to President Bush. Houston Chronicle, 2-3-03, p. 9A.

"Few things Congress has done have reaped greater rewards than supporting NASA's mission. But just as important as adequate funding is that NASA defines a clear vision for the future. The tragic loss of the seven astronauts aboard the space shuttle Columbia was a wake-up call to Congress and the American people. We must renew our commitment to space exploration....In the new millennium, NASA must set forth a distinct mission that outlines clear objectives and goals." U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, 2-9-03, Houston Chronicle, p. 4C.

"The space program has its roots in Texas, thousands of men and women are employed at the Johnson Space Center. They are the heroes who push the envelope of discovery, innovation. They have contributed greatly to our quality of life and we remain 100 percent behind their mission." Texas Governor Rick Perry. Houston Chronicle, 2-3-03, p. 10A.

"As the most fitting tribute to their courageous service and sacrifice, let us recommit ourselves to the defining dream that dominated their lives - a bold vision for America in space." House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, The Citizen, 2-5-03, p. 11A.

"The space shuttle plays a critical role for our nation's space program. I am determined to work with my colleagues on the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee to understand what happened and to ensure a safe human spaceflight program in the future." Congressman Nick Lampson, The Citizen, 2-5-03, p. 11A.

"The space shuttle Columbia and its crew obviously served as a symbol of freedom and cooperation for so many different countries and was dedicated to providing a better life for science and exploration for future generations.... As we all look forward may we never forget their bravery, their sacrifice and their commitment to better all mankind." Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. Houston Chronicle, 2-4-03, p. 10A.

"Houston is the world's Space City. We, along with all Americans, are grieving deeply today." Mayor Lee Brown, The Citizen, 2-5-03, p. 11A.

"They are our neighbors. They are our friends. We will have time for our private grief only when our duties and responsibilities have ended." Harris County Constable Bill Bailey, The Citizen, 2-5-03, p. 11A.

"Some say we've been too maudlin this past week. Some say we've overdone the attention to the tragedy. There are even some who say we don't need and shouldn't have a space program. Yes, and some used to say the Earth was flat." Houston Chronicle editorial board, 2-9-03, p. 40A.

Press overflow parking into grass, 2-5-03. My husband's office was in the tall building on right.

Messages at the JSC Memorial

(Note: Punctuation and spelling of the original are maintained. Copied by M. Dyson.)

"When I was a little boy I would put my football helmet on and pretend I was an astronaut. Now I want to be one or a Nasa engineer To prevent such tragities. I promise to be there and work for the safety of our heros." Marco, Kealing Jr. High, Austin, TX.

You went out of space
Now your gone and now we
Know no one can take your
Place. We will miss you guys
No doubt; Don't forget you've made
Us proud; Everytime we look
Up at the sky we will remember
All our fame and everything
Youve did for our country."

Student at Kealing Jr. High Austin, TX

"Because your mission was so important and special for us all Thank you for all your work. God Bless your families and may you have peace." Carmeleeta Richards, Columbus Ohio

"Let God be with all of yall in your time of need and let your 7 angles be in your hearts." Alison, Wells Middle School (Spring ISD)

"I hope things get better." Joey, Mrs. Robert's 5th grade class, Carolyn Park Middle School, Slidell, LA.

"I wish the accident never happened," Brittany, Mrs. Watson's 5th grade class, Carolyn Park Middle School, Slidell, LA.

"I am very sad about what happened," Jordan, Mrs. Watson's 5th grade class, Carolyn Park Middle School, Slidell, LA

"The crew is blue without you," Morgan P. Mrs. Watson's 5th grade class, Carolyn Park Middle School, Slidell, LA

"We are sorry about the space shuttle crash. Your friend, Michael Cook." Mrs. Watson's 5th grade class, Carolyn Park Middle School, Slidell, LA

"I love astronauts!!! God Bless the astronauts." Name faded from rain.

"Our prayers are with you and your family you remain in our heats" Margaret P., 7 years old.

"I'm sorry what happened and i'm sad too," Diego G., 7 years old.


Note: Rain and poor handwriting made some unreadable, so this is not a complete list.

Ben Bowen Elementary, Huffman, TX
Braeburn Elementary, Mrs. L. Maneno's Class
Brookwood Elementary, Houston, TX
Carolyn Park Middle School, Slidell, LA, Mrs. Watson's 5th grade class & Mrs. Robert's 5th grade class
Challenger Learning Center, Houston Museum of National Science
Clay Road Baptist School
Clear Creek Pals
Cross Timbers Intermediate School, Team 6D, Mansfield, TX
Cub Scout Pack 463, Den #2, Pearland, TX
Galena Park Middle School
Girl Scout Troop #1489
Girl Scout Troop #1551
Helena Park Elementary, Nederland, TX
Holub Middle School, Mr. Adnane's Class
Hyde Elementary, League City, TX
Jeanette Hayes Elementary, Katy, TX
John Payne Steward Elementary, 4th grade, TX
Kansas Humbolt Elementary
Kealing Jr. High, Austin, TX
Nanticoke High School, Nanticoke, PA
Ortiz Middle School

UH Charter School, Houston, TX
Saint Thomas School
Sally K. Ride Elementary of the Woodlands, TX
Space Center Intermediate, on the grounds of JSC, Houston, TX
Spring Woods High School, Mrs. Cuellar 4th period
Stuart Elementary
Summitt 5th graders
Torah Day School
Ward Elementary, Mrs. Casey's 5th grade class, Houston, TX
Wells Middle School, PreK, Spring, TX

Quotes from the Investigation

"At 8 a.m., exactly 15 days 22 hours, 20 minutes and 22 seconds after it left earth, all contact with Columbia was lost. We began to know we had a bad day." Milt Heflin, chief flight director. Press conference, 2-1-03.

"We hope we will find what is necessary to help us solve why Columbia was destroyed." Ron Dittemore, shuttle program manager. Houston Chronicle, 2-3-03, p. 11A.

They did not suffer any pain. "Whatever happened, I would imagine it took just a matter of microseconds before the whole thing broke apart." Dr. William Fisher, astronaut. Houston Chronicle, 2-2-03, p. 6.

"We are entering a tedious phase of the review. It is going to be a painstaking process. ... They're [the NASA team] extremely motivated to find the root cause of the accident. ... We are focused on solving the problem. ... We have revealed to you data that WE don't even understand." Ron Dittemore, press briefing, 2-7-03.

"We may not find the exact cause," Maj. Gen. Ken Hess, member of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, press briefing, 2-11-03.

"I don't think we're ever going to be able to say absolutely 100% this is what it was, or 0% this is what it was. We're going to be looking at what's the preponderance of the evidence." Dr. James Hallock, Aviation Safety Division Chief, DoT, member of CAIB, 3-18-03.

"The ultimate objective of any accident investigation is to learn everything that you can, and go forward to make the system safer. ... Even without certainty in probable cause finding, you can still have a clear direction on improvements you can make and causes that you can eliminate even if they are not established to a certainty." Steven Wallace, Director of Accident Investigation, FAA, member of CAIB, 3-18-03.

Officials at FEMA said that so far they have spent $162 million of the recovery effort's projected $302 million cost. Challenger's total investigation, which involved a seven-month search-and-recovery mission in the Atlantic Ocean, cost roughly $175 million. ... The total cost of the Columbia investigation is expected to top $500 million. Todd Ackerman, Houston Chronicle, p4A, 3-18-03.

"My confidence is still pretty high that we're going to be able to ascertain the root cause with some amount of certainty." Admiral Harold Gehman, Jr. (USN, Ret.), Chairman of CAIB, 3-18-03.

"Everyone knows the foam strike occurred and everyone knows hot gas entered the wing and the drift-away piece they are trying to fit into the box," said a board investigator. "It will take the tests all lined up before I'd be willing to really connect the foam impact with the breach." From Houston Chronicle, "NASA experts, board huddle" by Mark Carreau, p8A, 4-25-03.

"The Space Shuttle is not inherently unsafe," Admiral Harold Gehman, Jr. 8-26-03, CAIB press conference.

"In four simple words, the foam did it," Scott Hubbard, 8-26-03, CAIB press conference.

[Regarding the previous foam strikes] "The machine was talking, but why was no one hearing?" General Wallace, 8-26-03, CAIB press conference.

"NASA had conflicting goals of cost, schedule and safety." Maj. Gen. John Barry, 8-26-03, CAIB press conference.

"Those [shop floor workers] are good people - they are working their hearts out. ... The people on the shop floors have the best hearts and souls. It's been a pleasure working with them." Rear Admiral Stephen Turcotte, 8-26-03, CAIB press conference.

"The organizational matters are just as important as the foam. ... Culture is the way the organization acts absent rules." Admiral Harold Gehman, Jr. 8-26-03, CAIB press conference.

"Space and the idea of space is a great motivation for young people." Dr. Sheila Widnall, 8-26-03, CAIB press conference.

"Nine of 13 of us [on the CAIB] have very little or no previous history with NASA or the space program... All 13 of us are unanimous in thinking human spaceflight must continue. None of us have come to the conclusion that it is not worth the risk or not worth the money." John Logsdon, 8-26-03, CAIB press conference.

Continuing the Mission

Entry Flight Director, LeRoy Cain said, "This team has great resolve. We will get through this. We very much look forward to better days in the future. We will fly again and move forward." Houston Chronicle, 2-15-03, p. 9A.

"Unfortunately, with the loss of Columbia, four sets of experiments were not brought back to Earth," Jorg Fuestel-Buechl [director of manned spaceflight for ESA] said. "But we have all the data for the other three, and we can now evaluate the experiments on the ground." Houston Chronicle, 2-7-03, p. 20A.

"Part of our healing process will be to continue our support of the Expedition Six crew aboard the International Space Station to ensure their continual success and safety." NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe, The Citizen, 2-5-03, p. 11A.

"This course of exploration and discovery is not an option we choose. It is a desire written in the human heart, where that part of creation seeks to understand all creation." President Bush, 2-4-03.

"These are people I worked with, we heard them a lot during the mission, and their comments - a lot of back and forth between the air and ground. They did a really great job, and I wanted to see them personally to congratulate them." Mohamed Abid, lead scientist for SOFBALL experiment on STS-107. Houston Chronicle, 2-2-03, p. 41.

"The future still holds great possibilities. We have to start thinking seriously about the notion of public space travel and commercial activity in space. Beginning with government research and exploration, we need to move toward private citizens in space. We must develop mature rockets and spacecraft as well as hotels and habitats in low earth orbit for public space travel. From that base we can venture beyond Earth orbit to the moon, to asteroids and to Mars." Buzz Aldrin, Houston Chronicle, 2-4-03, p. 25A.

"I am deeply sorry for your loss. I promise to do my part as a children's writer and space activist to share the dream of opening the space frontier and continue the inspirational science mission of your loved ones. I will be donating copies of my new space book to Freeman Library in their memory." Marianne Dyson, former NASA FAO, children's author, note sent to families.

"A part of me is scared out of my mind, and a part of me wants to make a very positive difference in the way space is perceived. I am not withdrawing my name. More so, I hope I get the position." Educator Astronaut Program applicant, Katty Furtisch, middle school science teacher. Houston Chronicle, 2-2-03, p. 40.

"I'd like to do everything to try to get them inspired so our space program can be continued, because that's really the future of mankind." Sue Stevens, 4th grade teacher at Houston's Rucker Elementary. Houston Chronicle, 2-3-03, p. 7A.

"I want to talk to my students and just have them do some writing about how we can't always control every outcome, but how we can choose how we respond and what kind of meaning we take out of it." Mildred Espress, English teacher at DeBakey High School in Houston. Houston Chronicle, 2-3-03, p. 7A.

"I think we are going to spend the day talking about passion, and how when you are passionate about something, you give it 100 percent." Suzanne Sutherland, principal of Pin Oak Middle School in Houston. Houston Chronicle, 2-3-03, p. 7A.

"I've always wanted to be a rocket scientist. Seeing this hasn't changed that. I realize now this is an occupation that is important to society. It inspires others." Jonathan Olsen, 17 visiting Air and Space Museum on 2-1-03. Houston Chronicle, 2-2-03, p.39A.

If you want to be an astronaut, you have to know about the risk. Obviously there's a big risk. You're riding on a rocket. This is an obstacle, but they're going to fix this and that's going to be one less thing to worry about, so if I'm an astronaut, I'll be even safer. Those astronauts died to make the space shuttle better." Alexa Billow, 14 who had an experiment on Columbia. Houston Chronicle, 2-4-03, p. 7A.

Laurel Clark's son Iain returned to class at St Thomas the Apostle Episcopal School on February 10. "At lunch time, I asked Iain if I could give him another hug," teacher Moisina Sanxhaku said. "He said, 'You already hugged me once today. Why again?' I told him everybody missed him so much."... Headmistress Ann Decker said, "We told them [the students] to treat him like a buddy just the same as before the tragedy, and let him know that Iain's life has changed forever, but not his relationships with his friends." Houston Chronicle This Week Zone 6, 2-13-03, p. 4.

The Future of Humans in Space

"The fundamental contribution that NASA makes to this country is genuinely spiritual," Oberg said. "What they do is remind us that cultures that explore have a future. NASA's activities are at the heart of that. If they blow it, if they don't play in a credible way, that future is in jeopardy." James Oberg, 2-9-03, Houston Chronicle, p. 21A.

"The fact is, the space shuttle is a virtual Swiss army knife in space," said Brian Chase, Executive Director of the National Space Society... "The problem is that all of that capability makes it inherently expensive to operate." 2-9-03, Houston Chronicle, p. 20A.

"The shuttle should be replaced," said Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society. "We should not be flying the shuttles in 2025. It's ludicrous. It's not an invitation to disaster, it will be disaster." 2-9-03, Houston Chronicle, p. 20A.

"Let this be the memorial for the crew of Columbia STS-107, as well as those of Challenger 51L and Apollo 1: a renewed purpose to open up the high frontier of space not just for the few, but for all people. If, within the lifetimes of most people reading this, human civilization will have expanded to the moon, to Mars and beyond, then these heroic hearts will have not given the last full measure of devotion in vain." Mark Whittington, 2-9-03, Houston Chronicle, p. 4C.

"I convinced myself that it might not succeed but that this was my destiny," Tito said. "This was what I was going to do to complete my life. If somehow I didn't make it, I would have had that second life that I had with those eight days in space. That would have been really better, even if my life had ended, than not having done that. In the long run, we're all dead. It's just a matter of what kind of life you have while you're here." Dennis Tito, first space tourist. Houston Chronicle, 2-5-03, p.4D.

"What the Columbia accident did was bring more public attention to bear on a problem that was already there," said Brian Chase, director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Space Society. "I expect the report will stir discussions for the next year or two in political circles about what we do from here." Rather than an Apollo-type sprint to Mars, the space program probably will take a more incremental approach to future exploration initiatives, he added. "I don't see us going for another Apollo-type. I think what we're looking at is a building-blocks approach to get us there," he said. 8-26-03, posted on

Background Data

Why do spacecraft get so hot passing through the atmosphere? To get into space, a spaceship must go fast enough to fall without hitting the ground. Think of hitting a baseball. The harder you hit it, the faster it goes and the farther it travels before gravity pulls it to the ground. If you had enough energy to make it go 5 miles per second like the space shuttle, it would go past the horizon before being bent toward the ground. It would fall around the Earth in a big circle called an orbit.

To return to Earth, the shuttle must slow down. The shuttle fires its engines into the direction it is going. This slows it down some. The atmosphere provides the rest of the braking. When two things rub together, they get hot. (The rubbing force is called friction.) When the shuttle slaps into the atmosphere, it heats the air so much it turns into red hot gas of about 3,000 degrees F. The shuttle tiles shield the vehicle's aluminum skin from this heat. Aluminum melts at about 1,200 degrees F.

The early investigation focused on the landing gear wheels which are tucked inside the shuttle's wings during launch and while in orbit. (There is a set of tires in each wing and another set in the nose area.) The hollow place where the tires are shielded behind latched doors covered with tiles are called wheel wells. Sensors in and near this area on the left side of the shuttle either showed higher than normal temperatures or quit working. The ones that quit working had their wires melted. The last 2 seconds of recovered data showed that fluid in pipes in the wheel well had all leaked out. The pipes must have melted. Super-heated air must have gotten past the tile shield. Evidence this was true comes from a latch from the left wheel well door that was found in the debris. This latch is made of titanium. One corner was melted which means that the latch was exposed to temperatures of over 3,000 degrees. This latch is on the INSIDE of the wheel well, and should have been protected from the superheated air of that temperature outside.

The shuttle has what are called elevons that are like flaps on a jet that move up and down and keep the shuttle on course. The fluid in the pipes, called hydraulic lines, is what makes these elevons, and other control surfaces on the shuttle, move. Once the fluid vented, the only way to control the shuttle was to use the small jets. Data shows the jets were firing like crazy and still unable to keep the shuttle going nose first and belly down. If the shuttle flipped over or turned sideways, it would immediately shatter.

The Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) zeroed in on what caused hot gas to get into the wing. A piece of foam from the orange External Tank came off 81 seconds after launch and hit near the leading edge of the left wing. This is the same area that sensor data showed suffered the first signs of heat damage. (As of 3-18-03, micro-meteorite impact during orbit was considered "very unlikely.") Damage to this area was confirmed when a data recorder was recovered in the debris.

Another confirmation that damage happened during launch was that a military camera saw an object separate from the shuttle about 24 hours into the mission. (This information was not known until four days after the accident when the military checked standard sky sweeps for anything that might help the investigation.) Its speed shows that this object came from the shuttle and was not space junk. Radar tests have since determined that it was likely a part of the left wing called a T-seal. These seals join the wing panels together and are held on by 4 bolts. The age of the shuttle may have been a factor in loosening the bolts (from severe shaking during launch) or weakening the wing structure (from exposure to weather and space). The foam impact was then able to crack a wing seal or panel that then floated off in space. The gap left behind allowed hot gas to burn through the wing like a blow torch. An astronomer watching the shuttle entry over California said it looked like it had dropped a flare. These objects were pieces of the wing coming off. A groundtrack of the debris showed that pieces of the left wing fell off first and fell farther west than pieces of the right wing.

The final CAIB report, released August 26, 2003, confirmed that the foam was the physical cause of the accident. The University of Houston Clear Lake library has a copy.

Of the 311 people who have become astronauts since 1978, 67 have been minorities and women. Article by Salatheia Bryant, Houston Chronicle, 2-5-03, p.27A.

Columbia was the first space shuttle. It launched for the first time on April 12, 1981. The crew was John Young and Robert Crippen. The Columbia mission prior to STS-107 was STS-109, the Hubble repair flight in 2002.

Including STS-107, the space shuttle Columbia flew 28 missions from 1981 to 2003 with 131 individuals on board. 21 people flew on Columbia twice, and 4 flew on it 3 times. The missions (in order flown) were STS 1-5, 9, 61-C, STS-28, 32, 35, 40, 60, 52, 55, 58, 62, 65, 73, 75, 78, 80, 83, 94, 87, 90, 93, 109, 107. Source: Reporter's Space Flight Note Pad, April 2000 edition, Boeing and NASA websites.

More Information

STS-107 crew at KSC before launch. NASA image.

Columbia roars into the blue sky. NASA image.

STS-107 Ramon with student experiment in SPACEHAB module during STS-107. Photo from SPACEHAB.

Ants in space fascinate student investigators. Photo from SPACEHAB.

Clark in SPACEHAB. Image from

Entry fireball, 2-1-03. AP photo/WFAA-TV via APTN.

JSC gate memorial, 2-3-03. Photo by Dyson.

Me at the memorial, 2-3-03. Photo by Dan Costigan.

Banner posted by school. Photo by Dyson.

Poem left at memorial. Photo by Dyson.

Hyde Elementary, Ms. Denzler's 4th grade class. Photo by Dyson.

Press area during Tuesday service. Photo by Dyson.

A tile that flew in space on Columbia's first flight that I received as a member of the STS-1 flight team. I held it during the JSC memorial service. Photo by Dyson.

Toy shuttle at JSC memorial. Photo by Dyson, 2-11-03.

Note for President at JSC memorial. Photo by Dyson, 2-11-03.

Message left at JSC memorial. Photo by Dyson, 2-11-03.

Angel watches over items at JSC gate. Photo by Dyson, 2-11-03.

Stone markers for each astronaut. Photo by Dyson, 2-11-03.

Plastic cups on the fence say, "We love you Columbia." Photo by Dyson, 2-11-03.

One school's condolences card. Photo by Dyson, 2-11-03.

Columbia Accident Investigation Board. L to R: Bryan O'Connor, Brig. Gen. Duane Deal, G. Scott Hubbard, Maj. Gen. Ken Hess, Roger Tetrault, Adm. Hal Gehman (Chairman), Maj. Gen. John Barry, Dr. James N. Hallock, Steven Wallace, Rear Adm. Stephen Turcotte. Photo by Dyson, 2-11-03.

Flags in front of Building 1 at JSC. Photo by Dyson, 2-11-03.

More Information

The Space Shuttle Children's Trust Fund was established after the Challenger disaster. It helped with college expenses for 11 of the 13 surviving children of the Challenger crew. The fund will now be used to support medical expenses, including psychological counseling, and college funds for the 12 children of Columbia's crew. Send donations to:

Note: address may not be valid (is from 2003)
Shuttle Children's Trust Fund
c/o Private Bank at Bank of America
P.O. Box 34600
Washington, DC 20043-4600

If you have a technical question about Columbia, I'll try my best to answer. I have copies of Columbia technical data, STS-107 press kit, and the final CAIB report.

The expression of support and sympathy from people all over the world gives those of us in the space community hope that the mission of Columbia, to explore the frontiers of space and knowledge, will never be lost.

-- Marianne Dyson, former NASA flight controller

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