National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Columbia STS-107

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Columbia History

  • Construction Columbia (Orbital Vehicle-102) was the first of NASA's orbiter fleet; construction began on its first components at North American Rockwell Corporation's Palmdale, California, plant on March 25, 1975.
    Columbia Shuttle Under Construction
  • Journey to Kennedy On March 8, 1979, Columbia rolled out of the Palmdale facility to begin its multi-day journey across the nation to its launch site, the Kennedy Space Center. NASA named the shuttle after the first American ocean vessel to circle the globe and the command module for the Apollo 11 Moon landing. The orbiter weighed 178,000 pounds with its main engines installed. The heaviest of NASA's orbiters, Columbia weighed too much and lacked the necessary equipment to assist with assembly of the International Space Station (ISS). Despite its limitations, the orbiter's legacy is one of groundbreaking scientific research and notable "firsts" in space flight.
    Columbia Rolled Out of Palmdale
  • First Flights and Early Missions Columbia initiated the Space Shuttle Flight Program when it lifted off Pad A in the Launch Complex 39 area at Kennedy on April 12, 1981. It proved the operational concept of a winged, reusable spaceship by successfully completing the Orbital Flight Test Program — missions STS-1 through STS-4.

    In 1983, Columbia carried the first Spacelab experiment module. The flight also included the first European Space Agency astronaut Ulf Merbold, of Germany, beginning a rich tradition of globally diverse international partnerships for space exploration.

    After undergoing major update maintenance, Columbia's next mission was in 1986. That flight included two future NASA Administrators, pilot Charles F. Bolden and mission specialist Representative Bill Nelson.

    history-columbia-first-flights-and-early-missions 
  • Post-Challenger Flights Columbia returned to flight in 1989 following the Challenger accident, and went on to help with recovery of the Long Duration Exposure Facility satellite from orbit during mission STS-32 in January 1990, and again in June of 1991 for the STS-40 Spacelab Life Sciences mission — the first manned Spacelab mission totally dedicated to human medical research.

    Columbia completed nine flights between 1995 and 1999 — most of which were part of NASA's Microgravity Spacelab (MLS) experiment missions. Columbia flew 28 missions in her lifetime, logging more than 300 days in space.

    Columbia's crowning achievement was perhaps the deployment of the Chandra X-ray Observatory in July 1999, which was also the first Space flight mission with a female commander Lt. Col. Eileen Collins.

    Post-Challenger Flights
  • Inspection, Retrofit and Maintenance Columbia was the first orbiter to undergo the scheduled inspection and retrofit program. In 1991, Columbia returned to its birthplace at Rockwell International's Palmdale, California, assembly plant. The spacecraft underwent approximately 50 upgrades there and returned to Florida in February 1992 to begin processing for mission STS-50.
    Inspection, Retrofit and Maintenance
  • Orbiter Maintenance Down Periods In 1994, after completing two more Spacelab missions, NASA transported Columbia back to Palmdale for its first major tear-down and overhaul, known as the Orbiter Maintenance Down Period (OMDP), which left the vehicle in "like-new" condition.

    In 1999, Columbia returned to Palmdale to undergo a second OMDP. The orbiter's most impressive upgrade likely was the installation of a state-of-the-art, Multi-functional Electronic Display System (MEDS), or "glass cockpit." The MEDS replaced traditional instrument dials and gauges with small, computerized video screens. The new system improved crew interaction with the orbiter during flight and reduced maintenance costs by eliminating outdated and tricky electromechanical displays. The updated Columbia first flew on the STS-109 mission to upgrade and repair the Hubble Space Telescope in March 2002.
    Orbiter Maintenance Down Periods
  • Loss of Shuttle On Feb. 1, 2003, at the competition of Columbia's 28th mission, the Columbia and her crew — commander Rick Husband; pilot William McCool; mission specialists David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson, and Laurel Clark; and payload specialist Ilan Ramon — headed back to Earth. Sixteen minutes from home, the space shuttle broke apart during re-entry into Earth's atmosphere. NASA, outside organizations, and the public immediately set out to find the crew and remaining pieces of Columbia.
    Columbia Lost During Reentry
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Crew Biographies

Rick Husband Commander View Bio
William McCool Pilot View Bio
Michael Anderson Payload Commander View Bio
David Brown Mission Specialist 1 View Bio
Kalpana Chawla Mission Specialist 2 View Bio
Laurel Blair Salton Clark Mission Specialist 4 View Bio
Ilan Ramon Payload Specialist View Bio
Columbia Icon Mission

STS-107 Mission

STS-107 was a 16-day microgravity research mission. The crew had a very successful mission and completed a large variety of research during their mission.

Experiments in the SPACEHAB Research Double Module (RDM) included nine commercial payloads involving 21 separate investigations, four payloads for the European Space Agency with 14 investigations, one payload/investigation for ISS Risk Mitigation, and 18 payloads supporting 23 investigations for NASA's Office of Biological and Physical Research (OBPR).

In the physical sciences, three studies examined the physics of combustion, soot production and fire quenching processes in microgravity. An experiment that compresses granular materials in the absence of gravity furthered understanding of construction techniques. Another experiment evaluated the formation of zeolite crystals, which can speed the chemical reactions that are the basis for chemical processes used in refining, biomedical and other areas. Yet another experiment used pressurized liquid xenon to mimic the behaviors of more complex fluids such as blood flowing through capillaries.

Columbia Mission STS-107 Insignia

In the area of biological applications, two separate OBPR experiments allowed different types of cell cultures to grow together in weightlessness to elevate their development of enhanced genetic characteristics — one use was to combat prostate cancer, the other to improve crop yield.

Another experiment evaluated the commercial usefulness of plant products grown in space. A third experiment looked at developing a new technique of encapsulating anti-cancer drugs to improve their efficiency.

Other studies focused on changes, due to space flight, in the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems; in the systems that sense and respond to gravity; and in the capability of organisms to respond to stress and maintain normal function. NASA also tested a new technology to recycle water prior to installing a device to recycle water permanently aboard the ISS.

In addition, there were a number of experiments with the European Space Agency, Canadian Space Agency, German Space Agency and a university. The U.S. Air Force was conducting a communications experiment. Students from six schools in Australia, China, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein and the United States were probing the effects of space flight on spiders, silkworms, inorganic crystals, fish, bees and ants, respectively.

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Shuttle Columbia on STS-107 as Seen From the Ground

Image Depicting Shuttle Payload

Columbia Icon Recovery

STS-107 Recovery

When the shuttle broke apart during reentry into Earth's atmosphere, NASA, other organizations and the public immediately set out to find the crew and remaining pieces of Columbia.

NASA needed to study Columbia to learn exactly what happened to the shuttle and return to flight, but the agency also knew that the artifacts had a lot to teach others.

The first step to learning what happened required finding as much of Columbia as possible. What started on the day of the accident as a number of separate groups at different centers across the nation trying to come to terms with what happened soon expanded to more than 25,000 people searching hundreds of miles over many months to locate and recover pieces of Columbia.

Columbia Recovery Efforts

Columbia Recovery Efforts

Recovery Resources

Columbia Recovery Efforts
NASA Feature
Columbia Recovery Efforts View Page
Columbia Recovery Office
NASA Web Page
Columbia Recovery Office View Site
Columbia: Still Coming Home
NASA Video
Columbia: Still Coming Home Watch Video
Helicopter Operations
NASA Video
Helicopter Operations Watch Video
Helping Hands
NASA Video
Helping Hands Watch Video
Learning From the Locals 
NASA Video
Learning from Locals Watch Video
Columbia Icon Reconstruction

STS-107 Reconstruction

As Search crews found pieces of Columbia, teams back at Kennedy Space Center began reconstructing the shuttle.

Learning from the Debris
NASA Video
Learning from the Debris Watch Video
Columbia Reconstruction
NASA Video
Reconstruction Watch Video
Reconstruction, Kennedy Space Center, National Air and Space Museum
Smithsonian Article
Reconstruction, Kennedy Space Center, National Air and Space Museum View Site
Columbia Icon Investigation

Accident Investigation

The Columbia Accident Investigation Board, or CAIB, was assembled within two hours of the loss of signal. Over time, with the information learned from the recovery and reconstruction efforts, the CAIB identified the physical cause of the accident. During liftoff, a piece of foam broke off and damaged the thermal protection system. The CAIB Report outlined the board’s findings.

Investigation Resources CAIB Report

CAIB Report Cover
Volume 1
The Report View
Volume 2
CAIB Technical Documents View
Volume 3
Other Technical Documents View
Volume 4
Other Technical Documents View
Volume 5
Other Significant Documents View
Volume 6
Transcripts of Board Public Hearings View
Last Flight of Columbia, BBC
YouTube Video
Columbia Shuttle Investigation | Last Flight of Columbia | BBC Watch Video
Foam Impact Velocity Demonstration
NASA Report
Foam Impact Velocity Demonstration Read Report
  • Columbia Icon Resource Biographies
    Investigation Resource CAIB Member Biographies View Resource 
  • Columbia Icon Resource Charter
    Investigation Resource CAIB Charter View Resource 
  • Columbia Icon Resource Recommendations
    Investigation Resource CAIB Preliminary Recommendations View Resource 
  • Columbia Icon Resource Synopsis
    Investigation Resource Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) Synopsis View Resource 
  • Columbia Icon Resource Biographies
    Investigation Resource Columbia Crew Survival Investigation Report View Resource
  • Columbia Icon Resource Synopsis
    Investigation Resource Columbia Recommendation Spreadsheet View Resource 
Columbia Icon Lessons Learned

STS-107 Lessons Learned

In addition to the many technical lessons learned from the Columbia accident and subsequent recovery, reconstruction and investigation, NASA learned a number of cultural lessons, including the risk of Organizational Silence and normalization of deviance. All these lessons, technical and cultural, combine to form a new, more informed way of conducting human spaceflight missions.

Lessons Learned Resources

NASA Video
Columbia: Her Continued Mission Watch Video View Site
Columbia: Her Continued Mission
Organizational Silence & Communication Breakdown
NASA Report
Accident Case Study of Organizational Silence & Communication Breakdown: Shuttle Columbia Mission STS-107 Read Report
The Challenge of Safe Return of the Space Shuttle to Flight
NASA Report
The Challenge of Safe Return of the Space Shuttle to Flight Read Report
Aeromedical Lessons Learned from STS-107 Columbia Mishap
NASA Report
Loss of Signal: Aeromedical Lessons Learned form the STS-107 Columbia Space Shuttle Mishap Read Report
Youtube Video
NASA Edge: Apollo, Challenger, Columbia, Lessons Learned Program Watch Video
NASA Edge: Apollo, Challenger, Columbia, Lessons Learned Program
A New Way of Doing Business
NASA Video
A New Way of Doing Business Watch Video
Providing a Culture That Encourages the Expression of Opinions
NASA Video
Providing a Culture That Encourages the Expression of Opinions Watch Video
Spaceflight Made Safer: A Personal Experience
NASA Video
Spaceflight Made Safer: A Personal Experience Watch Video
Columbia Icon Memorials and Tributes

Columbia Memorials and Tributes

There are a number of memorials throughout the United States dedicated to Columbia and her crew.

Memorials Nation's Memorial

Memorials Additional Memorials and Museums

Columbia Memorial, Hemphill, Texas
Columbia Memorial
211 Starr St. Hemphill, Texas 75948
Learn More about Columbia Memorial
Remembering Columbia Museum, Hemphill, Texas
Remembering Columbia Museum
375 Sabine St. Unit B Hemphill, Texas 75948
Learn More about Remembering Columbia Museum
Space Mirror Museum, Merrit Island, Florida
Space Mirror Museum
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Space Commerce Way Merritt Island, Florida 32953
Learn More about Space Mirror Museum
Space Shuttle Columbia Memorial, Arlington, Virginia
Space Shuttle Columbia Memorial
Arlington National Cemetery Arlington, Virginia
Learn More about Space Shuttle Columbia Memorial
icon-mission

STS-107 Mission

STS-107 was a 16-day microgravity research mission. The crew had a very successful mission and completed a large variety of research during their mission.

Experiments in the SPACEHAB Research Double Module (RDM) included nine commercial payloads involving 21 separate investigations, four payloads for the European Space Agency with 14 investigations, one payload/investigation for ISS Risk Mitigation, and 18 payloads supporting 23 investigations for NASA's Office of Biological and Physical Research (OBPR).

In the physical sciences, three studies examined the physics of combustion, soot production and fire quenching processes in microgravity. An experiment that compresses granular materials in the absence of gravity furthered understanding of construction techniques. Another experiment evaluated the formation of zeolite crystals, which can speed the chemical reactions that are the basis for chemical processes used in refining, biomedical and other areas. Yet another experiment used pressurized liquid xenon to mimic the behaviors of more complex fluids such as blood flowing through capillaries.

In the area of biological applications, two separate OBPR experiments allowed different types of cell cultures to grow together in weightlessness to elevate their development of enhanced genetic characteristics — one use was to combat prostate cancer, the other to improve crop yield.

Another experiment evaluated the commercial usefulness of plant products grown in space. A third experiment looked at developing a new technique of encapsulating anti-cancer drugs to improve their efficiency.

Other studies focused on changes, due to space flight, in the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems; in the systems that sense and respond to gravity; and in the capability of organisms to respond to stress and maintain normal function. NASA also tested a new technology to recycle water prior to installing a device to recycle water permanently aboard the ISS.

In addition, there were a number of experiments with the European Space Agency, Canadian Space Agency, German Space Agency and a university. The U.S. Air Force was conducting a communications experiment. Students from six schools in Australia, China, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein and the United States were probing the effects of space flight on spiders, silkworms, inorganic crystals, fish, bees and ants, respectively.

There were also experiments in Columbia's payload bay, including three attached to the top of the RDM: the Combined Two-Phase Loop Experiment, Miniature Satellite Threat Reporting System and Star Navigation. There were six payloads/experiments on the Hitchhiker pallet — the Fast Reaction Experiments Enabling Science, Technology, Applications and Research. These six investigations looked outward to the Sun, downward at Earth's atmosphere and inward into the physics of fluid phenomena, as well as tested technology for space communications. Additional secondary payloads included the Shuttle Ionospheric Modification with Pulsed Local Exhaust Experiment and Ram Burn Observation.

During the debris recovery activities, some of the Columbia experiments were found. Scientists have indicated valuable science will still be produced. Much of the scientific data was transmitted to experimenters on the ground during the flight.