Her Continued Mission
On Feb. 1, 2003, after a successful 16-day 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, other organizations and the public immediately set out to find the crew and remaining pieces of Columbia.
While NASA needed to study Columbia to learn exactly what happened to the shuttle and return to flight, the agency also knew that the artifacts had a lot to teach others. NASA started the loan program, so others could study her: learning her lessons and advancing science for future generations. This is Columbia's continued mission.