9th Anniversary of Columbia
February 1st, 2003 was just another Saturday morning. I knew Columbia was due to land in Florida, but landings were so routine I wasn’t even worried about tuning in for it (and let’s be honest, they aren’t as exciting to watch as a launch!)
I was listening to NPR as usual. It was during one of the local news breaks that I first hear that Columbia broke up on reentry. Very odd, NPR was still running its usual programming and hadn’t broken in with special coverage so I turned on CNN. They were in full coverage mode.
It was pretty obvious right away there was a heat shield failure and quickly became apparent that it was damaged on takeoff. The heat shield is fragile (I have a shuttle tile, although the area that damaged had a different but still fragile material) but since weight is a concern, you have to use light weight materials.
That evening, I went out and drove by Horlick High. All the major networks had news truck in the sh0pping center parking lot across the street since Laurel Clark went to Horlick.
I remember running through the Laurel Clark fountain on hot summer runs. I also bought the Columbia Christmas ornament at Zoo Lights.
The Columbia accident is ultimately what led Bush to (correctly) decide it was time to retire the shuttle fleet. Shuttles didn’t fly again until procedures were in place to reduce the risk of a similar accident in the future including new techniques to mitigate debris strikes on the orbiter and inspections in orbit to look for damage and developed techniques to repair the heat shield while in orbit (I believe it was only once that they saw enough damage they decided to go out and make a repair).
The Columbia accident didn’t seem to traumatize the nation quite like Challenger. Maybe because it wasn’t the first one. Maybe because it was after 9/11 and seemed smaller by comparison. Maybe because we were building up troops in Iraq in preparation for a war that would start weeks later.
What do you remember about February 1st, 2003?
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