To view this notification widget you need to have JavaScript enabled. This notification widget was easily created with NotifySnack.

Select Page

The Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster

The Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster

On February 1, 2003 the Space Shuttle Columbia failed its entry into the earth’s atmosphere and disintegrated. It was a tragic disaster in which seven crew members died. As a result of the tragedy all further flights were suspended. The accident was a heavy setback for international space travel. The International Space Station (ISS) could only be reached by the Russian Federal Space Agency.

But how did the accident happen? The shuttle was shot into the orbit and in order to achieve this, a lot of energy is needed. That’s why the shuttle takes off with a large main fuel tank which is covered in thermal insulation foam. The insulation foam is needed as the tank is filled with liquid hydrogen and oxygen. Without the insulation, ice could develop, which would be a threat for the space shuttle.

During the start of the Columbia’s mission, a piece of thermal insulation foam broke off. It was roughly the size of a suitcase and hit the left wing. The wings of the Space Shuttle are covered with reinforced carbon-carbon (RCC) panels. It is estimated that the piece of insulation foam created a 6 to 10 inch hole in the RCC panels. This caused no problem for the start but the RCC panels are needed to protect the shuttle when returning into the earth’s atmosphere.

When the shuttle finally tried to re-enter the atmosphere, it was about 66,000 feet high and was travelling at a speed of mach 2.46. This equals a speed of 1870 miles per hour. The damaged RCC panels on the left allowed hot gases to enter the wing of the shuttle and led to its destruction. In the investigation that followed the disaster, NASA admitted that it knew that insulation foam had broken off the main tank. However, similar cases had happened before but did not cause harm to the shuttle.

Also during the risk assessment, NASA management was influenced by the belief that nothing could have been done anyway. So even if the damage was detected, the astronauts could not have been saved. As a corrective action following the tragedy NASA decided to implement quality inspections in space. The inspections are called on-orbit inspection and should verify if the shuttle’s thermal protection system is intact. Also, a rescue mission must be ready to step in in the case that inspection shows a negative result.

About The Author

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive a FREE Chapter from "In Search of Quality".

You have Successfully Subscribed!