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Dale’s Daily Data: Shuttle Columbia Disaster

Cockpit windows from the destroyed Shuttle Columbia (Getty)

It was just last week we remembered the crew of the space shuttle Challenger who were killed in 1986 when the fuel tank exploded a minute after launch.  Today is the 8th anniversary of the break-up of the space shuttle Columbia as the crew was preparing to land.

The two week mission for the Columbia crew of seven astronauts was doomed just 80 seconds after lift-off when a piece of foam fell from the external fuel tanks and damaged one of the shuttle’s wings so badly that when the Columbia re-entered the earth’s atmosphere wind and heat entered the wing and caused it to come apart.

The Columbia was over Lubbock, Texas when the first pieces began to break away.  It was just a minute before 9 in the morning when mission control received its last communication from the crew.  A minute later the shuttle exploded over Dallas and pieces of it along with remains of the crew were found all across east Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana.  The largest pieces found were the front landing gear, the nose cone and a window frame.  But 40-thousand tiny pieces were never identified.  Strangely, one thing recovered intact was a canister of worms the crew had used in a study during the mission.  The worms were still alive.

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