Brevard County

Lessons learned from Columbia disaster remain 20 years later

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. — Twenty years ago Wednesday, the Space Shuttle Columbia and her crew were lost when the spacecraft broke up during reentry over Texas.

The lessons learned from that tragedy transformed the culture of NASA as an agency.


On Feb. 1, 2003, Columbia was 16 minutes from touching down at the Kennedy Space Center when disaster struck and mission control lost contact with Columbia and her crew.

The shuttle broke up killing NASA astronauts Rick Husband, William McCool, David Brown, Laurel Clark, Michael Anderson, and Kalpana Chawla as well as Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon.

Read: NASA marks 20 years since space shuttle Columbia disaster

An investigation board determined that a large piece of foam fell from the shuttle’s external tank shortly after liftoff and struck the spacecraft’s left wing, which was damaged. Foam strikes had occurred during earlier shuttle missions without incident. Engineers requested high-resolution imaging of the affected area, but ultimately managers turned them down.

Photos: Remembering the space shuttle Columbia tragedy

“I’m a student of history, and I’m sure that someday in the future, there will be another accident,” said NASA associate administrator Bob Cabana. “I hope it’s not on my watch. And that’s my goal is to ensure it doesn’t happen on my watch. But, again, when we look at the problems that we’ve had, they were avoidable.”

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Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson,

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.