The risks of traveling into space have become more and more dangerous in recent years as scientists try to conquer space discoveries and explore the Columbia_OV-102.gifsolar system beyond the limits of the earth. In the wake of the Columbia Space Shuttle accident on February 1, 2003 when the shuttle disintegrated over Texas at the point of re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere, many questions have been asked over the years about space safety. The Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster was the second Space Shuttle Disaster and the first shuttle lost on landing. The world was shocked by this tragedy. It was Columbia’s 28th mission into space named mission STS-107.
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Columbia reentry disintegration

Space shuttle Columbia (OV-102) was the oldest of NASA's fleet of space planes. Construction started in 1975. In April 1981, Columbia became the first shuttle to fly in space following the successful atmospheric test flights of its sister ship Enterprise. The maiden flight - piloted by veteran astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen heralded a new era in space exploration. The shuttle was the world's first reusable space vehicle. Before the shuttle, manned spaceflight had been limited to vast, expensive rockets which could only be used once. On the second mission, in November 1981, astronauts aboard Columbia carried out the first scientific experiments of the shuttle program. They also tested the shuttle's trademark robot arm. Joined by its sister ships Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and later Endeavour, Columbia went on to carry out a further 27 successful missions. In 1996 astronauts aboard Columbia notched up the record for the longest shuttle flight, spending 35 days orbiting the Earth. Despite being the oldest in the fleet, Columbia had been extensively refurbished several times.
The Space Shuttle Columbia was launched on January 16th, 2003 at 9.39am CST. Columbia was on a 16-day science research mission in Earth orbit which carried out experiments in space. Columbia was NASA’s oldest space shuttle in the fleet of four. It was the first space shuttle to be launched in Earth orbit in 1981.
The crew of Space Shuttle Columbia consisted of 7 astronauts: Rick D. Hus
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Columbia crew
band-Commander, William C. McCool-Pilot, Michael P. Anderson, David M. Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark and Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli in space.
The loss of Columbia shuttle resulted from damage it experienced during launch when a piece of foam insulation the size of a small briefcase broke off the Space Shuttle external tank (the main propellant tank) under the aerodynamic forces of launch. The debris hit the leading edge of the left wing. Columbia suffered damages on it thermal protection system. This part of the aircraft protected the shuttle from the heat it generated during re-entry into earth. During Columbia’s mission in orbit, some engineers suspected damage, but NASA managers limited the investigation, on the grounds that little could be done even if problems were found (BBC, 2003).

What caused the Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster?
Security was tight at launch and no indication of sabotage. Initial speculation was the vertical tail fin broke apart. The reason for the break up: it seems the left wing was hit by a piece of foam from the Space Shuttle External Tank during launch. At the time of the launch it was judged that event did not represent safety concern. NASA did not request help in trying to observe the damaged area with ground telescopes or satellites, in part because it did not
believe the pictures would be useful, whereas, on the first space shuttle launch in 1981, Columbia lost a few tiles and NASA had requested the use of ground telescopes and satellites. Even if they did find damage, there was nothing the crew could have done to fix it. There was no way they could carry work in space, hence the Shuttle was doomed from launch. They could not fly to the International Space Station (ISS) because they would have been in the wrong orbit. They would have been stuck in space.

Due to the loss of Space Shuttle Columbia, the Shuttle fleet was grounded in an effort to provide an internal and external independent investigation into the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia as it re-entered the earth's atmosphere (Aerospaceguide, 2009).
The Investigation
Several factors may have contributed to the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. According to the Columbia Accident Investigation Board Report (CAIB), politics, budgets, schedule pressure and managerial complacency all played roles in causing the Feb. 1 Columbia tragedy. This report contained 248 pages and was formally released report, formally released on August 28, 2003, detailed what has already been said about the things that went wrong from a physical and organizational standpoint. It also laid out conditions that NASA had to fulfill before launching blasting another shuttle into space. However, the origin of the disaster was not very evident. By the time the CAIB concluded its five-month investigation, there was little or no doubt among investigators about the physical cause of the accident: Columbia attempted to re-enter and land the morning of Feb. 1 with a breach in its left wing inflicted some 16 days earlier by a breakaway chunk of foam 81.7 seconds after liftoff. “In four simple words, the foam did it,” said the board's only NASA official, Scott Hubbard, who oversaw the dramatic foam strike tests at Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, Texas. Hubbard emphasized the board's confidence in its conclusions about the technical root cause of the accident, pointing out that “we didn't include the words probably, probable or most likely” (Berger, 2003).

The Board’s statement of introduction said that the “aim [of the investigation] has been improve shuttle safety by multiple means, not just by correcting the specific faults that cost the nation this orbiter and this crew. With that intent, the Board conducted not only an investigation of what happened to Columbia, but also to determine the conditions that allowed the accident to occur a safety evaluation of the entire space shuttle program” (CAIB, 2003, p.6).


The report confirmed that the physical cause of the loss of Columbia and its crew was a breach in the Thermal protection system on the leading edge of the left wing, caused by a piece of insulating foam which separated from the left bipod ramp section of the external tank at 81.7 seconds after launch, and struck the wing in the vicinity of the lower half of Reinforced Carbon-Carbon panel number 8. During re-entry this breach in the thermal protection system allowed superheated air to penetrate through the leading edge insulation and progressively melt the aluminum structure of the left wing, resulting in a weakening of the structure until increasing aerodynamic forces caused loss of control, failure of the wing, and breakup of the Orbiter. This breakup occurred in a flight regime in which, given the current design of the Orbiter, there was no possibility for the crew to survive (CAIB, 2003, p.9).
CAIB also discussed the organizational causes of the accident in space shuttle program history and culture that included original concessions that were needed to obtain support for the shuttle’s subsequent years of resource constraints, fluctuating priorities, schedule pressures, mischaracterization of the shuttle as operational rather than developmental, and lack of an agreed national vision for human space flight (CAIB, 2003, p.9).

The culture at NASA was highly criticized. The NASA organizational culture had as much to do with this accident as the foam. Organizational culture refers to the basic values, norms, beliefs, and practices that characterize the functioning of an institution. At the most basic level, organizational culture defines the assumptions that employees make as they carry out their work. It is a powerful force that can persist through reorganizations and the change of key personnel. It can be a positive or a negative force (CAIB, 2003, p.97).




Aerospaceguide, (2009, November 28). Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. Retrieved from http://www.aerospaceguide.net/spaceshuttle/columbia_disaster.html
BBC, (2003). Columbia: space pioneer. Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/2717269.stm
Berger, B. (2003). Columbia report faults nasa culture, government oversight . Retrieved from http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/caib_report_030826.html
CAIB, (2003). Http://caib.nasa.gov/news/report/pdf/vol1/full/caib_report_volume1.pdf
Washington, DC: Government Printing office.