Figure 14.2-1. A photograph of the Columbia crew in space, recovered from the debris of the spacecraft. Top, from the left: David Brown, William McCool and Michael Anderson. Bottom, from the left: Kalpana Chawla, Rick Husband, Laurel Clark and Ilan Ramon.
The seven members of the crew of Space Shuttle Columbia died on February 1, 2003 during reentry. At liftoff, a fragment of the thermal insulation of the Shuttle’s external tank had struck and damaged the thermal protection of the leading edge of the spacecraft’s wing. The red-hot air that formed around the spacecraft during reentry penetrated the wing and partially melted its internal structure, which broke up catastrophically as Columbia was flying at 15 times the speed of sound at an altitude of approximately 55 kilometers (181,000 feet), killing the entire crew instantly.