Who were the astronaut crew who died in the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster?

On February 1 2003 the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated[1] as it reentered the Earth’s atmosphere over the United States. The shuttle had been returning to Earth with the crew, having spent the previous 15 days and 22 hours in space.

However, an incident which occurred just moments after lift off meant that the shuttle would never return safely to Earth. The thermal protection system tiles on the orbiter’s left wing had been damaged after being struck by a piece of the insulating foam from the Space Shuttle external tank during the launch.

When Columbia reentered the atmosphere of Earth, the damage allowed hot atmospheric gases to penetrate the heat shield and destroy the internal wing structure, which caused the orbiter to become unstable and break apart.

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Sadly, all seven astronauts who were onboard Space Shuttle Columbia when it disintegrated were killed. They were:

  • Commander Richard Douglas Husband who was on his second spaceflight. Rick, 45, had been a fighter pilot in the US Air Force.
  • Pilot William Cameron McCool who was on his only spaceflight. William, 41, had been a captain in the US Navy where he flew fighters jets and was later a test pilot.
  • Mission Specialist 1 David McDowell Brown was on his only spaceflight. David, 46, had been a captain in the Us Navy where he was a flight surgeon.
  • Mission Specialist 2 Kalpana Chawla was on her second spaceflight. A US and Indian citizen, Kalpana, 40, was an aerospace engineer who was the first woman of Indian origin to fly to space.
  • Mission Specialist 3 Michael Phillip Anderso was on his second spaceflight. Michael , 43, was the payload commander in charge of science experiments. He was a lieutenant colonel in the US Air Force.
  • Mission Specialist 4 Laurel Clark was on her only spaceflight. Lauren, 41, was a medical doctor and captain in the US Navy.
  • Payload Specialist 1 Ilan Ramon was on his only spaceflight. Ilan, 48, was a fighter pilot and colonel in the Israeli Air Force.

As the shuttle reentered parts reportedly fell across east Texas through to southern Louisiana. Remains of crew members were found within the first day of a search mission getting underway. Within three days of the crash, some remains from each astronaut had been recovered

In all, Nasa operated five shuttles in space. As well as losing Columbia, Shuttle Challenger and its crew were also lost in a launch accident on January 28 1986. Retired shuttles Atlantis and Discovery and the test ship Enterprise, which did not go to space, are on display across the USA.

BBC[3] 2’s The Space Shuttle That Fell to Earth, a new three-part documentary series, tells the story of the incident as well as the aftermath which saw the Space Shuttle fleet grounded for 29 months before being retired. It starts at 9pm on Monday, February 12.



  1. ^ Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated (www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk)
  2. ^ click here (manchester.page.link)
  3. ^ BBC (www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk)