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2003: Explosion in a blue sky

Space Shuttle Columbia was less than half an hour from touching down at the end of its 16-day mission when things began to go wrong.

The first indication of a problem was an unusual temperature rise in three of the brake-line sensors in the left wheel well.

Over the next few minutes more abnormal increases in temperature were reported. At 0859 EST, contact was lost and witnesses saw an explosion and several white trails in the blue sky 40 miles above Texas.

Almost 16 years to the day after the Challenger disaster, America mourned the loss of another seven astronauts and their Shuttle.

Your stories

Our all family was watching the news.

We saw in Karnal, the birth place of [Indian-born astronaut] Kalpna Chawla, sweets were being distributed on the successful coming of the space shuttle back to Earth, but suddenly that happiness turned into deep sarrow when the whole world saw it live - Columbia shuttle disintegrating over Texas.

Now all people were praying for the well-being of those seven lives. Next morning we saw that bad news in paper,"Shuttle Disintegrates over Texas, all Seven on Board Dead".
Jasdev, India

It was the unthinkable. Shuttle missions had become so regular that a whole generation accepted man in space as the norm.

The Columbia disaster shattered those illusions and brought man back to earth realising we are not invincible. Although I had seen it years earlier, I was struck by the same disbeleif I felt when Challenger exploded.
OJ, UK

I was at the National Zoo for a training class and my husband was at work. He called me and I could tell something was wrong, right away. Because of the tension over Iraq, I thought we had gone to war. When he told me what happened, I cried. Heroes should never die.
Brett, DC, USA


" The Shuttle had broken up over our heads "

Joyce Williamson, USA

Our family follows the Shuttle passes closely, and we were outside looking skyward and knew something was wrong for there to be so many contrails.

We went back inside and heard on the radio that the Shuttle had broken up over our heads. Pieces were found to the south and east of our county (Tarrant County) here in Texas. And pieces fell near the college in Nacogdoches where our nephew was attending college. It was a sad day.
Joyce Williamson, USA

I remember where I was when I heard the news. I was in disbelief and saddened by this disaster. I am 12 years old and when I grow up I want to be an astronaut. God bless their families.
Nina, Dallas, Texas

I was one among the proudest when my hero Kalpana Chawla flew into space. I was so very inspired and was in full praise and was all ready to welcome her back home.

But the stars took her home. I never met her in person but on Jan 31 I dreamt I will meet her at least once.

It was one one the most shocking moments when I saw the blue screens with white streaks showing the shuttle falling. It took me almost one day to realise the truth.

But now every time I look up into the starlit sky she is there with all the brave crew smiling and inspiring us all.
Idikula Mathew, India

I can remember this disaster so well. It was because it was such a shock to me that it was happening. I had just come home from school and my mum was watching the news.

All I could see was the debris from the shuttle falling from the sky. Then under the screen came a breaking news story. It had said that the space shuttle Columbia had broken up in the atmosphere. I knew straight away that all seven of those astronauts on board had died. It was such a tragedy.
Kayleigh Beckman, England

I was 14 years old. It was a sunny afternoon here in England, then my stepfather John woke me up and told me that a Shuttle had crashed in outer space over Texas. I quickly jumped out of bed and looked at the news bulletin and saw footage of Shuttle pieces falling from the sky. Being a fan of space exploration I was really shocked. I watched the news for hours on end.
Will, United Kingdom

I was in India at the time and had noticed how incredibly proud the Indians were over the achievements of the female astronaut Kalpana Chawla.

What a role model she had begun to become in India, particularly for women, but also as the first Indian astronaut every Indian was proud of her.

When the disaster happened I felt so sad for India and extremely sad at the waste of such a person at Kalpana. I'll never forget that day.
Steve Sweeney, UK

I was lying in bed awake and heard a loud, sharp boom. It sounded as if a bowling ball fell on the roof. Then an echo of that first sound.

With trepidation we looked outside and saw nothing. Then we turned on the TV and heard the sad news.

Once we knew what had happened, we had the terrible realization that at the moment of the boom, seven lives were lost.
Irmgard Payne, US

From Yosemite's Glacier Point I watched the shuttle pass over California.

Minutes later I learned of the disaster and only months later as I viewed the disaster investigation board's timeline of events did I realize that their trouble started way out over the Pacific, thousands of miles and a full 15 minutes before the end to their flight.

It was a horrible thought to think that they must have known what was coming and that there was nothing they could do about it.
Mark Hays, US


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