February 1, 2003. While re-entering Earth’s atmosphere from Mission STS-107, the Columbia Space Shuttle caught fire and its parts got strewn over the State of Texas. Died in this accident: Commander Rick Husband; pilot William McCool; payload commander and experiment manager Michael Anderson; and prime robotic arm operator Kalpana Chawla; medical doctor, United States Navy captain, and Space Shuttle mission specialist Laurel Clark; doctor and US Navy pilot David Brown; Israel Air Force Fighter Pilot, payload specialist and first Israeli astronaut in space Ilan Ramon.
The space shuttle’s fate was sealed already upon takeoff: a chunk of insulation foam from the external fuel tank hit the wingtip, where insulating tiles are installed to protect the shuttle’s body against the intense heat of re-entry into the atmosphere.This impact apparently damaged the tiles and caused some of them to break off. When the re-entry began at the end of the mission in space, that area of the wing was exposed to the intense heat and made it difficult for the shuttle to stabilize at an angle suitable for entry into the atmosphere. The wing damage got worse as the heat increased and the different angle caused the shuttle to lose control and disintegrate.
Rona to Ilan
Sent: Wednesday, January 22 2003, 11:43 AM
God, you looked so happy it overwhelmed my heart. I only hope you’ll manage to return to normal life back here on the ground.
Ilan to Rona
Sent: Wednesday, January 29 2003, 9:08 AM
This morning I woke up out of a dream - I dreamed I was traveling in a NASA car with Lonnie in the back seat, and suddenly a huge tsunami wave engulfs us... I don’t know why and what it all means, but I woke up an hour sooner than I was supposed to...
Ilan - Here I come
Sent: Friday, January 31, 2003 2:38 PMS
This is my last chance to send an email from space. Space is awesome, it feels great, the sights are incredible, hovering is amazing, the crew is super - but it’s always best to be coming back home!!! In a few hours we will be going to bed - our final night in space, and about five hours after we wake up - we land!
So here I come, see you soon, I love you dearly!!!
Columbia Space Shuttle, , day 16 in space
... On the way to Florida Assaf asked if the landing is going to be as exciting as the launch, if we’re going to be excited, if we’ll cry.And I said - let’s wait and see. In the background I heard something unclear from Mission Control.And then a cold spell passed through us, the skies went dark, and we’re still standing, still waiting. Taking pictures and waiting.We stood opposite the runway, opposite us a clock was ticking. Just like the launch.And the clock is ticking, it’s quiet around us. Eerily quiet.The last ten seconds, we’re counting down: 10, 9, 8, 7... and nothing’s happening.
There’s a stir in the crowd, the silence is deafening.We’re being asked to gather.Communication has been cut off but we don’t know why.People around us started to cry.And I look skywards and in my heart I’m saying: God, please bring him back to me.And again I ask what’s happening, what’s happened? - no answer.
The whole world knew, and we stood and took pictures on the bleachers.Smiling, anticipating.The whole world knew, and we didn’t. Now we know.
Following the disaster which took place on the 113th mission of the space shuttles, which added onto the Challenger disaster, space shuttle flights were grounded for two and a half years. Flights were not resumed until July 2005. NASA was left with only three operational shuttles.
About eight months later, in their presentation of the final conclusions, the committee appointed to investigate the cause of the Columbia disaster determined that the Space Shuttle Columbia crashed due to damage to one of its insulation tiles on the shuttle wing already upon take-off.
‘Astronaut’s Journal. Ilan Ramon‘
Several weeks after the Columbia disaster, a Native American tracker, who was searching in Texas for remains of the shuttle, found some crumbling pages written in Hebrew. It turned out that he had miraculously found eight pages out of a journal, in which Ilan documented his experiences from the launch through to his sixth day in space. The journal survived the 1,800-degree heat when the explosion happened while the shuttle was flying at an altitude of 60 km. It made it down to Earth almost in one piece, just slightly singed. Neither the Native Americans nor the NASA personnel were able to understand what those pages contained within them. One of the NASA scientists gave the pages to Rona, who was at the time in Houston. Rona immediately recognized Ilan’s handwriting. Up until that moment she was unaware that Ilan had written a personal diary in space, a journal he named simply: ‘Astronaut’s Journal. Ilan Ramon.‘
Rona, 19 March 2003
Do you hear my voice, so far away? Do you hear my voice, wherever you are? A voice calling loud, a voice weeping hushed, And above eternity, Wishing you be blessed... Nigh may be my last day, that day is soon, for tears goodbye.I shall wait for you, till my final breath, As Rachel did, for her love