Columbia remembered 10 years on

AFP-JIJI

With somber ceremonies, the United States on Friday commemorated the loss of the space shuttle Columbia and its seven-member crew on the 10th anniversary of the disaster.

Columbia, NASA’s first space shuttle orbiter to be put into service, disintegrated during re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003, as it was ending its 28th mission. All seven astronauts on board died.

“Ten years ago, seven brave astronauts gave their lives in the name of exploration when America’s first flight-ready space shuttle, Columbia, failed to return safely to Earth,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.

At a ceremony at the Space Mirror Memorial on the grounds of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, those remembering the dead included Evelyn Husband Thompson, the widow of shuttle commander Rick Husband.

Columbia’s demise was triggered when a loose piece of insulating foam from the external fuel tank that had peeled off during the shuttle’s launch 16 days earlier struck one of Columbia’s carbon composite wings.

After the incident, the administration of former President George W. Bush decided to close down the shuttle program, allowing the three remaining orbiters to fly only as long as it took to complete the International Space Station — in 2011 — and to honor Washington’s commitments to its partners.