Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Order Code RS21408
Updated January 4, 2006
NASA’s Space Shuttle Program: The
Columbia Tragedy, the Discovery Mission,
and the Future of the Shuttle
Marcia S. Smith
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
On August 9, 2005, the space shuttle Discovery successfully completed the first of
two “Return to Flight” (RTF) missions — STS-114. It was the first shuttle launch since
the February 1, 2003, Columbia tragedy. NASA announced on July 27, 2005, the day
after STS-114’s launch, that a second RTF mission would be indefinitely postponed
because of a problem that occurred during Discovery’s launch that is similar to what led
to the loss of Columbia. The next launch is currently expected some time in 2006. This
report discusses the Columbia tragedy, the Discovery mission, and issues for Congress
regarding the future of the shuttle. For more information, see CRS Issue Brief IB93062,
Space Launce Vehicles: Government Activities, Commercial Competition, and Satellite
Exports, by Marcia S. Smith. This is the final edition of this report.
The Loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia
The space shuttle Columbia was launched on its STS-107 mission on January 16,
2003. After completing a 16-day scientific research mission, Columbia started its descent
to Earth on the morning of February 1, 2003. As it descended from orbit, approximately
16 minutes before its scheduled landing at Kennedy Space Center, FL, Columbia broke
apart over northeastern Texas. All seven astronauts aboard were killed: Commander Rick
Husband; Pilot William McCool; Mission Specialists Michael P. Anderson, David M.
Brown, Kalpana Chawla, and Laurel Clark; and payload specialist Ilan Ramon, an Israeli.
The last communication with Columbia was at about 09:00 EST. The shuttle was at an
altitude of 207,135 feet, traveling at a speed of Mach 18.3 (about 13,000 miles per hour).
The Space Shuttle Columbia and the STS-107 Mission
The Space T