Our Columbia commemorative bill honors the seven astronauts on board NASA's Space Shuttle Columbia, which broke up during re-entry 150-miles above Texas, on February 1, 2003, just 16-minutes before a scheduled landing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The crew had just completed a successful 16-day scientific research mission in which they conducted 80 experiments on microgravity. The Columbia was one of the first four space shuttles built by NASA as part of the STS program (see a more detailed description of the STS program under the Shuttle Challenger bill above), and was the first Shuttle orbiter. It was delivered to Kennedy Space Center in March 1979 and made the first shuttle flight (STS-1) on April 12, 1981. It was that flight that proved the operational concept of a winged, reusable spaceship. Shuttle Columbia's tragic flight, STS-107, had five male astronauts and two female astronauts aboard. The tragedy was not only a great loss for America, but also for India and Israel. NASA astronaut Kalpana Chawla was born in India and this flight was being closely watched by citizens of India. Israel's first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, was also aboard the ill-fated STS-107 flight. It is believed that the spacecraft was fatally damaged upon liftoff when a piece of foam insulation impacted the left wing, causing a small hole that allowed super-heated re-entry gasses to enter into the wing, eventually causing the destruction of the spacecraft.
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