Few could ever forget the tragic Columbia accident, when when the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart during re-entry, killing all seven astronauts aboard.
The break-up was caused by damage incurred when a small piece of foam insulation broke off the External Tank during launch and struck the left wing’s leading edge, damaging the thermal protection system. As a result, the shuttle wasn’t properly protected from the intense heat of re-entry and compressed hot gases penetrated the internal wing structure, destroying it and causing the break-up of the vehicle.
To me, one of the most tragic aspects of the Columbia accident was the fact that some of the engineers suspected the damage while the shuttle was still in orbit, but NASA managers didn’t authorize a full investigation because even if problems were found, there was little that could be done about it.
The shuttle was in the wrong orbit to connect with the International Space Station and there was no way the crew could do an EVA to fix it.
In the picture to the right, you’ll see a Florida reporter for the TV station using a Proach Model to explain what happened to cause the Columbia accident. We were happy that our model could be helpful, but so sad that it had to be used for such a tragic reason.