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Hours after the space shuttle disentegrated over Texas, news of the tragedy reached millions of people via the World Wide Web, cable, and catelite television. Ironically, some of the astronauts aboard the ill fated Columbia were trained to deploy communications satelites - the very same type that would later beam the news of their demise around the world. For many old enough to remember, the news harkened back memories of the only other fatal shuttle accident that ever took place - the explosion of the space shuttle challenger shortly after lift off from the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center on January 28, 1986. After that disaster, the Shuttle program was suspended. Two years later, the shuttle flights were resumed, the agency had been revamped and was committed to avoiding a similar accident.

Almost seventeen years later, the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) was taking even further precautions and carried out the launch on January 16, 2003 under extreme security measures. Columbia carried the first Israeli space voyager, Ilan Ramon into orbit. The agency feared that because of Ramon's nationality, the shuttle might have been a potential target of a terrorist act by groups opposed to the United States and Israel.Preliminary analysis seems to indicate that the shuttle and its crew fell victim to mechanical failure.

Much like how the Columbia mission had received a lot of media coverage prior to launch, the Challenger mission was also the focus of America's attention. The crew of that mission included Christa McAuliffe. She was to become the first teacher to go into orbit. Aside from their pioneering nature, the final missions of the Challenger and Columbia shuttles bore other similarities. Perhaps the most striking similarity being the composition of their crews. Both missions had a crew of seven astronauts, both had two women and both had one African American Physisist.

Another similarity was the foreboding of possible danger in both cases. The Challenger mission had been postponed due to unfavourable weather conditions, and despite apprehension by some engineers, the go ahead was given for launch. Cold weather was later determined to be one of the factors that impacted the Challenger catastrophe. In the case of Columbia, the cause or causes of the disaster are as yet undetermined, however just after lift off, a piece of insulating foam detached from the external fuel tank and struck the left wing of the orbiter. When asked about potential risk, the agency reassured the public that there was no cause for concern. In the aftermath of the disaster, NASA officials are insisting that even if the damage to the left wing of the shuttle turns out to have been the cause of the shuttle's break up, there is nothing that could have been done to save the seven member crew.

ColumbiaChallenger
Lift off dateJanuary 16, 2003January 28, 1986
Buzz factorFirst Israeli in spaceFirst school teacher in space
Total crew members77
Men55
Women22
African American Physicist11
OmenDamage to left wing after launchFreezing cold weather prior to launch
WeatherVery cold weather days before launchExtremely cold weather at launch time



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