We lost another space shuttle and another brave crew.
Remember? The shuttle Columbia broke up during re-entry on Saturday, February 1, 2003, killing all seven astronauts aboard.
I remember the pictures from St. George of a bright streak across the early morning sky. The Shuttle was traveling at over Mach 18 (18 times the speed of sound).
The first indication of the impending catastrophe came at 6:53 a.m. (MST) Ground controllers lost data from four temperature indicators for hydraulic systems on the left side of Columbia.
Three minutes later, other sensors detect a rise in temperature and pressure in the shuttle's left-side landing gear.
Two minutes later, data is lost from those sensors. It is apparently the first indication to the crew that there's a problem. But time has already run out. An instant later all communications with the orbiter are lost.
It's now 7:00 a.m. our time and Columbia is breaking up some 207,135 feet over Texas. The wreckage rains down over both Texas and Louisiana. People report hearing a loud noise and seeing bright balls of fire in the morning sky.
15 minutes later, President Bush gets a call from the NASA administrator.
Fast Forward to Today
9-years later, the remaining shuttles are museum pieces. The program is finished.
Our astronauts now have to hitch rides into orbit on a Soyuz spacecraft. We're paying the Russians to do what we no longer can.
Even as one presidential candidate tries to inspire with talk of a permanent base on the moon, the sad reality is that NASA's wings have been clipped. The future of America's manned space program is, at best, uncertain.
One more reason to mourn on the anniversary of the Columbia disaster.