Digital Media Center
Bryant-Denny Stadium, Gate 61
920 Paul Bryant Drive
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0370
(800) 654-4262

© 2023 Alabama Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

NPR and APR remember the 20th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster

Columbia windshield.jpg
Pat Duggins
The windshield frame of Space Shuttle Columbia after the 2003 shuttle disaster
Columbia windshield 2.jpg
The windshield frame of Space Shuttle Columbia, collected by search teams following the 2003 shuttle disaster, and delivered to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida

This Wednesday marks twenty years since the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. I and NPR’s Scott Simon, host of “Weekend Edition” recalled the three hours of “live” unscripted emergency coverage from February 1, 2003, after the spacecraft broke apart and burned up. All seven astronauts on board were killed.

Here's the link to today's "Weekend Edition" interview on the 20th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

Columbia 2 cropped.jpg
Pat Duggins
The heat shields of the leading edge of the left hand wing of Space Shuttle Columbia, loaded into a plastic frame for examination by investigators of the 2003 disaster

I took these photos of Columbia’s wreckage, which had been collected from East Texas and elsewhere, and delivered to a hangar at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Perhaps most recognizable was the windshield frame, behind which sat astronaut commander Rick Husband and rookie shuttle pilot Willie McCool.

Perhaps most telling was the re-creation of the leading edge of the spacecraft’s left hand wing. One hour before the arrival of a group of reporters, including me, investigators decided that falling foam insulation punched a hole, the size of a football, in one of the gray heat shields. That damage, they believed, led to the destruction of the spacecraft during the fiery re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. Friction between the shuttle’s heat shields typically creates temperatures close to 3,000 degrees. Scott Simon, host of NPR's "Weekend Edition," said that a week doesn't go by without someone commenting on the coverage during the news magazine immediately following the disaster that killed the seven astronauts.

Also of note— today's interview on "Weekend Edition" was produced by former Alabama Public Radio student intern Allison Mollenkamp. The University of Alabama graduate was an inaugural fellow at NPR's investigative unit before joining the weekend news magazine. Mollenkamp also collected a national Edward R. Murrow Award while working for Nebraska Public Radio for coverage of flooding in the state.

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
Related Content
News from Alabama Public Radio is a public service in association with the University of Alabama. We depend on your help to keep our programming on the air and online. Please consider supporting the news you rely on with a donation today. Every contribution, no matter the size, propels our vital coverage. Thank you.