Spaceflight Now


Follow the mission of space shuttle Columbia on its 16-day science research flight with our Mission Status Center.

1000 GMT (5:00 a.m. EST)

The seven Columbia astronauts are marching through the deorbit preparation timeline at this hour, stowing away equipment and readying to close the ship's payload bay doors for today's reentry and landing to conclude the 16-day science mission.

Earlier this morning the Spacehab module was closed after the success marathon research mission that featured about 80 experiments.

The weather forecast remains favorable at Kennedy Space Center's shuttle runway for a touchdown at 9:16 a.m. EST. However, meteorologists are watching low clouds and fog in the area. It is believed the cloudiness and fog will burn off as the sun rises.

1050 GMT (5:50 a.m. EST)

Columbia's clam shell-like payload bay doors have been closed and locked for today's fiery descent into Earth's atmosphere and 9:16 a.m. EST landing at Kennedy Space Center.

Mission Control has given commander Rick Husband a "go" to transition Columbia's onboard computers from the OPS-2 software used during the shuttle's stay in space to OPS-3, which is the software package that governs entry and landing. And Columbia will be maneuvering to a new orientation in space to improve the communications link with NASA's orbiting data relay satellites.

Meanwhile, NASA astronaut Kent Rominger is flying weather reconnaissance around Kennedy Space Center aboard a T-38 jet trainer. The low clouds and fog reported earlier are expected to dissipate for landing on the first entry opportunity today at 9:16 a.m. EST. There is a backup opportunity available an orbit later. The wind is expected to pick up for the 10:46 a.m. EST landing attempt but should be down the runway and within limits.

So with weather expected to cooperate in Florida today, the astronauts should be back on Earth in a couple hours to wrap up their 6.6-million mile voyage.

1115 GMT (6:15 a.m. EST)

Now two hours away from the deorbit burn. Weather continues to improve at Kennedy Space Center this morning. In the next hour, the crew will begin suiting up. And then in about 90 minutes, entry flight director Leroy Cain is scheduled to make the final "go/no go" decision on the deorbit burn.

1128 GMT (6:28 a.m. EST)

CAPCOM Charlie Hobaugh in Mission Control has given commander Rick Husband the Deorbit and Landing Preliminary Advisory Data update. The deorbit burn is now targeted to begin at 8:15:30 a.m. EST and last for two minutes and 38 seconds, slowing the ship by about 250 feet per second. That will put Columbia on course for its hour-long glide back to Earth. Once in the skies off Kennedy Space Center, Husband will pilot the shuttle around a 213-degree right overhead turn to align with Runway 33 for touchdown at 9:16 a.m. EST.

Meteorologists are monitoring upper-level winds in determining which end of the runway will actually be used today. At present, Runway 33 is being targeted.

1200 GMT (7:00 a.m. EST)

The astronauts are finshing up the chore of checking the hundreds of switches in the crew module, verifying that they are in the right position for entry. In Mission Control, officials are continuing to monitor and discuss the winds aloft at Kennedy Space Center. Weather balloons have revealed that the winds are strong and shift directions are various altitudes. Based on the conditions, NASA will have to determine if Columbia can safely fly through the winds. And, if so, which end of the runway to use.

1212 GMT (7:12 a.m. EST)

The crew has been given the approval to begin their "fluid loading" protocol to drink large amounts of liquids to help in readapting to Earth's gravity, a precursor to today's landing.

Although there is still optimism for favorable conditions at Kennedy Space Center for touchdown at 9:16 a.m. EST, visibility is currently restricted by fog at the runway. But it is expected that as the sun continues to rise the fog will burn off this morning. In addition, strong winds aloft are being monitored.

1232 GMT (7:32 a.m. EST)

The latest check on upper level winds shows conditions are trending more favorable, NASA says. It remains quite foggy, however, at the runway. But visibility is expected to improve as the morning continues.

1245 GMT (7:45 a.m. EST)

The crew has deactivated the shuttle's kitchen area. And pilot Willie McCool has completed the Auxiliary Power Unit prestart, which positions switches in the cockpit in the ready-to-start configuration. One of the three APUs will be started prior to the deorbit burn.

Coming up on a "go/no go" decision for the deorbit burn in the next few minutes.

1249 GMT (7:49 a.m. EST)

Mission Control has told the crew to maneuver the shuttle and press on with the final preparations for the deorbit burn. However, the weather is still being evaluated and a final "go" to perform the braking rocket firing to drop from orbit has not been made. The deorbit burn is scheduled for 8:15 a.m. EST to send the shuttle on the course for landing at Kennedy Space Center at 9:16 a.m. EST.

If this deorbit and landing opportunity is waved off, Columbia would make another orbit of Earth and target a deorbit burn at 9:49 a.m. and touchdown at 10:50 a.m. EST.

1255 GMT (7:55 a.m. EST)

A report on the conditions at the Shuttle Landing Facility indicates sky conditions scattered at 5,000 feet, scattered 29,000 feet and visibility of 4 miles.

1259 GMT (7:59 a.m. EST)

A weather briefing is being given to flight controllers. The fog is burning off. But the question is whether the situation is clearing fast enough to permit an on-time landing of Columbia today.

1303 GMT (8:03 a.m. EST)

Columbia is now in the proper orientation for the deorbit burn. The shuttle is flying upside-down and backwards with its tail pointed in the direction of travel. The shuttle's vent doors have been closed and final configuring of the onboard computers has been completed.

1309 GMT (8:09 a.m. EST)

GO FOR THE DEORBIT BURN! With the fog burning off and high-altitude winds deemed acceptable, entry flight director Leroy Cain has given space shuttle Columbia's astronauts the "go" to perform the deorbit burn at 8:15:30 a.m. EST for return to Earth.

The upcoming two-minute, 38-second retrograde burn using the twin orbital maneuvering system engines on the tail of Columbia will slow the shuttle's velocity just enough to slip the craft out of orbit and begin the plunge back into the atmosphere.

Columbia is headed for a landing at 9:16 a.m. EST at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

1311 GMT (8:11 a.m. EST)

Pilot Willie McCool is activating one of three Auxiliary Power Units in advance of the deorbit burn, now four minutes away. The other two APUs will be started later in the descent to provide pressure needed to power shuttle's hydraulic systems that move the wing flaps, rudder/speed brake, drop the landing gear and steer the nose wheel. NASA ensures that at least one APU is working before committing to the deorbit burn since the shuttle only needs a single unit to make a safe landing.

1315 GMT (8:15 a.m. EST)

DEORBIT BURN IGNITION. Flying upside down and backwards about 176 miles above the Indian Ocean to the west of Australia, Columbia has begun the deorbit burn. The firing of the two Orbital Maneuvering System engines on the tail of the shuttle will last nearly three minutes, slowing the craft by over 250 feet per second to slip from orbit.

The retro-burn will send Columbia to a touchdown at 9:16 a.m. EST on a runway just a few miles from the Kennedy Space Center launch pad where the shuttle lifted off 16 days ago.

1318 GMT (8:18 a.m. EST)

DEORBIT BURN COMPLETE. Columbia has successfully completed the deorbit burn, committing the shuttle for its journey back to Earth. Landing is scheduled for 9:16 a.m. EST at Kennedy Space Center in Florida to cap Columbia's 16-day microgravity science flight.

1323 GMT (8:23 a.m. EST)

Onboard guidance is maneuvering Columbia from its heads-down, tail-forward position needed for the deorbit burn to the reentry configuration of heads-up and nose-forward. The nose also will be pitched upward 40 degrees. In this new position, the black tiles on the shuttle's belly will shield the spacecraft during the fiery plunge through the Earth's atmosphere with temperatures reaching 3,000 degrees F. Columbia will begin interacting with the upper fringes of the atmosphere above the Pacific in about 20 minutes.

1331 GMT (8:31 a.m. EST)

Columbia's current altitude is 146 miles. Time to touchdown: 45 minutes.

1332 GMT (8:32 a.m. EST)

The remaining two Auxiliary Power Units are being activated to supply pressure to the shuttle's hydraulic systems, which in turn move Columbia's aerosurfaces and deploy the landing gear. One unit was started prior to the deorbit burn; the others just a few moments ago. The units are only activated during the launch and landing phases of the shuttle mission.

Also, a dump of excess propellant through the shuttle's Forward Reaction Control System has been completed.

1336 GMT (8:36 a.m. EST)

Now 40 minutes to touchdown. Today's landing will be the 62nd to occur at Kennedy Space Center in the history of space shuttle program. Dating back to May 1996, this will mark the 40th of the last 45 shuttle missions to land in Florida. KSC is the most used landing site for the shuttle. Edwards Air Force Base in California has seen 49 landings and White Sands in New Mexico supported one.

1342 GMT (8:42 a.m. EST)

Columbia is currently above the Pacific Ocean at an altitude of 90 miles.

1344 GMT (8:44 a.m. EST)

ENTRY INTERFACE. The protective tiles on the belly of Columbia are now feeling heat beginning to build as the orbiter enters the top fringes of the atmosphere -- a period known as Entry Interface.

The shuttle is flying with its nose elevated 40 degrees, wings level, at an altitude of 400,000 feet, passing over the southern Pacific Ocean, about 4,400 nautical miles from the landing site, at a velocity of Mach 25.

Touchdown is set for 9:16 a.m. EST at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

1346 GMT (8:46 a.m. EST)

Thirty minutes to touchdown. Altitude 64 miles. Columbia will be making landfall over California shortly, flying north of San Francisco. The shuttle's course will take it over Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and then along the Gulf Coast and into the Florida Panhandle.

1349 GMT (8:49 a.m. EST)

Columbia is beginning the first in a series of banks to scrub off speed as it plunges into the atmosphere. These turns basically remove the energy Columbia built up during launch. This first bank is to the right.

1351 GMT (8:51 a.m. EST)

Altitude 47 miles. Speed 16,400 miles per hour.

1353 GMT (8:53 a.m. EST)

Columbia is now crossing the California coastline.

1355 GMT (8:55 a.m. EST)

The shuttle is now soaring over the southern portion of Nevada. Columbia set for touchdown at Kennedy Space Center in Florida in about 20 minutes.

1356 GMT (8:56 a.m. EST)

Columbia's speed is now about 15,000 miles per hour as it streaks over northern Arizona.

1357 GMT (8:57 a.m. EST)

The shuttle is now 43 miles over New Mexico. Columbia is now reversing its bank to the left to further reduce speed.

1359 GMT (8:59 a.m. EST)

At an altitude of 40 miles, shuttle Columbia has entered Texas.

1401 GMT (9:01 a.m. EST)

Columbia is out of communications with flight controllers in Houston. Now 15 minutes from landing time.

1404 GMT (9:04 a.m. EST)

We're getting reports from Texas of debris behind the shuttle's plasma trail during reentry.

1405 GMT (9:05 a.m. EST)

THERE HAS BEEN NO COMMUNICATION WITH THE SHUTTLE. Mission Controllers waiting for tracking data from the Merritt Island station.

1406 GMT (9:06 a.m. EST)

Mission Control is waiting for C-band tracking data and UHF communications with Columbia through MILA, located near Kennedy Space Center. Houston lost communications with the shuttle a few minutes ago over Texas. We have gotten reports of debris in the sky.

1409 GMT (9:09 a.m. EST)

Still no contact with Columbia or crew.

1410 GMT (9:10 a.m. EST)

NASA is still seeking tracking data. Communications with the shuttle were lost about 10 minutes ago.

1414 GMT (9:14 a.m. EST)

Entry Flight Director Leroy Cain has instructed flight controllers to get out their contingency plan.

1415 GMT (9:15 a.m. EST)

The flight dynamics officer reports there is no tracking of the shuttle.

1416 GMT (9:16 a.m. EST)

This was the time of Columbia's landing. What we know is contact was lost with the shuttle at about 9 a.m. EST and a sighting by residents in Texas reported a debris cloud following the plasma trail as Columbia streaked overhead.

1419 GMT (9:19 a.m. EST)

Contingency plans are in effect in Mission Control.

1427 GMT (9:27 a.m. EST)

NASA says the shuttle was about 200,000 feet up and traveling at 12,500 miles per hour when contact was lost.

From all the reports we're receiving, it is becoming clear that the shuttle broke apart over Texas.

1429 GMT (9:29 a.m. EST)

Search and rescue forces are now being deployed, NASA says.

1435 GMT (9:35 a.m. EST)

The last voice communications from the crew involved a tire pressure message. Communications were then garbled and static. Contact with the shuttle was lost at about 9 a.m. EST.

1436 GMT (9:36 a.m. EST)

NASA is asking that any persons finding debris should stay clear given the hazardous nature of the materials and alert local authorities.

1440 GMT (9:40 a.m. EST)

During a mission status news conference yesterday, Entry Flight Director Leroy Cain was asked about any possible damage to the shuttle's thermal tiles during launch. The tiles are what protect the shuttle during the fiery reentry into Earth's atmosphere.

Tracking video of launch shows what appears to be a piece of foam insulation from the shuttle's external tank falling away during ascent and hitting the shuttle's left wing near its leading edge.

But Cain said engineers "took a very thorough look at the situation with the tile on the left wing and we have no concerns whatsoever. We haven't changed anything with respect to our trajectory design. It will be a nominal, standard trajectory."

1500 GMT (10:00 a.m. EST)

There have been no further announcements from Mission Control.

1502 GMT (10:02 a.m. EST)

News reports say President Bush is being briefed. It is expected he could soon make a statement to the nation.

1526 GMT (10:26 a.m. EST)

There are reports of debris in areas of Texas. However, it cannot be confirmed if the items are from Columbia.

1530 GMT (10:30 a.m. EST)

Spaceflight Now correspondent Stephen Clark was watching from Larue, Texas as the shuttle flew overhead this morning.

"We were outside and my Dad said 'there it is!' in one piece. Then a tiny, tiny piece came off and I was somewhat perplexed. That wasn't supposed to happen. Then bigger pieces rained away from the main piece. It looked very similar to the video we saw of the Russian space station Mir reentering. Later, there was one loud boom and accompanied by smaller booms. Normally we hear two distinct sonic booms when shuttles pass over during entries."

1535 GMT (10:35 a.m. EST)

A news conference from Kennedy Space Center in Florida is being scheduled for 11:30 a.m. EST, just under an hour from now.

1618 GMT (11:18 a.m. EST)

The space shuttle Columbia has broken up in the skies over Texas. Its crew of seven astronauts had no chance of survival. Mission control lost contact with the shuttle around 9 a.m. EST (1400 GMT), about 16 minutes before its planned touchdown in Florida. Read full story.

1620 GMT (11:20 a.m. EST)

We are getting reports from Central California from photographers are telling us that they saw a couple small objects flying free of the shuttle's streak across the sky.

1630 GMT (11:30 a.m. EST)

The NASA news conference has been delayed until later today. A new time has not been announced.

1645 GMT (11:45 a.m. EST)

Kennedy Space Center workers have been told that all work has been cancelled for this weekend. Only essential personnel should report for their duties.

1700 GMT (12:00 p.m. EST)

The NASA news conference by Administrator Sean O'Keefe is planned for 1 p.m. EST.

1710 GMT (12:10 p.m. EST)

Here is the NASA statement:

A Space Shuttle contingency has been declared in Mission Control, Houston, as a result of the loss of communication with the Space Shuttle Columbia at approximately 9 a.m. EST Saturday as it descended toward a landing at the Kennedy Space Center, Fla. It was scheduled to touchdown at 9:16 a.m. EST.

Communication and tracking of the shuttle was lost at 9 a.m. EST at an altitude of about 203,000 feet in the area above north central Texas. At the time communications were lost. The shuttle was traveling approximately 12,500 miles per hour (Mach 18). No communication and tracking information were received in Mission Control after that time.

Search and rescue teams in the Dallas-Fort Worth and in portions of East Texas have been alerted. Any debris that is located in the area that may be related to the Space Shuttle contingency should be avoided and may be hazardous as a result of toxic propellants used aboard the shuttle. The location of any possible debris should immediately be reported to local authorities.

Flight controllers in Mission Control have secured all information, notes and data pertinent to today's entry and landing by Space Shuttle Columbia and continue to methodically proceed through contingency plans.

More information will be released as it becomes available.

1715 GMT (12:15 p.m. EST)

Debris is scattered across a wide area of Texas. NASA is asking that any persons finding debris should stay clear given the hazardous nature of the materials and alert local authorities.

1725 GMT (12:25 p.m. EST)

A weather radar shows the debris swath as the shuttle broke apart. Click here

1800 GMT (1:00 p.m. EST)

Here are some stats about this mission. This was the 113th for the space shuttle program since flights began on April 12, 1981. It was the 88th mission since the 1986 explosion of Challenger. For Columbia, the oldest orbiter in NASA's fleet, this was its 28th flight.

1824 GMT (1:24 p.m. EST)

"This is indeed a tragic day," NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe is telling reporters at Kennedy Space Center. He says that all data and information is being gathered and protected for the investigation.

President Bush and O'Keefe have spoken with the astronauts' families.

1826 GMT (1:26 p.m. EST)

O'Keefe says internal and independent external groups will be set up to investigate today's accident.

1833 GMT (1:33 p.m. EST)

NASA's Associate Administrator for Spaceflight Bill Readdy says anyone with video or still pictures of the shuttle this morning is asked to contact the space agency. Officials want all possible information for the inquiry into this tragedy.

Readdy added, "It is too early to speculate" about the cause of the shuttle's break up.

1840 GMT (1:40 p.m. EST)

Another NASA news conference, this one from Johnson Space Center, is being planned for 3 p.m. EST.

1905 GMT (2:05 p.m. EST)

In an address to the nation, President Bush says, "The Columbia is lost. There are no survivors."

1910 GMT (2:10 p.m. EST)

"Our journey into space will go on," Bush says.

1930 GMT (2:30 p.m. EST)

As we grieve for the lost crew of Columbia, here are the biographies of the seven astronauts.

1940 GMT (2:40 p.m. EST)

You can read the full text of President Bush's speech here.

2005 GMT (3:05 p.m. EST)

The NASA technical news conference from Johnson Space Center has been delayed a few minutes.

2015 GMT (3:15 p.m. EST)

Click here to see an animated image from Columbia's launch that appears to show the incident with the shuttle's left wing. Engineers believe some foam insulation from the external tank broke off and impacted the wing about 80 seconds into flight.

2037 GMT (3:37 p.m. EST)

Shuttle program manager Ron Dittemore, speaking from Johnson Space Center right now, says a number of special teams have been established for the investigation. Data is being impounded to preserve all records -- pre-flight and in-flight information -- for the investigators.

2039 GMT (3:39 p.m. EST)

Dittemore says the first sign of trouble occurred shortly before 9 a.m. EST with the loss of data from temperature sensors in the hydraulic systems on left wing aerosurfaces. That was followed by loss of tire pressure measurements from the left main landing gear and structural sensors.

2046 GMT (3:46 p.m. EST)

A central location has not been picked to house all the debris as it is recovered. Response teams are activating to be dispatched to the recovery areas, Dittemore said.

2050 GMT (3:50 p.m. EST)

Tomorrow's launch of a Russian Progress cargo freighter to the International Space Station will go forward as planned, Dittemore says. The station will have enough supplies for its resident crew through late-June without a shuttle mission to the outpost.

Dittemore says it certainly too soon to know when the next shuttle flight will occur.

2103 GMT (4:03 p.m. EST)

Dittemore says of the external tank foam insulation striking Columbia's left wing during launch: "It was judged that event did not represent a safety concern."

The foam was seen breaking free from the bi-pod area of the tank where the orbiter nose attaches to the tank.

"As we now look at that in hindsight, that impact was with the left wing" and the signs of problems today are all on that wing. Dittemore says NASA "cannot discount there might be a connection" but there shouldn't be a "rush to judgement."

2108 GMT (4:08 p.m. EST)

Dittemore confirms there is no way to do a spacewalk and repair tiles on the shuttle's belly in orbit. "We know we have no capability."

2141 GMT (4:41 p.m. EST)

Loss of communications between Columbia and ground controllers occurred at 8:59:22 a.m. EST at a mission elapsed time of 15 days, 22 hours, 20 minutes, 22 seconds. The shuttle was at an altitude of 207,000 feet and traveling at Mach 18.3.

2150 GMT (4:50 p.m. EST)

Dittemore says foam was also lost from the same area of the external tank on STS-112 -- two flights ago in October -- as was noted January 16 during Columbia's launch. The last flight in November didn't appear to shed any chunks of foam. He said even prior to today, a review was being conducted to understand why two of the last three missions has suffered foam loss. That review would have determine what was causing the problem before clear the next shuttle for launch in March.

2330 GMT (6:30 p.m. EST)

NASA is asking for the public's help:

NASA has established a telephone hotline and electronic mail address for the public to use for reporting information that may help investigators studying today's Space Shuttle mishap.

Anyone who discovers debris from the accident or who has film or video evidence that may be of value to the investigation team is urged to use these contacts. Please avoid contact with any debris, because it may be hazardous as a result of toxic propellants aboard the Shuttle.

Telephone reports should be directed to the following number: 281/483-3388

Text reports and images should be e-mailed to:

The e-mail address is:

All debris is U.S. Government property and is critical to the investigation of the mishap. All debris from the accident is to be left alone and reported to Government authorities. Unauthorized persons found in possession of accident debris will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

0130 GMT (8:30 p.m. EST Sat.)

The U.S. military is providing several assests in response of the Columbia accident.

  • Air Force: A C-141 aircraft from McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., will be used to transport NASA's rapid response team from Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

  • Air Force Reserve: Six F-16 Fighting Falcons from Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base, Fort Worth, Texas, will be part of search operations and security.

  • Coast Guard: 110-foot cutter from Naval Air Station New Orleans; buoy tender and station boat from District 7, based in St. Petersburg, Fla.; patrols in the Gulf of Mexico to check out reports of fallen debris.

  • Army: Four UH-60 helicopters from Fort Hood, Texas, to assist in search operations.

  • Navy: Dauphine helicopter from Naval Air Station New Orleans to assist in search operations.

  • Texas Air National Guard: A C-130 Hercules from NASJRB, Fort Worth, to assist with search operations.
An Air Force Reserve Command HC-130 is on alert at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., ready to respond if needed. The Coast Guard also has two UH-1 helicopters standing by in Corpus Christi, Texas, and a C-130 standing by in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The DOD Manned Space Flight Support Office at Patrick AFB is the single point of contact for coordinating initial DOD contingency support for the United States' manned space flight programs.

0150 GMT (8:50 p.m. EST Sat.)

NASA is planning another news briefing on Sunday, prehaps around 1 p.m. EST. Watch this page for updates.

0230 GMT (9:30 p.m. EST Sat.)

In the final minutes of shuttle Columbia's doomed reentry, flight controllers began to see indications of a major problem in the area of the shuttle's left wing, NASA officials said on Saturday in their first detailed news briefing since the tragedy. Read our full story.


The shuttle Columbia suffered a catastrophic failure returning to Earth Saturday, breaking apart 207,135 feet above Texas en route to a landing at the Kennedy Space Center to close out a 16-day science mission. The shuttle's seven-member crew - two women and five men, including the first Israeli space flier - perished in the disaster, the first loss of life on the high frontier since the 1986 Challenger disaster. Read our full story.

Read our earlier Mission Status Center coverage.

Pad panorama
As the rotating service structure swung away from space shuttle Columbia at Kennedy Space Center's launch pad 39A Wednesday afternoon, Spaceflight Now was there to capture this 360-degree panorama. Available to our Spaceflight Now Plus subscribers.
 VIEW (QuickTime)