1. Headline
  1. Headline
By Correspondent
NBC News

WASHINGTON, Feb. 1, 2003 - “Three, two, one, we have booster ignition and liftoff of space shuttle Columbia.”

  1. More from TODAY.com
    1. TODAY's Takeaway: Natalie celebrates Boston Marathon triumphs; Willie rings in Earth Day

      On TODAY on Tuesday, Boston Marathon participants reflect on the event's import, and eco-friendly tips abound for Earth Day.

    2. 'Incredible': Runners with dwarfism on return to Boston Marathon
    3. Girl power: Drew Barrymore welcomes her second daughter
    4. 'Utter freedom': Paralyzed woman surfs duct-taped to friend's back
    5. Snoop Dogg loves Brian Williams' rap of 'Gin and Juice'

That was Jan. 16, when Columbia lifted off with its seven astronauts, five men and two women. The crew was on science mission with 80-plus experiments.

As with most missions now, few Americans paid much attention until Saturday morning, when the clock started ticking on what would be a national tragedy.

8:08 a.m. ET

Mission Control in Houston gives the OK to come home:

“You are go for burn.”

Commander Rick Husband:

“OK, we copy a go for the burn right now.”

8:15 a.m.

The crew begins the de-orbit burn.

8:53 a.m.

The first hint of trouble surfaces, a loss of temperature sensors on the left wing.

8:59 a.m.

A message from Mission Control about low tire pressure:

“Columbia, Houston. We see your tire pressure messages and we did not copy your last.”

Commander Husband:

“Roger, buh ...”

The transmission goes silent for several seconds, followed by static. This would be the last communication with the shuttle.

9 a.m.

The shuttle is 39 miles over central Texas:

“Columbia out of communications at present with Mission Control as it continues its course towards Florida.”

Agonizing moments go by while mission controllers frantically try to restore communication with the shuttle.

9:06 a.m.

Mission Control:

“Columbia, Houston. Comm check?”

Image: Columbia Seen Over Dallas Texas
Columbia breaks apart over Dallas, just 16 minutes before it was supposed to land in Florida.
Witnesses in Texas hear deafening booms and see flaming pieces of metal shooting through the blue sky:

“I live in a mobile home, and it shook it like boom, boom… that’s what I thought, something blew up.”

“It just looked like the vapor clouds as the separate pieces were separating.”

9:16 a.m.

There is no sign of the shuttle at its Florida landing strip.

9:29 a.m.

NASA officials declare an emergency:

“This is Mission Control, Houston. Flight controllers here continue in a contingency, securing information and notes. Search-and-rescue teams have been mobilized to the Dallas-Fort Worth area.”

11 a.m.

The flag is lowered to half-staff at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

2:04 p.m.

President Bush addresses the nation:

“The Columbia’s lost. There are no survivors.”

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

More on TODAY.com

TODAY's Takeaway
  1. Getty Images; TODAY

    Natalie celebrates Boston Marathon triumphs; Willie rings in Earth Day

    4/22/2014 8:39:34 PM +00:00 2014-04-22T20:39:34
  1. Danh Tang via Facebook; David Ab

    'Incredible': Runners with dwarfism on return to Boston Marathon

    4/22/2014 8:52:13 PM +00:00 2014-04-22T20:52:13
  1. Jason Merritt / Getty Images

    Girl power: Drew Barrymore welcomes her second daughter

    4/22/2014 9:35:41 PM +00:00 2014-04-22T21:35:41
  1. Mat Hayward / Getty Images Contributor

    Snoop Dogg loves Brian Williams' rap of 'Gin and Juice'

    4/22/2014 8:15:04 PM +00:00 2014-04-22T20:15:04
  1. Mysterious spike: More babies born with rare defect

    Seven cases of a rare fatal birth defect were reported in a remote region of Washington state in 2013, making it the fourth consecutive year that rates have more than tripled the national average, health officials said Tuesday.

    4/22/2014 8:27:33 PM +00:00 2014-04-22T20:27:33