Twenty years ago, the disturbing radio silence of the space shuttle Columbia

Twenty years ago, the disturbing radio silence of the space shuttle Columbia
Space shuttle Columbia lifts off from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida on January 16, 2003. Reuters Photographer/REUTERS

STORY – Seventeen years after the Challenger tragedy, America is again bereaved by the loss of a second space shuttle, with seven astronauts on board. On February 1, 2003, returning from a routine scientific mission, Columbia disintegrated over Texas, re-entering the atmosphere…

Roger, uh, bu…» It is 8:59:32 a.m. in Florida on the 1is February 2003, when the radio transmission of Rick Husband, captain of the space shuttle Columbia, abruptly stops in the middle of a sentence. Operators at NASA’s Mission Control Center in Houston were not immediately concerned about this loss of signal. They expect at this time a short cut, the time of a handover between the antennas of a satellite and those, on the ground, of the Kennedy space center, in Florida, where the shuttle must go to land a quarter of an hour later. At the NASA press center, not far from the landing strip, the journalists who wait do not understand why the radio silence lasts, and no explanation is given to them. The concern rises. At 9:02 a.m., two minutes after the captain’s last words, Justin Ray, a journalist with Spaceflight Now, understands what happened long before the controllers in Houston, thanks to an MSN Messenger message sent…

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