Sunday, February 2, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

Columbia crashes over Texas
Kalpana Chawla among 7 astronauts dead

Washington, February 1
All seven astronauts on board the Columbia shuttle, including the first ever Indian-origin woman astronaut Kalpana Chawla, were killed today when the space vehicle broke in flames at a height of 63,000 metres over Texas, 16 minutes before it was due to land.

Four hours after the tragedy, NASA Chief Administrator Sean O’Keefe at a news conference at Cape Canaveral confirmed the deaths of the seven-member crew that also included five Americans and an Israeli.

“This is indeed a tragic day for the NASA family, for the families of the astronauts who flew on Flight STS 107 and likewise tragic for the nation,” he said.

President George W. Bush also spoke to the families of the crew “to express deepest national regrets.”

The Karnal born 42-year-old Chawla was on her second space odyssey in five years and the seven-member team were all set to land when the shuttle apparently broke apart over Texas, 160 km from Dallas while re-entering the earth’s atmosphere at a speed of over 20,000 km per hour at 7.30 pm (IST).

The shuttle was due to land at 7.46 pm (IST) and Chawla was the most experienced member among the crew.

A NASA spokesperson said the mission control room had no indication from the crew that something was amiss before the shuttle was due to land.

American officials ruled out any terrorist hand in the break up of the shuttle, which was on its 28th mission since it was commissioned in 1988. Space officials said it would not have been possible for the ill-fated crew to make any emergency bailout.

People in North Texas reported hearing a “big bang” and television channels showed what appeared to be burning debris falling around the same time, its communication with the mission control room was lost at 7.30 pm IST, 16 minutes before its landing time.

Columbia, which also had a first-ever Israeli astronaut on board, was returning to earth after a 16-day mission.

NASA also asked people to avoid coming in contact with the debris. Columbia was commissioned in 1988 and was on its 28th mission.

The space control room centre was trying to figure out what went wrong as experts said that every shuttle was controlled by computers and every command was recorded on earth.

This is the first time in the 42-year history of space travel that NASA has lost a space shuttle on landing and the third American space vehicle disaster. Shuttle Challenger had crashed minutes after lift-off in 1986, while an Appolo spacecraft caught fire in 1967, killing all three on board. Debris from Columbia scattered over Nacogdoches county in Texas today as a huge explosion rocked windows and doors.

Security personnel cordoned off the area where the debris landed. At least two houses in Nacogdoches were damaged as pieces of the spacecraft tore through the roof. No injuries have been reported as yet.

A piece, approximately three feet by four feet, landed in the parking lot blowing open the doors of the Commercial Bank of Texas, a local daily reported. PTI


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