Archive for the ‘Space Shuttle Tragedy’ Category

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Tuesday, August 26th, 2003
— Columbia accident investigators sharply critical of NASA management in report on shuttle disaster that killed crew of seven.
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Worms survive Columbia breakup

Thursday, May 1st, 2003

A bunch of worms, part of a scientific experiment on board the Columbia, survived the shuttle’s fiery breakup, investigators have discovered.

Actually, the worms discovered by the investigators are, like, the great-great-grandchildren of the astronaut worms.

But still. Kinda cool.

(Thanks, Ken Layne.)

“Honey, call NASA! I found an egg!”

Wednesday, February 5th, 2003

Forget space junk — NASA is getting lots of reports of land junk. Like animal bones. Burnt rocks. Chevy alternators. A piece of burnt toast. All of these things have been turned in by well-meaning residents as possible shuttle debris. And then there’s this:

In Shreveport, communications officer Tracy Dossett said an elderly woman (“bless her heart”) called 911 after finding egg yolk on her porch. Were there eggs on the Columbia? she asked.


Whither Aaron Brown?

Tuesday, February 4th, 2003

A major breaking news story? I’d rather be golfing.

What a bummer

Monday, February 3rd, 2003

The Lyndon LaRouche cult was on campus today (I don’t know why, but they seem to like propagandizing on Mondays; perhaps the government is especially nefarious and conspiratorial at the beginning of the week), so I took the opportunity to ask my favorite LaRouchie — I forget his name, but I always have loud debates with this guy — whether his leader believes the Columbia catastrophe was a conspiracy.

I figured maybe he would share my theory about Saddam’s light-speed SuperScud, or would perhaps propose something slightly less outlandish, such as a sabotage committed jointly by George W. Bush, Ariel Sharon, Margaret Thatcher, and the ghost of Richard Nixon.

But alas, apparently LaRouche doesn’t believe it was a conspiracy at all!!! Lyndon, Lyndon — you’re betraying your loony base!

My LaRouchie friend laughed at my Saddam theory (I bet he was taking mental notes, though), then responded to my inquiry with some sort of weak explanation about how the government is to blame because of “accounting problems” (aha! Enron brought down the shuttle!) and a lack of funding for NASA. I believe he cited a phony statistic about how our space missions fail 50 percent of the time. (Yeah, remember all those shuttle crashes in the 90s? Damn, those sucked.) But no vast conspiracies, no shady government agents, no wide-eyed rhetoric — nothing!

My friend did leave himself a little wiggle room for future lunacy, however. After intitially saying “no” when I asked if it was a conspiracy, he amended his answer slightly, noting that the usually omniscient LaRouche “doesn’t know yet” what happened. So, just wait — and when you see a headline in next month’s New Federalist proclaiming that Lyndon LaRouche has single-handedly uncovered Saddam Hussein’s secret SuperScud program, you’ll know where he got the idea!

CONTEXT AND PERSPECTIVE: In classic Dan Rather tradition, I should give you some background information on my relationship with the campus LaRouche folks.

In 1996, Lyndon LaRouche sued my father’s office (the Connecticut Secretary of the State) for failing to put him on the Democratic presidential primary ballot. (He lost.) So, in one of my initial confrontations with my campus LaRouchie friend a couple of years ago, I mentioned the lawsuit and explained that I didn’t like LaRouche because “he sued my dad.” I was basically just trying to craft an excuse to get away from the LaRouchies and go to class, but my friend responded on the merits, implying that LaRouche was justified in suing my dad because, in essence, my dad is part of the shady government conspiracy that seeks to crush all dissent, destroy the civilized world, etc.

Now, I tend to agree that Connecticut’s primary law is imperfect, even if my father did draft it. But it’s one thing to disagree with a policy, and it’s another thing entirely to say that somebody’s dad is part of the governmental axis of evil. So, needless to say, I lost it. I believe I loudly uttered several words that I don’t often utter, certainly not loudly and in public. The LaRouchie was stunned, and he backed down somewhat.

Ever since then, I’ve had a cordially antagonistic relationship with him and his fellow cult members. On the way to class one morning last semester, I walked past the LaRouche table — which had more propagandizers than usual that day — and, standing in the middle of a large crowd of students, I cried loudly, “Oh my GOD! They’re MULTIPLYING!!! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!! IT’S LYNDON LAROUCHE!!!” My friend laughed, but one of his cohorts was incensed, and yelled back, “What do you call a fool in the Dark Ages?” I suppose she intended this cryptic description to apply to me, but I responded with the first thing that came to mind: “A LaRouche supporter!”

Columbia update, day 3

Monday, February 3rd, 2003

Sometimes things are exactly how they seem: NASA is now pretty much saying tile damage is the leading suspect in the investigation of the shuttle disaster.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Defense Forces have set up a special e-mail address where you can send condolences to the family of Colonel Ilan Ramon, the Israeli killed in the Columbia crash. Thanks to Andrew for the link.

Here is NASA’s official site with information about the disaster.

And here is Dave Barry’s blog post about his own personal connection to Columbia.

NOAA has created a permanent archive of the radar loops showing the shuttle debris over Texas and Louisiana on Saturday. Thanks to InstaPundit for the link.

I’ve also got graphical images of Monday’s front pages from the Washington Post and the New York Times.

UPDATE, 6:11 PM: RANT, a blog site, describes the growing belief in the “zipper theory,” and links to this Space Wire article elaborating on what was seen over California.

Space Wire also proclaims that, since any tile damage could not have been repaired in-flight, “the astronauts would have been condemned to their fate, even had they known they had a problem.” I’ve heard that before, but here’s the new part: Space Wire also explains why the astronauts could not have taken refuge on the International Space Station. “We would have needed much more fuel to change orbit than we carried on board,” a NASA official said.

The moral of the story: carry extra fuel! Space flight is inherently risky; everyone involved knows and accepts this. But that is no excuse for failing to prepare for mid-flight contingencies. Granted, a shuttle-docking contingency probably would not have saved Columbia, since NASA seems to have earnestly believed that there was no risk of a re-entry problem, and thus would not have activated the contingency plan. But imagine if they had known there was a problem — and were unable to do anything about it, despite having a giant freakin’ space station right near by, because they didn’t have enough gas in the tank to get there. That’s just asinine.

One of the lessons NASA must learn from this tragedy is to do a better job of expecting the unexpected.

Yup, something happened in Nacogdoches

Monday, February 3rd, 2003

The Stephen F. Austin University student newspaper, The Pine Log, has extensive coverage of the tragedy, as expected. (The university is in Nacogdoches, Texas.)

Unfortunately, they left out a word from the lead sentence of their lead story: “Nacogdoches became the center of the international early Saturday morning when debris began falling over East Texas from the explosion of the Space Shuttle Columbia…” The center of the international what?

Aside from that article, the Pine Log also features a brief history of the shuttle Columbia, a story about geography students helping with the debris search, and a warning to stay away from the debris or else. There is also an editorial re-iterating the no debris tampering message. (I guess this is a big problem. Did you hear about the eBay thing?)

Perhaps the most revealing Pine Log article about life in Nacogdoches at the moment is an opinion column by a student named Kathryn Morton, whose mom woke her up Saturday morning to ask “if you got hit by it” (the shuttle). Comparing two days of tragedy, Morton writes, “I’ll remember that it was absolutely splendid weather, almost identical to the skies on Sept. 11, 2001.” She also recounts a friend’s shock at seeing her town’s name scroll across the TV screen while she was obliviously watching “MASH.” (That reminded me of my own shock and amazement when, after the deadly lottery shooting in my town in 1998, I logged onto the Internet and saw an article that began with the words “Newington, Conn. (AP)–.” I never thought in my life I’d see those words.)

Morton notes, “I reckon it’ll be a while before I hear someone say, ‘Nothing ever happens in Nacogdoches,’ again.”

Finally, there’s a photo gallery and an editorial cartoon.

Speaking of editorial cartoons, here are a few from Sunday papers:

From the Clarion Ledger:

From the Dallas Morning News:

From Florida Today:

Media & basketball

Sunday, February 2nd, 2003

The Poynter Institute says the TV media did a good job covering yesterday’s tragedy. I tend to agree. My dad does, too. He points out that “Dan Rather, very admirably, kept UNDERLINING and EMPHASIZING and JUST TO REITERATING many things.” Of course, Dan Rather always does that. Dan Rather probably insists on providing his doctor “context and perspective” every time he goes in to report that he’s got a cold.

I’m waiting for the Stephen F. Austin student newspaper, The Pine Log, to post its Monday morning issue online. Stephen F. Austin University is in Nacogdoches, Texas, so I wonder what kind of coverage they’ll have.

USC’s Daily Trojan, for its part, has no appreciable coverage of the shuttle tragedy. But it does have coverage of USC’s 91-76 win in men’s basketball over #22 Oregon. (I was going to go to that game, but the shuttle tragedy and all this blogging threw my weekend schedule way off. I still have tons of homework to do.) The upset victory is a rather significant development, considering the Trojans have been sucking it up big-time most of the season. Maybe there’s hope for an NIT bid yet!

Conspiracy! Conspiracy!

Sunday, February 2nd, 2003

If this report is accurate, it looks like the “smoking gun” in Iraq was found yesterday — but nobody was paying any attention because of the shuttle tragedy. (Thanks to InstaPundit, via Andrew, for the link.)

Obviously, this can only mean one thing: Saddam Hussein brought down the shuttle Columbia to distract attention from his own foibles! He, um, he shot a missile at it… yeah, that’s it… a really powerful, heretofore undiscovered SuperScud missile that can reach altitudes up to 100 miles high and travel at half the speed of light… and… and… and all those media reports saying that no missiles can reach higher than 95,000 feet? THEY’RE PART OF THE CONSPIRACY TOO!!!!

Somebody call Lyndon LaRouche!!!

Newspaper front pages: Feb. 2, 2003

Sunday, February 2nd, 2003

Welcome surfers from InstaPundit, Slate, MSNBC, and Cursor! If you like these newspaper front pages, I’ve got more: from the 2002 election, the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bali bombing, the Fiesta Bowl, and the Orange Bowl. If you want more on the Columbia tragedy, click here for my lengthy Feb. 1 blog post. And while you’re here in “My world,” don’t forget to leave a comment and/or sign my guestbook. (My homepage, by the way, is here.)

For starters, by way of comparison:

The New York Times (long before they used color) from January 29, 1986: “THE SHUTTLE EXPLODES / 6 IN CREW AND HIGH-SCHOOL TEACHER ARE KILLED 74 SECONDS AFTER LIFTOFF”


Here’s what the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times looked like this morning…

Yes, I notice the similarity, too. In fact, a whole lot of newspapers around the country look almost exactly like that — many with the same exact headline. Check out the Newseum and the Poynter Institute for examples.

Here, meanwhile, are some newspapers from around the country with different layouts and/or headlines:

Richmond Times-Dispatch, Richmond, VA: “SHUTTLE LOST” (with black background)

Newsday, Long Island, NY: “‘The Columbia is lost. There are no survivors.'” (with breakup photo as background)

The News Leader, Staunton, VA: “Columbia disintegrates in meteoric flash; Crew dies; Tile damage under scrutiny”

Sunday Register Star, Rockford, IL: “‘IT’S GONE'” (with shuttle launch photo as background)


The Burlington Free Press, Burlington, VT: “Fire consumes Columbia”

Daily News, New York, NY: “AGAIN!” (with breakup photo as background)

The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Atlanta, GA: “‘THE COLUMBIA IS LOST'” (with nameplate superimposed over breakup photo)

Greeley Tribune, Greeley, CO: “TEARS IN HEAVEN” (with breakup photo as background)

Unfortunately, the Daily Sentinel in Nacogdoches, Texas — the epicenter of the shuttle’s debris field — apparently doesn’t have a graphical image of its front page online. But here’s its website, complete with all sorts of local coverage. And below are the front pages of some other Texas papers:

The Dallas Morning News

Houston Chronicle

San Antonio Express-News

Corpus Christi Caller Times

Tyler Courier-Times & Telegraph

Webmaster’s note: My sources for these newspaper front pages are the Newseum, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Arlington National Cemetery. These graphics have been posted here for educational purposes only, and are not intended for any commercial or other copyright-infringing use. If you are a copyright owner of a graphic on this page and wish it to be removed, please e-mail me.

UPDATE, 6:20 PM: My website is fast approaching the 200 mark for unique hits today — 192 and counting. In addition to Columbia-related hits, I’ve gotten six search-engine hits from people looking for that “Terry Tate, Office Linebacker” Super Bowl ad.

UPDATE, 8:03 PM: Welcome, InstaBloggers! Glenn’s link to my site has pushed my traffic so high, I can’t keep up with it. So here’s a little automatic thingy that can do it for me:

users online right now
unique hits yesterday
unique hits today

Keep in mind, my previous daily record for unique hits was 135. :)

Hey, while you’re here, don’t forget to leave a comment and/or sign my guestbook. You should also definitely visit my homepage, if you haven’t yet, and also check out my extensive Feb. 1 blogging on the Columbia tragedy.

And if you like these newspaper front pages, I’ve got more of those: from the 2002 election, the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bali bombing, the Fiesta Bowl, and the Orange Bowl.

Columbia tragedy, day 2

Sunday, February 2nd, 2003

Well, I was wrong: the Times ran a huge, one-line banner headline and a large, two-line deck, thus staying consistent with the precedent it set with Challenger. This is the very rarely used “Men Walk On Moon” style. (I call it that because the moon landing was the first time the Times ever used the style. Prior to 1969, even the biggest stories had multi-line headlines with only medium-large text. V-E Day, for example, had an enormously wordy headline four lines high.)

Today’s headline: “SHUTTLE BREAKS UP, 7 DEAD.” The deck: “COLUMBIA, WITH SIX AMERICANS AND ISRAELI, IS LOST OVER TEXAS AFTER STARTING DESCENT.” Particularly poignant is the second deck: “‘Roger,’ and Then Silence.” And I like the layout twist: the long horizontal photo above the headline.

So, add this to the list of less than a dozen stories (I believe) since 1969 that the Times has deemed worthy of such a huge banner headline: among them, the moon landing (“MEN WALK ON MOON”), Nixon’s resignation (“NIXON RESIGNS”), the Challenger explosion (“THE SHUTTLE EXPLODES”), Clinton’s impeachment (“CLINTON IMPEACHED”), the Supreme Court’s ruling ending the 2000 election (“BUSH PREVAILS”), and the Sept. 11 attacks (“U.S. ATTACKED”).

More newspaper front pages coming later…

UPDATE, 7:18 AM: Jim Flowers’ Radio Weblog has linked to my Columbia coverage, the first major blogosphere link I’ve ever gotten. Unfortunately, he calls me a “UCLA student,” but I’ll forgive that mistake given the result: 74 hits to my site via his site in the last 12 hours — and these are generally the least active hours of the day. The morning and afternoon could bring a new daily hits record, perhaps by a wide margin. (Through 7:15 AM, I have a total of 78 hits today. The daily record is 135.)

UPDATE, 7:35 AM: The story about Californians spotting Columbia shedding debris over the eastern part of this state — five minutes or more before it reached Texas — seems to be gaining steam. I just saw a photo on the local station ABC 7 that backs the story up. (Haven’t found the photo online yet.)

What’s interesting is that, if this is true, the astronauts clearly weren’t aware of it, nor was mission control. But the timeline matches up quite well with the loss of sensor data on the left wing. My theory: what was seen over California was the very beginning of the so-called “zipper” effect: the first few tiles from the left wing were already getting peeled off, one by one, which then led to more and more tile loss, weakening the heat shield until finally a point of no return was reached and damage accelerated suddenly and catastrophically.

UPDATE, 12:24 PM: As it did in the aftermath of Sept. 11, The Poynter Institute, a journalism site, has posted galleries of newspaper “extra” front pages and newspaper day-after front pages. They also have a gallery of website screenshots.

You can also view today’s front pages at the Newseum. But that will only apply to the Columbia disaster for the rest of the day today; come tomorrow morning, that same link will lead you to a gallery of tomorrow’s front pages, and today’s will be erased.

I will post some front pages here shortly.

UPDATE, 12:52 PM: Thanks to the link from Jim Flowers’ Radio Weblog, my website has, as I predicted a few hours ago, broken its daily record for unique hits: 145 and counting as of 12:24 PM Pacific time. The previous record was 135, set on Dec. 17, 2002. The record-breaking 136th hit occurred at 11:39 AM, less than halfway through the day. So far, 97 of the day’s hits — almost two-thirds — have come from the Jim Flowers’ site.

In addition, I learned last night that my website actually broke the story of the shuttle tragedy to at least one person. My friend Dane said he woke up Saturday morning oblivious to the disaster, checked his e-mail and went to a couple of his favorite Apple Computer-related sites (none of which had a mention of this non-computer-related news), and then surfed by my site to see if I had updated it with any new blog posts. Lo and behold, he discovered I had; the headline was “Space shuttle lost.”

Actually, depending on when Dane looked at it, the headline he saw might have been “Space shuttle explodes.” I changed it a couple of hours after first posting it, based on the rationale that the technical details were still to sketchy know whether it truly exploded. As for alternatives, I didn’t want to use the word “destroyed” because that sounded like it was destroyed by an external force such as terrorism. And, unlike the New York Times, I didn’t want to say “breaks up,” because that just felt odd — like I was talking about Britney and Justin’s relationship or something, instead of the tragic deaths of seven heroes. But I certainly knew the shuttle was “lost,” so I decided to use that word instead.

UPDATE, 4:51 PM: I’m now up to a record-shattering 184 unique hits today, 111 of them from Jim Flowers’ Radio Weblog (which has now corrected his mistaken statement that I am a UCLA student) and six from Jay Manifold’s A Voyage to Arcturus, which recommends me as one of two sites in the whole blogosphere to check out for “comprehensive coverage” (the other being Flowers’ site). Thanks, Jay!

Manifold also notes, however, that my site “takes a while to load,” so I’ll have to take a look and see if I can cut down on some extraneous homepage content. :)

Google has yet to re-index my site; when it does, I presume I’ll start getting at least a trickle, if not a flood, of additional hits resulting from Google searches for terms related to the shuttle disaster. In particular, if I am re-indexed in the next 12 hours or so, I expect a bunch of Google hits tomorrow, when people return to work and start using their high-speed office computers to search for news-related terms. (This happens whenever a major news story breaks over the weekend.)

I’m going to stop this post now, and start a new one above. Forgive me if all this posting about my web traffic seems self-indulgent at such a time of tragedy, but I can’t help myself; I’ve always been obsessed with my website’s traffic flow.

Post from cell phone

Sunday, February 2nd, 2003

I’m at Honors House with friends Dane & Megan, watching Saturday Night Live rerun with Al Gore. Missed it the first time. It’s great!

We just got back from the Southern California quarterfinal of the International Championship of College A Capella (ICCA) at Bovard Auditorium on campus. The SoCal VoCals won! Hooray!

I am very anxious to see what the morning’s New York Times front page will look like. Will they do a typical NYT banner headline — two or three lines high, filled with multiple phrases and semicolons, printed in a medium-large font — or will they use the exceptionally rare one-line banner headline — printed in a font so huge that only a few words can fit on the line — followed by a two-line banner sub-headline (or deck)? The latter is what I call the “Men Walk On Moon” style, since the Apollo 11 coverage was the first time the Times ever used it; it was also used on Sept. 12, 2002 (“U.S. Attacked”), but has been used no more than a dozen times in Times history, I believe. (“Nixon Resigns” is another example.)

If the Times wants to be consistent with its 1986 decision to use a giant headline for the Challenger disaster (“The Shuttle Explodes”) it will use the huge headline style again this morning. But I suspect this will not be the case. I look for a very long, three-line headline, something to the effect of, “THE SHUTTLE COLUMBIA IS DESTROYED ON RE-ENTRY, KILLING ALL SEVEN ABOARD; NASA SAYS CAUSE OF DISASTER UNKNOWN.”

Space shuttle lost

Saturday, February 1st, 2003

The Space Shuttle Columbia broke up on re-entry this morning over central Texas, 15 minutes or so before it was to land in Florida.

UPDATE, 7:31 AM: The shuttle was traveling six times the speed of sound at 200,000 feet when it broke up. Officials say it is “highly unlikely” this was terrorism. Given the altitude and speed, it seems to me that if it was terrorism, it would have had to have been a device planted on board before launch. No missile or airplane could have brought this thing down, unless Al Qaeda is much more advanced than we think.

I was originally planning to go out this morning and try to watch the shuttle’s re-entry from here in Los Angeles. It was to pass roughly 300 miles north of here, so it would have been a faint view in the northern sky. I was dissuaded from doing so by the webmaster of, Dr. Tony Phillips, who told me in an e-mail that the shuttle would probably appear very faint from that distance, and would be difficult or impossible to see through the city’s light dome, especially since due north of USC is the skyline of downtown L.A.

So, instead of perhaps seeing some of the final peaceful moments of the Space Shuttle Columbia, I was alerted to this tragedy by a phone call from Becky at around 6:53 AM Pacific time — a scenario eerily similar to a certain Tuesday morning in September 2001, when Becky woke me at 6:50 AM with a breaking-news phone call.

UPDATE, 7:43 AM: CNN reports that the most sophisticated surface-to-air missiles is existence can only reach 60,000 feet. They confirmed my hypothesis that the only possible terrorist connection would be something placed on board the shuttle.

Meanwhile, Glenn Reynolds on is blogging about this, including the following observations:

Why it’s probably not terrorism: (1) if you planted a bomb, you’d want it to go off on takeoff — that’s when everyone is watching, and there’s less time for stuff to go wrong, since you’d have to wonder whether a bomb would work after spending an extended time in space; (2) it’s basically impossible to shoot down a reentering space shuttle because of its speed and altitude; (3) there are so many things that can go wrong with shuttles, especially Columbia, which is the oldest, without invoking terrorism. I suppose it’s conceivable that a saboteur did some sort of subtle structural damage calculated to cause this sort of a failure while remaining unnoticed during ground checks, but that strikes me as unlikely for a variety of reasons.

From the video it looks like structural failure, followed by an explosion as the spacecraft disintegrated. That’s unlikely to be the result of sabotage. Most likely it was failure in a wing spar or some other component, probably brought on by age and fatigue, though possibly caused by tile zippering and burn-through, or damage on launch. We’ll see. No point getting ahead of things here, but plenty of reason to think it’s not terrorism.

Reynolds also predicts that “this won’t traumatize people the way Challenger did” in part because “we’re at war now, and people’s calculations of such things — especially post-WTC — are different.”

So far, all has is:

NASA has lost contact with the space shuttle Columbia. Check CNN and NASA for more information.

Dr. Phillips, the webmaster, was planning to try and watch re-entry from the San Francisco Bay Area this morning, so presumably he will post more later, perhaps with his thoughts from watching some of the shuttle’s final moments, if he was able to do so. (He would not have seen the explosion, but would have been watching it just a few minutes before.)

It will be interesting to see if Dr. Phillips or anyone else has videos or pictures of the shuttle over the Bay Area. It was supposed to be an excellent view from there, passing almost right overhead.

UPDATE, 8:00 AM: CBS is reporting that Barbara Morgan, schoolteacher Krista McAuliffe’s backup for the Challenger mission in 1986, is at Cape Canaveral today, and was scheduled to fly on Columbia in November.

CBS just got a prank call from some jackass in Texas claiming to have seen “Baba Booey’s teeth” in his backyard. He then called Dan Rather an “idiot.” Rather, slightly rattled, stated self-deprecatingly, “Well, it’s true that I’m an idiot, but that’s beside the point,” then apologized to the viewers for the prank call and moved on. (UPDATE, 2/6/03: Here’s a news article that mentions the prank call. Here’s a detailed play-by-play of what happened from an anti-Dan Rather website. And here’s a blog post about it. And apparently, MSNBC also got a prank call at around the same time. Here’s something about that.)

The flag at the Cape Canaveral landing site has just been lowered to half-staff, moving a CBS reporter to tears.

UPDATE, 8:05 AM: CBS points out that the astronauts on the International Space Station are due to return to Earth in March on Space Shuttle Atlantis, but if the shuttle is unable to launch because the investigation of this disaster is still underway and NASA doesn’t want to launch again yet, they can return via an emergency Soyuz re-entry vehicle if necessary.

CBS also notes that NASA, having lost another $3 billion shuttle, is now down to three shuttles.

UPDATE, 8:09 AM: Here is a map showing Columbia’s scheduled re-entry track.

There are various reports of shuttle debris being found on the ground in Texas. No word of injuries or damage yet. NASA is telling people not to touch any debris, because it could be toxic. (I’d think it might be a little hot, too.)

And now Israel suffers yet more national pain, as its first-ever astronaut, Air Force Colonel Ilan Ramon has died. (Interestingly enough, he participated in the 1981 mission to destroy Iraq’s nuclear weapons site.)

UPDATE, 8:15 AM: Dan Rather just nearly broke down into tears on the air.

UPDATE, 8:53 AM: I’m having trouble posting a copy of graphic here, but you can see the debris trail on radar. The best view is the Composite Reflectivity, Short Range Loop.

NBC is reporting that a heat-sensing satellite (which searches for missile launches, nuclear tests, etc.) spotted a burst of heat at Columbia’s location at the time of the breakup, suggesting that some sort of large explosion indeed occurred.

Meanwhile, in Nacogdoches, Texas, home of Stephen F. Austin University, all sorts of debris is being found. And in Plano, Texas, a piece of debris reportedly crashed into an apartment and caused a fire.

Nacogdoches is a city of 30,000, so it’s no surprise the earliest reports of damage are coming from there. Given that this is east Texas, I suspect the vast majority of debris will be found in isolated forests and fields. Thank goodness this happened over a mostly rural area instead of over, say, the Bay Area, which it flew over a few minutes earlier. Toxic, fiery debris falling from the sky over a large city could have been a major ground disaster as well as a spaceflight disaster.

UPDATE, 9:20 AM: I’m still working on the radar image, but here’s a photo of the shuttle breaking up:

More photos: 1 | 2 | 3

Meanwhile, Dr. Phillips, webmaster of, has posted this Editor’s Note:

At the dawn of the space age some 40 years ago, we always knew who was orbiting Earth or flying to the Moon. Neil Armstrong, Yuri Gagarin, John Glenn. They were household names–everywhere.

Nowadays it�s different. Space flight has become more �routine.� Another flight of the shuttle. Another visit to the space station. Who�s onboard this time? Unless you�re a NASA employee or a serious space enthusiast, you might not know.

Dave Brown. Rick Husband. Bill McCool. Mike Anderson. Kalpana Chawla. Laural Clark. Ilan Ramon.

Now we know. These seven astronauts were tragically lost on Saturday, Feb. 1st, when the space shuttle Columbia (STS-107) broke apart over Texas.

Perhaps they were strangers to you before today. But if that’s so, why do you have a knot in your gut? What are those tears all about? Why do you feel so deep-down sad for seven strangers?

Astronauts have an unaccountable hold on us. They are explorers. Curious, humorous, serious, daring. Where they go, they go in peace. Every kid wants to be one. Astronauts are the essence of humanity�the good parts. They are somewhere inside each and every one of us.

They are not strangers. They are us.

Dave Brown asked yesterday, jokingly, �do we really have to come back?� No. But we wish you had.

The Science@NASA team extends its heartfelt sympathies to the family, friends and colleagues of the STS-107 crew.

UPDATE, 9:38 AM: Here’s an animated GIF of the radar:

The borders, cities, etc., do not appear because the radar is shrunk to half-size, but if you click on it, you can see everything in the full-size version.

UPDATE, 9:45 AM: The flag at half-staff at the Kennedy Space Center:

UPDATE, 10:17 AM: If I were NASA, I wouldn’t do any more missions in late January or early February. There have been three deadly accidents in the whole history of NASA, and all have happened within a calendar week: the Apollo 1 tragedy on Jan. 27, 1967; the Challenger tragedy on Jan. 28, 1986; and now, the Columbia tragedy on Feb. 1, 2003.

Jim Flowers’ Radio Weblog has set up a special section called Shuttle Lost documenting “how the blog community reacts” to this tragedy.

People are reacting on, too. There are already more than 700 comments, and counting.

UPDATE, 10:24 AM: These poor folks lost a son on Sept. 11 and a niece on the Space Shuttle Columbia.

NASA is now giving a press conference. No big revelations yet.

UPDATE, 10:29 AM: “The loss of this valiant crew is something we will never be able to get over. … A more courageous group of people, you could not have hoped to know.” –NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe, barely holding back tears.

UPDATE, 10:36 AM: San Francisco TV station KPIX has an article about Bay Area residents watching the shuttle several minutes before it was lost. I’m still looking for pictures.

Now they’re saying it was moving at Mach 18.

UPDATE, 11:03 AM: President Bush is about to address the nation. CNN was just recalling Reagan’s famous “slipped the surly bonds of earth and touched the face of God” speech after the Challenger explosion.

UPDATE, 11:14 AM: “The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls who we mourn today. The crew of the shuttle Columbia did not return safely to Earth, yet we can pray that all are safely home.” –George W. Bush.

Not a great speech, but he did the job. You can’t envy him; I’ve always though mourner-in-chief is one of the president’s toughest roles.

UPDATE, 11:48 AM: In an article that attempts to put this tragedy into the context of the present national mood, the New York Times points out something that I, too, had noticed, but had been afraid to post here, lest I risk sounding glib:

In a twist of nomenclature that would seem implausible in fiction, a craft carrying Col. Ilan Ramon of the Israeli Air Force apparently broke up over an East Texas town called Palestine.

UPDATE, 12:55 PM: Here is an MP3 file of my wake-up call this morning — Becky calling me from Arizona with news about the space shuttle tragedy. I believe the call came at 6:53 AM. Just like on Sept. 11, the phone didn’t ring (or, I didn’t hear it), so she left a message, and the message woke me up.

(Update: It turns out I’m not the only blogger who got the news by phone today after an abortive attempt to go look at the shuttle. Nor am I the only one who was struck by the eerie similarity to 9/11.)

More recently, a comment from Becky via e-mail: “did you see poor george w. bush? he was all like, uh, something fell from the sky over texas and almost hit my ranch godammit.”

She added, “poor astronauts.”

UPDATE, 1:25 PM: Glenn Reynolds at InstaPundit has the following thoughts on the ongoing NASA press conference:

It looks like a zipper effect followed by burnthrough and structural damage, leading to the loss of the left wing. They’re reporting anomalous heat sensor readings, loss of tire pressure in the main gear on that side, and so on. The shuttle can tolerate the loss of a tile or two. But when the integrity of the tile cover is breached, tiles can be pulled off one after another — hence the term “zipper effect.” Then enough heat can penetrate through in sufficient quantity to destroy or weaken what’s underneath.

He also points out that many Iraqis are evidently celebrating the tragedy. Bastards.

UPDATE, 1:33 PM: Here’s the full text of Bush’s speech. And here’s Reagan’s speech from 1986.

The Poynter Institute has lots of useful resources. Here, too, are some more breaking news sources.

Here is somebody else’s archived animated GIF of the radar of the debris trail.

UPDATE, 1:45 PM: I need to take a break from posting now, and work on homework and such. I may post some further updates, but not as constant as it’s been this morning and early afternoon. In the meantime, for the latest photos related to the Columbia disaster, click here.

May the crew of Columbia rest in peace.