Columbia Accident Investigation Board report released nearly six years after tragedy

In this Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2003, file photo, family members of the crew of the space shuttle...
In this Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2003, file photo, family members of the crew of the space shuttle Columbia embrace prior to a the memorial service, at Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Published: Dec. 30, 2008 at 2:08 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 30, 2008 at 4:54 PM CST
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(KTRE) - Nearly six years after the loss of the Shuttle Columbia, NASA has released a report on what happened to the doomed spacecraft.

It includes a grim account of the crew's final moments.

On February 1, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere.  All seven crew members aboard were killed.

Immediately following the accident, experts determined a hole was punctured in the leading edge on one of Columbia's wings. This happened when a piece of insulating foam from the external fuel tank peeled off during the launch two weeks earlier.

Today, NASA released a report on the critical last moments during the accident...though it's still unclear what exactly killed the crew.

The report shows that depressurization of the cabin happened so quickly, that the astronauts were incapacitated within seconds...before they could configure their pressurized flight suits.

It concludes that the crew could not have regained consciousness and that this event was lethal to the crew.

Then, when the orbiter lost control, lethal trauma occurred to the crew due to the lack of head, neck, and upper torso restraints that failed to lock-in.

The tragedy occurred on the 28th mission for the Shuttle Columbia.

The report is said to be one of the most extensive and comprehensive investigations performed by NASA, which could explain why it has taken nearly six years to complete.

East Texans remember the moment and they remember the fallen.  9:16 Eastern Time, when the crew was supposed to land in Florida.  Pamela Rogers who worked on the shuttle mission said in a 2004 interview, "I was in mission control when it happened.  There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about it."

An investigation revealed the mission was doomed from the moment it lifted off, when a piece of foam punctured Columbia's left wing.  This damage exposed the Shuttle to severe heat as it re-entered Earth's atmosphere, causing it to disintegrate as it began its final approach to Florida.  The debris field stretched across three states, with most of it landing in East Texas.

Below are excerpts from 9-1-1 calls made to East Texas dispatchers and KTRE-TV interviews back in January 2003:

911 CALL: "Nacogdoches Police and Fire..this is Sheila...what was that just happened?  We don't know.  We're trying to find out.  We've got officers looking for it--we think it was the Space Shuttle."

911 CALL:  "I just heard a loud bang. We don't know what it is yet.  I think it's a plane. You think it's a plane?  I looked above me and it was a big trail of smoke going toward Woden."

911 CALL:  "911 what's your emergency?  About 16 minutes ago they lost connection with the Space Shuttle.  I live down here on the lake in Zavalla and it was definitely about that time when they say they lost connection my husband and I and all our neighbors--our windows were vibrating."

Finally, word came that Shuttle Columbia was possibly falling over East Texas:

KTRE Interview:  "I'm actually with the National Guard and we got called up to duty and we were looking for it."

KTRE Interview:  "Well, I turned on the television and it just jumped right out at me and I ran into a lot of people who were saying there's something going on--something going on.  It was kind of a terrible terrible tragedy that really affected my life."

KTRE Interview:  "I was sitting at home and I heard a loud boom.  I was in Corrigan.  I heard a loud boom but I didn't know what it was until I saw it on TV."

911 CALL:  "I know there's nothing you can do about it but the Challenger was coming in this morning and it blew up.  It always comes right in over our driveway, right here off 343 and it blew up.  I don't know how."

Killed in the disaster were commander Rick Husband, pilot William McCool, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramon of Israel.

Volume 1 released August 26, 2003:

For past news releases go to: .

Tonight at 6 on KTRE’s East Texas News we’ll take a look back at the tragedy that drew national attention to this area and the campaigns to forever remember those who died.