Space Shuttle Columbia

Space Shuttle Columbia

Exactly 15 years ago, on February 1, 2003, around 09:00 EST, Space Shuttle Columbia was destroyed while reentering the atmosphere. Today we’ll remind ourselves of that event.


The Space Shuttle Program

The Space Shuttle program was initiated by NASA in order to reduce the per-mission cost. The idea was to develop a spacecraft that could deliver the payload and return safely to the Earth’s atmosphere and then land as a glider. The program started in 1972, with the first flight on August 12, 1977, and first crewed flight (STS-1) on April 12, 1981. STS is an abbreviation from the Space Transportation System, which was the official name of the program.

During the program, 6 spacecrafts were built: Enterprise (1976), Columbia (1979), Challenger (1982), Discovery (1983), Atlantis (1985) and Endeavour (1991).

Although costs were extremely high, this program led to numerous missions and resulted in many technological achievements. How important it was in the USA we can see on two sheets presented below, related to the most important events of each decade. (We already mentioned one of these sheets in the Star Trek article.)


Celebrate the Century, 1980s – Space Shuttle Launched, Berlin Wall Falls

USA – 2000/01/12

1 of 10 stamp sheets issued by USPS depicting most important motifs of each decade

1st row: Space shuttle, Cats (an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical), San Francisco 49ers, Iran hostage crisis, Figure skating

2nd row: Cable TV, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Compact Disc, Cabbage Patch Kids, The Cosby Show

3rd row: Fall of the Berlin Wall, Video games, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (movie)

4th row: Personal computer, Hip-hop culture

Denomination: 33 USD cents


In the 1980s sheet, we’ll find the space shuttle stamp, while the stamp in the 1990s sheet is devoted to John Glenn’s return to space. That happened on October 29, 1998, with John serving as a payload specialist on STS-95 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. John was 77 years old at that time and became the oldest man to fly in space.


Celebrate the Century, 1990s – In Final Decade, Cold War Ends, Economy Booms

USA – 2000/05/02

1 of 10 stamp sheets issued by USPS depicting most important motifs of each decade

1st row: Major League Baseball, Gulf War, Seinfeld

2nd row: Extreme sports, Improving education, Computer graphics

3rd row: Peregrine falcon removed from endangered species list, John Glenn returns to space, 30th anniversary of the Special Olympics, Virtual reality, Jurassic Park (movie)

4th row: Titanic (movie), Sports utility vehicle, World Wide Web, Mobile phone

Denomination: 33 USD cents


How the rest of the World saw the program?

Although this was the time of extreme tensions during the Cold War (to be completely honest, it was intense throughout the whole Cold War period) the Space Shuttle program was also at that time considered the achievement of the humanity. Many stamps were issued in honor of the program and I’ll select two stamp series here.


Airmail – Space Shuttle

Paraguay – 1981/10/09

space shuttles & astronauts Robert Crippen and John Young

Denomination: 5, 10 and 30 Guaraní (PYG)


The first series comes from Paraguay and had been issued in 1981. That’s not such a surprise because the USA and Paraguay had good relations.


Hungary – 1982

Denominations: from 1 Ft to 6 Ft


The second series was issued in Hungary in 1982, so that happened behind the Iron Curtain. We already mentioned this sheet in the article about Laika. You can see the space shuttle on the second stamp and Laika is on the fifth stamp of this series.

This could be a good place to mention that Space Shuttle program was not the only such program in the World. The USSR had a Buran program. One shuttle (Buran) was built and the program was terminated due to the collapse of the USSR.


Space Shuttle Challenger disaster

Space Shuttle Program was very costly, not only financially, but it took more human lives than any other space program. The first disaster related to the space shuttle program was the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. It happened on January 28, 1986. The accident was the result of unusually cold weather conditions that caused technical failure and led to the death of the whole crew: Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik.


Space Shuttle Columbia disaster

 The second disaster, related to the program was the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster that happened on February 1, 2003. Columbia suffered damage of the left wing during the launch. Such accidents used to happen before and it was decided that Columbia returns to Earth because the crew wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. Unfortunately, that damage proved to be too fatal and the shuttle exploded upon reentering the Earth’s atmosphere. It killed the international crew of 7 (5 from the USA, 1 from India and 1 from Israel).


Columbia Space Shuttle Commemoration

Maldives – 2003/04/07

David M. Brown, Commander Rick Husband, Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla (India), Michael P. Anderson, Pilot William C. McCool, Ilan Ramon (Israel)

Denomination: 7 Maldivian Rufiyaa


Few countries issued sheets in memoriam of the crew. The sheet from the Maldives is almost exactly the same as the sheets from a few other countries (Grenada, Liberia, Micronesia, Palau, Sierra Leone) that are doing business with IGPC.


This event is undoubtedly a great tragedy because human life has no price. Unfortunately, this is the price we have to pay to get to the stars. Let them be remembered on stamps and in history.


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