Alternate History

Space Shuttle Columbia Crisis (New Union)

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An image of Columbia taken from the crew of Groza on February 11, 2003.

The Space Shuttle Columbia Crisis refers to the time period of February 2003, in which seven astronauts aboard Space Shuttle Columbia were stranded in space. A joint American-Soviet mission was held in order to rescue the astronauts, and bring Columbia back to Earth. The ensuing rescue mission was dubbed the "most dangerous rescue mission in all recorded history." The mission brought to light the risk of space travel that had not been felt since Apollo 13 in April 1970.


The Space Shuttle Columbia crisis refers javascript:void('Visual')to an incident taking place on January 16, 2003, during the takeoff of Space Shuttle Columbia, in which a piece of insulation foam strikes the left wing, damaging the heat shield of the shuttle. Confirmation of the damage took place on January 30, in which mission specialist Kalpana Chawla performed a spacewalk to the wing. On January 31, NASA announced that damage has struck Columbia and that for the safety of the seven astronauts, the landing of the shuttle on February 1 was postponed.

Though the astronauts had enough water, food, and power to last about a month, NASA proposed having a docking between Columbia and shuttle Atlantis. However, Atlantis was not ready for a launch for about a month. In response to the stranded astronauts, Soviet President Nikolai Ryzhkov and top commanders of SAKA proposed the services of Buran Groza (which was scheduled for a mission to the ISS on February 7). On schedule, Groza takes off from Baikonur Cosmodrome, with cosmonauts Yury Usachov and Nikolai Budarin. NASA also requested a load of food, water and supplies to go up to Columbia. Groza makes contact with Columbia on February 10, and the first docking of two shuttles (American and/or Soviet) takes place.

The first EVA between two shuttles takes place on February 11, in which astronauts Laurel Clark, Michael Anderson, Ilan Ramon, and Kalpana Chawla cross into space and board Groza. Due to limited room on the shuttles, Commander Rick Husband, David Brown and William McCool remain on board Columbia until Atlantis can come to retrieve them in March. On February 16, 2003, Groza touches down at Baikonur, with two cosmonauts and four astronauts safely landing on Earth.

Weeks later, Atlantis makes a second docking with Columbia, evacuating the remaining astronauts on board. The repairs of Columbia take place the following year, in which NASA engineers train astronauts to repair the damaged wing in the vacuum of space. Columbia would safely return to Earth on April 20, 2005.

List of people

American astronauts

  • Michael Anderson
  • David Brown
  • Kalpana Chawla
  • Laurel Clark
  • Rick Husband
  • William McCool
  • Ilan Ramon

Soviet cosmonauts

  • Yury Usachov
  • Nikolai Budarin

See also

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