Inquiries into the accident were undertaken by NASA, Congress, and an independent investigation board. Ultimately, it was determined that a large piece of foam insulation had broken off the external tank 82 seconds into liftoff and struck the leading edge of the shuttle's left wing, creating a hole in the wing. On reentry, the searing heat generated by friction entered the damaged wing, which then melted, destabilizing the shuttle and causing it to break up. The independent investigative panel was harshly critical of NASA and called for numerous reforms, most to repair NASA's
broken safety culture. Shuttle flights did not resume until July, 2005.
See P. Chien, Columbia: Final Voyage (2006).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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