NASA lost contact with the Space Shuttle Columbia shortly before the scheduled landing. The Shuttle Columbia apparently disintegrated in flames over Texas minutes before it was to land.
Several residents in northern Texas reported hearing a "big bang" around 9 a.m., about the same time NASA lost contact with the shuttles crew. Television footage shows a bright light followed by smoke streaking through the sky. Debris appeared to break off into separate balls of light as it continued downward.
Security has been extremely tight for Columbia's 16-day scientific research mission because of the presence of an Israeli astronaut. Besides the Israeli astronaut there were also six Americans. It was the 113th flight in the shuttle's 22 years and the 28th flight for Columbia, NASA's oldest shuttle.
Columbia's crew had completed 80-plus scientific research experiments during their time in orbit. Just in the past week NASA observed the anniversary of its only two other space tragedies, the Challenger explosion and the Apollo spacecraft fire.