This morning at 9:16 a.m. ET, the time Columbia would have landed, more than 300 people gathered for an outdoor ceremony at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, taking a minute of silence for the seven astronauts who died on Columbia's final mission, STS 107: Commander Rick Husband, Pilot Willie McCool, Mission Specialists Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark and Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, Oregon Live writes
Representing the families of the Columbia seven, the widow of commander Rick Husband told the hushed audience that the accident was so unexpected and the shock so intense, "that even tears were not freely able to fall," said Evelyn Husband Thompson, according to Amarillo News
Investigators said a piece of foam insulation peeled from the shuttle's fuel tank, punching a hole in Columbia's left wing 82 seconds after liftoff. This allowed hot atmospheric gases to seep in and destroy the shuttle from within during re-entry 16 days later — just 16 minutes from home — on Feb. 1, 2003, CBS Miami reported
"God bless the families of STS-107," said Thompson. "May our broken hearts continue to heal and may beauty continue to replace the ashes."
The hourlong ceremony was held in front of a huge black granite monument bearing the names of all 24 astronauts who have died in the line of NASA duty. The three-man crew of Apollo 1 died in the Jan. 27, 1967, launch pad fire. The Challenger seven were killed Jan. 28, 1986, during liftoff. Husband and his crew honored them during their own flight, just four days before dying themselves.
The tragic end to NASA's 113th shuttle flight prompted President George W. Bush to end the shuttle program. He announced in 2004 that the three shuttles left would stop flying in 2010 once they finished delivering pieces of the International Space Station. The shuttles resumed flying with new safety measures in place and eked out an extra year, ending on No. 135 in 2011.