Today is the tenth anniversary of the explosion of the space shuttle Columbia, which blew apart as it was gliding across Texas to a Florida landing.
All seven crew members died, and Texans were poking around the Piney Woods for weeks looking for debris.
NASA is keeping a low profile for the anniversary, which is its "Day of Remembrance" that includes other space-related disasters. There's a memorial page, and President Obama has issued a statement:
Ten years ago, seven brave astronauts gave their lives in the name of exploration when America's first flight-ready space shuttle, Columbia, failed to return safely to Earth. Each year, on NASA's Day of Remembrance, we honor the crew of that Columbia flight, as well as those of Challenger and Apollo 1, and all the members of the NASA family who gave their lives in the pursuit of expanding our Nation's horizons in space-a cause worthy of their sacrifice and one we must never forget.
As with any NASA foul-up, conspiracy theories bloomed, and Columbia has a doozy.
No, it wasn't that Nostradamus predicted it all. Although, as with anything bad that happens in human experience, a purported prophecy quickly circulated:
In the mission of the first blue star a child of the Holy Land among the seven shall perish as the ship descends heaven's sky the lone star bescattered with wreckage.
We're not sure if that last line is the result of ebonics or bad writing, but the Nostradamus prediction was quickly shown to be a hoax.
Other rumors in the wake of the crash centered on the fact that Columbia was carrying the first astronaut from (gasp!) Israel. E-mailers swiftly made the logical jump that ergo the Columbia was carrying super-secret Zion weaponry, which mistakenly blew up as Allah's retribution or something.
No, the worst hoax was one that gave the world a hilarious picture, supposedly of the explosion at the exact moment it happened. An Israeli satellite (those Jews again!) supposedly was in the area, snapping away, and allegedly took this photo:
If you're thinking the photo looks a little, ummm, different from the usual space shots, you'd be right.
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The images clearly show that the shuttle is still in orbit around the earth when the destruction occurs. However, Columbia was well into the Earth's atmosphere when it was destroyed. Moreover, Columbia did not explode as shown in the pictures but instead disintegrated over several minutes. Debris from the shuttle came to ground over a large area of the United States. If Columbia had exploded in orbit as shown in the images, no debris would have made it back to the planet surface.
What's more, the claim that a satellite just happened to be in exactly the correct position and alignment to gain such clear images of the shuttle's demise is probably even less believable than the highly improbable plot of "Armageddon".
We guess this means that the last thing the Columbia astronauts heard was Steven Tyler wailing "I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing" over their headphones.