OTD: Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster

On this day in 2003 the Space Shuttle Columbia was destroyed on re-entry following a successful mission (STS107). All seven crew members on board were killed.

From left to right are mission specialist David Brown, commander Rick Husband, mission specialist Laurel Clark, mission specialist Kalpana Chawla, mission specialist Michael Anderson, pilot William McCool, and Israeli payload specialist Ilan Ramon.

The disaster was caused by a piece of foam insulation that broke off from the external tank and struck the left wing of the orbiter. When Columbia re-entered the atmosphere of Earth, the damage allowed hot atmospheric gases to penetrate the heat shield and destroy the internal wing structure, which caused the spacecraft to become unstable and break apart. 

Space Shuttle Columbia hurtles toward space on mission STS-107. Following a flawless and uneventful countdown, liftoff occurred on-time at 10:39 a.m. EST. Landing is scheduled at about 8:53 a.m. EST on Saturday, Feb. 1. This mission is the first Shuttle mission of 2003. Mission STS-107 is the 28th flight of the orbiter Columbia and the 113th flight overall in NASA’s Space Shuttle program.

DRW © 2020. Created 23/03/2020

Crew image retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_Columbia_disaster.  Image is in the public domain in the United States because it was solely created by NASA

Liftoff image used under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/#. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/nasa2explore/9349798659/in/album-72157634759692157/


OTD: Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

On this day in 1986 we all watched how the Space Shuttle Challenger was ripped apart by an explosion 73 seconds into it’s flight. The event was seen live on TV in many countries and for that brief point in time a large portion of the world was left speechless.

The Destruction of the Space Shuttle Challenger, January 28th, 1986

Challenger was really a wake-up call to NASA about complacency and the result that the Space Shuttle fleet was grounded for almost three years while the investigation, hearings, engineering redesign of the solid rocket boosters, and other behind-the-scenes technical and management reviews, changes, and preparations were taking place.

The human cost was great too. Seven crew members lost their lives in the disaster.

The crew of STS-51-L: Front row from left, Mike Smith, Dick Scobee, Ron McNair. Back row from left, Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, Judith Resnik.

The cause of the disaster  is attributed to the failure of O-ring seals used in the solid rocket boosters (SRB) joint that were not designed to handle the unusually cold conditions that existed at this launch. The seals’ failure caused a breach in the SRB joint, allowing pressurized burning gas from within the solid rocket motor to reach the outside and impinge upon the adjacent SRB aft field joint attachment hardware and external fuel tank. This led to the separation of the right-hand SRB’s aft field joint attachment and the structural failure of the external tank. Aerodynamic forces broke up the orbiter.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_Challenger_disaster)


DRW © 2020. Created 22/05/2020.

Image of Challenger Explosion attributed to Kennedy Space Center / Public domain. This image or video was catalogued by one of the centers of the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) under Photo ID: GPN-2004-00012 and Alternate ID: 86-HC-220.

Crew photograph retrieved from https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_256.html

Tribute photograph retrieved from https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/flyout/multimedia/challenger/2010-07-29.html

Remembering Coalbrook

To be continued…….

The Coalbrook mining disaster happened on 21 January 1960 at the Coalbrook coal mine of Clydesdale Colliery over a year before I was born. However, I remember my parents talking about it, but further than I never heard of any official commemoration or coverage and it was usually mentioned when yet another disaster occurred in the mining industry in South Africa. Unfortunately it has also been relegated to memory, and the purpose of this blogpost is to help keep the memory alive of those who did not return, and who are still entombed underground, in the place where they met their death.

From what I can read it is also classed as the worst mining disaster in the history of South Africa and the seventh worst mining disaster in the world (as at May 2014) (https://www.mining-technology.com/).  437 men lost their lives in the disaster, most of these being African mine workers. A number of rescue attempts were made but the operation was called off after 11 days with no bodies being recovered and with no hope of finding survivors.

In December of 1959 a collapse occurred at the mine that was really a precursor of what was to come. Management did not take sufficient heed of this warning and the miners reluctantly returned to work. However on the 21st of January the mine suffered from a “….cascading pillar failure where a few pillars fail initially and this increases the load on the adjacent pillars causing them to fail. This cascading failure caused pillar collapse over an area covering 324 hectares.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coalbrook_mining_disaster) In essence the cutting down of support pillar sizes had brought down the roof! 

The human tragedy outweighs the economic one. Each miner probably supported a family or was connected to a family. They had wives and children, parents and grandparents, each was affected by the loss of those men who laboured in dangerous conditions to produce the coal that fired the power stations that supplied the country with electricity. 

Unfortunately the men who died were quickly forgotten, although in their communities they would  be mourned and remembered. In 1996 following the closure of Coalbrook South the new owner of the village and workshops erected a memorial using a coal cutter from the mine as a backdrop to an inscription on a stone plaque which reads:

ON 21-01-1960

The new and much larger memorial consists of an amphitheatre situated at the site of the south shaft. The  names of the 437 men entombed in the mine are engraved on stone plinth placed around the inside perimeter and two granite tablets at the entrance commemorate the disaster. 

Sadly the memorial at Holly Country near Sasolburg has been mired in controversy, issues raised include misspellings of names, poor workmanship, incorrect information and a blatantly plagiarised inscription.  It appears that even 60 years after the fact Coalbrook is still mired in controversy.  

The images used in this post were kindly supplied by Piet Lombard and are used with permission.

I have had to rely on a number of sources in this short commemoration. The primary source being 




There are a number of images of the memorials and area at: 

Coalbrook Mynramp


DRW © 2020. Created 21/01/2020