Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster Marks Nine-Year Anniversary (PHOTOS)

Space Shuttle Columbia

February 1, 2012 is the ninth anniversary Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, which claimed the lives of all seven crew members.

The shuttle disintegrated during reentry after superheated gases penetrated a damaged spot on its left wing. The initial damage had occurred shortly after launch, when a briefcase-sized piece of insulating foam broke off from an external fuel tank and smashed against the wing.

Columbia disintegrated about 15 minutes before it was scheduled to touch down at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

As a result of the disaster, President Bush announced his eventual goal to retire the remaining space shuttles but assured the public that the manned space program would continue. "The cause in which they died will continue," he said. "Mankind is led into the darkness beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand. Our journey into space will go on."

Late January also marks the dates of two other dark moments for NASA and the nation's manned space program. See the following links for more images commemorating the Apollo 1 fire on January 27, 1967 and the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster on January 28, 1986.

The Columbia Space Shuttle disaster claimed the lives of Commander Rick D. Husband, Pilot William C. McCool, Payload Commander Michael P. Anderson, Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon, Mission Specialist Kalpana Chawla, Mission Specialist David M. Brown and Mission Specialist Laurel Clark.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that February 1, 2012 was the 8th anniversary of the disaster. In fact, it was the 9th anniversary.