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I've seen it twice now... that kind of footage... back in 1986 when Challenger was lost, and now again, in 2003.

Hell, I watched the first launch of this shuttle back in 81. Back when they had shiny white fuel tanks, not that rusty-orange colour.

I've grown up watching the shuttles, watching spaceflight... and for a few years, not watching spaceflight, but watching every bit of news I could about what brought Challenger down.

I knew about Freedom, now known as the International Space Station (ISS) when I was 9 years old... I knew that it would be that lattice work structure, with modules for science and stuff, and it'd have huge solar panels and all that sort of thing.

If you asked me to get on board a shuttle tomorrow for *anything*, I would. No questions asked, no fear. I've grown up dreaming of going into space, dreaming about being on a return machine to the moon, more recently dreaming of being on a return mission to the moon and being able to turn around to those people who don't think we've been there and being able to say *I* have, dreaming of working on ISS... although the odds on getting an orbital-posting are almost negligible since the computing is almost certainly ground controlled for pretty much it's entirity...

And now it looks like Columbia, the first orbiter to actually *orbit* (there was a prototype called Enterprise that they used to test stuff like glide profiles), and, incidentally, my favourite of the fleet, has suffered a "catastrophic failure" and broken up.

There's a video clip on the BBC website.... You can get to it by clicking this link. Other BBC stuff includes:
They also have stuff running on a live BBC video-stream here.

NASA are being kinda quiet... but that's understandable... and in some ways I'm glad of it... it means their focussing on finding anyone who managed to survive and orchestrating the recovery process for the debris... The main site at www.nasa.gov has a temporary frontpage with a short briefing, and there's a minute change on the SpaceFlight site, but all in all, very little information. Since I typed that, the NASA main site's temporary page has beeen updated slightly with more information.

While I know the chances of getting through what this *looks* like are ultra-small, I still hope that the crew are ok... I'm probably deluding myself that it's possible, but hey, everyone has to have *something* they're an optimist about...

And just to show I *do* know just *how* small, the shuttle was travelling at 12,500mph at an altitude of 203,000 feet. That's inside the phase where the heat-shield is white-hot. Which means that this "catastrophic failure" could be due to the loss of too many heat-shield tiles, or that the tiles could have been faulty. The heat-shield is still effective if it looses a few tiles, in fact there are always a few missing after landing, but if you loose too many, then the shuttle's structure is exposed to those extreme temperatures, which is acknowledged, even by NASA, as being a Very Bad Thing.

It's over two hours and a half hours since communication with Columbia was lost.