The space shuttle Columbia, traveling 12,500 miles per hour as it re-entered Earth's atmosphere after a 16-day science mission, apparently disintegrated in flames above north central Texas Saturday with seven astronauts aboard.
The first reports the Columbia crew was possibly dead came when a senior U.S. official told the Associated Press that "it's gone" and the astronauts were dead. He said NASA officials have recovered parts of the shuttle on the ground.
During the re-entry phase of the shuttle flight, the crew has no means of escape. Heat absorbing tiles are designed to protect the vehicle from the intense heat of the re-entry process.
Mission Specialist 1: David Brown
Born April 16, 1956 in Arlington, Virginia. Received a bachelor of science in biology from the college of William and Mary in 1978 and a doctorate in medicine from Eastern Virginia Medical School in 1982.
Mission Commander: Rick Husband
Graduated from Amarillo High School, Amarillo, Texas, in 1975. Received a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering from Texas Tech University in 1980, and a master of science in mechanical engineering from California State University, Fresno in 1990.
Mission Specialist 4: Laurel Clark
Born March 10, 1961 in Ames, Iowa. Received a bachelor of science in zoology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1983 and a doctorate in medicine from the same school in 1987.
Mission Specialist 2: Kalpana Chawla
Born in Kamal, India. Received a bachelor of science in aeronautical engineering from Punjab Engineering College, India, in 1982, a master of science in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas in 1984 and a doctorate of philosophy in aerospace engineering from the university of Colorado in 1988.
Mission Specialist 3: Michael Anderson
Graduated from Cheney High School in Cheney Washington in 1977. Received a bachelor of science in physics/astronomy from the University of Washington in 1981 and a master of science in physics from Creighton University in 1990.
Pilot: William McCool
Graduated from Coronado High School in Lubbock, Texas, in 1979. Received a bachelor of science in applied science from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1983, a master of science in computer science from the University of Maryland in 1985, and a master of science in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in 1992.
Payload Specialist: Ilan Ramon
Born January 20, 1954 in Tel Aviv, Israel. In 1974 Ramon graduated as a fighter pilot from the Israel Air Force Flight School. Received a bachelor of science in electronics and computer engineering from the University of Tel Aviv, Israel, in 1987.
Biographical information provided by NASA