How Aviation Week Reported The Columbia Tragedy (2003)


There was plenty of media coverage of the Feb. 1, 2003, loss of space shuttle Columbia, which broke apart over Texas as it reentered the atmosphere, killing its crew of seven. But Aviation Week set itself apart with its in-depth, team analysis of the accident. Exclusive interviews with Program Manager Ron Dittemore and Flight Director Leroy Cain provided key points in the breakup.

The magazine’s initial coverage described how high-resolution imagery of the shuttle taken by a U.S. Air Force tracking camera revealed damage to the inboard leading edge of Columbia’s left wing, which was later determined to have been caused by a piece of foam insulation that broke of the shuttle’s propellant tank during launch. The magazine also published an exclusive photo from inside Mission Control immediately after the loss of the shuttle. The coverage by space editors Craig Covault and Frank Morring, Jr., and engineering editor Michael Dornheim, among others, went on to win a Jesse H. Neal Award, the business press equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize.

See Aviation Week’s coverage of the Columbia accident from February 2003.

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Aviation Week & Space Technology marked its centennial in 2016. Here, we highlight editorial content from the magazine's long and rich history.

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