2003 Columbia mission ends in disaster On this day in 2003, the space shuttle Columbia breaks up while entering the atmosphere over Texas, killing all seven crew members on board. The Columbia‘s 28th space mission, designated STS-107, was originally scheduled to launch on January 11, 2001, but was delayed numerous times for a variety of reasons over nearly two years. Columbia finally launched on January 16, 2003, with a crew of seven. Eighty seconds into the launch, a piece of foam insulation broke off from the shuttle’s propellant tank and hit the edge of the shuttle’s left wing. Cameras focused on the launch sequence revealed the foam collision but engineers could not pinpoint the location and extent of the damage. Although similar incidents had occurred on three prior shuttle launches without causing critical damage, some engineers at the space agency believed that the damage to the wing could cause a catastrophic failure. Their concerns were not addressed in the two weeks that Columbia spent in orbit because NASA management believed that even if major damage had been caused, there was little that could be done to remedy the situation. Columbia reentered the earth’s atmosphere on the morning of February 1. It wasn’t until 10 minutes later, at 8:53 a.m.–as the shuttle was 231,000 feet above the California coastline traveling at 23 times the speed of sound–that the first indications of trouble began. Because the heat-resistant tiles covering the left wing’s leading edge had been damaged or were missing, wind and heat entered the wing and blew it apart. The first debris began falling to the ground in west Texas near Lubbock at 8:58 a.m. One minute later, the last communication from the crew was heard, and at 9 a.m. the shuttle disintegrated over southeast Texas, near Dallas. Residents in the area heard a loud boom and saw streaks of smoke in the sky. Debris and the remains of the crew were found in more than 2,000 locations across East Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana. Making the tragedy even worse, two pilots aboard a search helicopter were killed in a crash while looking for debris. Strangely, worms that the crew had used in a study that were stored in a canister aboard the Columbia did survive. In August 2003, an investigation board issued a report that revealed that it in fact would have been possible either for the Columbia crew to repair the damage to the wing or for the crew to be rescued from the shuttle. The Columbia could have stayed in orbit until February 15 and the already planned launch of the shuttle Atlantis could have been moved up as early as February 10, leaving a short window for repairing the wing or getting the crew off of the Columbia. In the aftermath of the Columbia disaster, the space shuttle program was grounded until July 16, 2005, when the space shuttle Discovery was put into orbit. 1885 Mormon president goes underground John Taylor, the president of the Mormon Church, goes “underground” to avoid arrest and continue resisting federal demands for reforms within the community of Latter-day Saints. A former Methodist minister, Taylor converted to Mormonism in 1836, not long after Joseph Smith founded the religion in New York. Taylor quickly became one of Smith’s closest confidants and supporters, and he remained loyal to the controversial prophet and his church through years of persecution. When Smith was assassinated in Illinois in 1844 by an angry mob, Taylor was by his side and suffered several wounds during the attack. He escaped serious injury because a heavy pocket watch stopped a potentially fatal bullet. After Smith’s death, Taylor became an equally loyal follower of the new church president, Brigham Young. Taylor led one group of Mormon emigrants westward to Salt Lake City where Young was building a thriving theocratic empire. In Utah, he continued to ascend in the church hierarchy, and when Young died in 1877, Taylor took over leadership of the church. Taylor’s tenure as the leader of the Latter-day Saints was marked by growing tensions between the church and the federal government. The Mormon practice of polygamy became a lightning rod for federal criticism, yet this issue reflected a larger struggle regarding the church’s power over its members and the future state of Utah. Although the Mormons treasured the freedom to develop their new society free from outside interference, they also sought the benefits of being a part of the United States. Inevitably, these two goals conflicted. In 1851, the Mormons won territorial status for Utah, but the government remained suspicious of Taylor’s theocratic society. To the federal government, the Mormon political and economic domination of the region violated the separation of church and state. By attacking polygamy, federal authorities hoped they could also undermine the secular power of the church. Taylor strongly opposed the federal attempts to undermine the Mormon theocracy. He believed the practice of polygamy was divinely ordained and state or federal anti-polygamy laws should not be allowed to prevail. Determined to assert the primacy of national secular law over the Mormon theocracy, U.S. marshals began arresting Mormons for practicing polygamy. Vulnerable to arrest themselves, Taylor and his leading administrators went underground on February 1, 1885. For the next two-and-a-half years, Taylor conducted church business from a series of secret hideouts in Salt Lake City. Taylor’s underground administration managed to avoid arrest, but the federal actions were steadily undermining church power and influence. Grudgingly, in 1887, Taylor assented to one concession: making polygamy illegal in a proposed Utah state constitution. Congress found Taylor’s proposed compromise inadequate and rejected the petition for statehood. Taylor died that same year, still an exile in his own home. For several more years, the Mormon leadership continued the fight, but federal pressure eventually became so great that in 1890 Taylor’s successor publicly rejected polygamy. The theocratic government of the Latter-day Saints had been tamed, and Utah achieved statehood in 1896. 1790 First session of the U.S. Supreme Court In the Royal Exchange Building on New York City’s Broad Street, the Supreme Court of the United States meets for the first time, with Chief Justice John Jayof New York presiding. The U.S. Supreme Court was established by Article Three of the U.S. Constitution, which took effect in March 1789. The Constitution granted the Supreme Court ultimate jurisdiction over all laws, especially those in which constitutionality was at issue. The court was also designated to rule on cases concerning treaties of the United States, foreign diplomats, admiralty practice, and maritime jurisdiction. In September 1789, the Judiciary Act was passed, implementing Article Three by providing for six justices who would serve on the court for life. The same day, President George Washington appointed John Jay to preside as chief justice, and John Rutledge of South Carolina, William Cushing of Massachusetts, John Blair of Virginia, Robert Harrison of Maryland, and James Wilson of Pennsylvania to serve as associate justices. Two days later, all six appointments were confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The Supreme Court later grew into arguably the most powerful judicial body in the world in terms of its central place in the U.S. political order. In times of constitutional crisis, for better or worse, it always played a definitive role in resolving the great issues of the time.