Ten years ago on Feb. 1, 2003 the Space Shuttle Columbia tore apart upon re-entry 16 minutes before it was to land.
Among the seven astronauts onboard was mission specialist Dr. Kalpana Chawla, who in 1988 began to work at the Ames Research Center before being selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in December 1994.
Friday, the NASA Ames community gathered to remember all their dead colleagues and to unveil an exhibit of Chawla's personal belongings, donated by her family.
WATCH the video of the exhibit's unveiling at NASA Ames.
Before the unveiling, a brief ceremony honored the astronauts of Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia during NASA's annual Day of Remembrance.
"As we undertake the next generation of discovery, today we pause to remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice on the journey of exploration," President Barack Obama said in remarks to mark the occasion.
"Space exploration and the sacrifice these pioneers made benefits us all."
On Apollo 1, three astronauts perished in their seats when a fire
erupted just prior to launch on Jan. 27, 1967. The space shuttle Challenger
exploded 73 seconds after it launched on Jan. 28, 1986.
On Feb. 1, 2003, the Columbia, following a successful 16-day research mission while orbiting the Earth, was reentering the atmosphere toward a scheduled landing at Cape Canaveral, Fl.
A hole in its left wing, apparently created when a piece of foam insulation came off a fuel tank during the launch, allowed hot gases to enter the 22-year-old craft, the oldest of NASA's four space shuttles.
Sangeeta Vaidya, an Ames budget analyst and native of India, said that Chawla, the first woman of Indian decent in space, serves as an inspiration for Indian girls who would like to be astronauts.
"It's not a dream (for them) anymore, it is a reality," said Vaidya, of Los Gatos. "Our hearts were broken when we heard (the disaster) happened. Even in her death she is really alive in the minds and aspirations of girls in India."
Chawla's exhibit, including her posthumously awarded Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the NASA Space Flight Medal, and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal—will be on display at the Exploration Center until Mar. 30.
Additional reporting by Bay City News, Inc.
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