Breaking News: Space Shuttle Feared Lost

On BBC World and CNN theres news breaking that the US Space Shuttle "Colombia" is in problems and possibly lost with all crew. Shuttle commander Rick D. Husband, Pilot William C. McCool, Payload Commander Michael P. Anderson, Mission Specialists David M. Brown, Kalpana Chawla and Laurel Clark and Israel's first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, were on board.

The Columbia was the oldest of the Shuttle fleet, built in 1979. Below is a picture courtesy of CNN that shows debris from what can only be the shuttle itself. NASA has dispatched Search & Rescue in the Dallas area. NASA says a loud "bang" or impact could be heard as the shuttle re-entered Earth's Atmosphere, Re-entry is the hardest part of the mission where there is no margin for error.

We will bring you more as the story unfolds; Click "Read more" for a diagram and quick summary of events.

Update: Ilan Ramon, a colonel in Israel's air force and former fighter pilot, became the first man from his country to fly in space, and his presence resulted in an increase in security, not only for Columbia's January 16 launch, but also for its landing.

Space agency officials feared his presence might make the shuttle more of a terrorist target.

View: CNN: Space shuttle loses contact

View: BBC: Nasa loses contact with shuttle

View: Google News Stories

Update: The Space Shuttle has been lost to NASA, with the agency saying it "fears for the worst" after losing touch with the Shuttle 200,000 miles above Texas this morning.

Seven astronauts are on board.

The spacecraft was due for a sheduled landing at 2.16 GMT. There are unconfirmed reports that "multiple tails" or vapour trails were seen coming from the craft as it was descending over the US.

A NASA spokeswoman said that "we have lost contact with the vehicle and the crew. I am sure that NASA is mobilising in the Dallas area. (Source: Sky News)

Update: NASA, while not saying the shuttle had exploded, broken up or crashed, warned that any debris found in the area should be avoided and could be hazardous. (Source: CNN)

Update: This is the most serious incident involving a shuttle since the 1986 crash of the space shuttle Challenger, which carried seven astronauts. Pres. Reagan cancelled the State of the Union address in 1986 on hearing about the Challenger disaster. The President [Bush] is expected to make an announcement shortly

Update: One video scene shows what looks like debris falling to earth. It is feared that the Shuttle broke up on entry to the Earth's atmosphere when it would be travelling at 12,500mph.

Video: Columbia breaking up in atmosphere (Sky News)

Update: Janet Smith-Bozart, who was driving near Dallas, saw what is believed to be the shuttle?s descent and described it to MSNBC. ?I thought at first it might be a meteor coming into the atmosphere and then I realized it was much too big and much too slow for that,? she said. ?Essentially the entire thing just broke apart and the whole thing just disappeared. ... Eventually it just sort of faded and there was no more contrail or anything.?Explosions were widely reported across Texas.?It was like a car hitting the house or an explosion. It shook that much,? John Ferolito, 60, of Carrolton, north of Dallas, told the Associated Press. (MSNBC)

Update: Although this is un-confirmed Sky News just reported from a phone interview that the cause might have been due to the rear tail (the fin at the back of the air-craft) coming off, and causing the subsequent disaster.

Update: There has been no official confirmation of the disaster. Nasa lost touch with the shuttle above Texas. A Nasa spokesman said: "It appears there has been a catastrophic technical failure." It was the 113th shuttle mission. (Sky News)

A Bush administration spokesman said the shuttle's altitude -- over 200,000 feet -- made it "highly unlikely" that the shuttle fell victim to a terrorist act. Police in Nacogdoches, Texas, reported "numerous pieces of debris" both inside the city limits and in Nacogdoches County. Sowell said officers and city and county employees were being dispatched to stand by the debris until the arrival of FBI and NASA representatives. The debris field is believed to be very large. (CNN)

Update: Reports are coming in about debris including some found on Interstate 45 between Dallas and Houston. Debris from the craft fell in Texas and Oklahoma with one report saying a large piece hit a Texan bank. (Sky News)

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