WHEELING, W.Va. (WTRF) — Today marks twenty years since one of the most tragic events in the history of the U.S. space program occurred.

The space shuttle Columbia disintegrated as it re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere over Texas.

All seven astronauts aboard the shuttle were killed.

The accident was caused by damage to the shuttle’s left wing during the launch.

Charles Wood is a project manager at the Challenger Learning Center on the campus of Wheeling University. He says NASA launched a two-year investigation into the cause of the accident.

“In both cases there were different things failing on these launches. NASA had to correct both of them, one after the other and since then, there have been 27 more space shuttle flights with no accidents. So, it’s a pretty reliable system. But going into space is so dangerous because you are going so fast, you are going where there is no oxygen. You’re going in systems where there is no way to recover from a serious failure.”

Charles Wood. Project Manager Wheeling University