PHOTOS: 18 years since the tragic Columbia Space Shuttle disaster

On February 1st, 2003, seven astronauts lost their lives as the Columbia Space Shuttle broke up during re-entry. 

The seven astronauts on board were Rick D. Husband, Kalpana Chawla, William C. McCool, David M. Brown, Laurel B. Clark, and Michael P. Anderson, and Ilan Ramon. They spent 16 days in space doing science experiments and research. 

The Columbia Shuttle was said to be the second time the space agency lost a vehicle in a catastrophic accident. Prior to this was the Challenger tragedy in 1986. 

During the Columbia Shuttle's launch, a piece of foam insulation broke off the shuttle's external fuel tank and tore a hole in the orbiter's wing. This went on to prevent the shuttle from withstanding the fiery re-entry into Earth. The shuttle broke apart and crashed in Texas. NASA recovered 84,000 pieces along with the remains of the crew.

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Columbia was reportedly delivered to the Kennedy Space Center in March 1979. On April 12, 1981, it lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center and became the first shuttle in orbit. Then, after completing its Orbital Flight Test PRogram -- missions STS-1 through 4 -- it proved itself as a reusable spaceship that could successfully operate.

Challenger, Discovery, and Atlantis space shuttles went on to join the orbital fleet.

However, after the Columbia disaster, an investigation is said to have found flaws in design and NASA's safety culture. It episode marked the end of NASA's space shuttle program and the last one was retired in 2011.

RELATED: Remembering Challenger: 35 years since tragic explosion

The space shuttle Columbia dramatically lit on the launching pad at Kennedy Space Center. The Columbia became the first space shuttle to be sent into orbit on April 12, 1981.

Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

The crew of Space Shuttle Columbia's mission STS-107 pose for the traditional crew portrait. Seated in front are astronauts Rick D. Husband (L), mission commander; Kalpana Chawla, mission specialist; and William C. McCool, pilot. Standing are (L to R) astronauts David M. Brown, Laurel B. Clark, and Michael P. Anderson, all mission specialists; and Ilan Ramon, payload specialist representing the Israeli Space Agency.

Photo by NASA/Getty Images

Space Shuttle Columbia lifts off of launch pad 39-A from the Kennedy Space Center on January 16, 2003, in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Photo by Matt Stroshane/Getty Images

Shuttle Columbia Lifting Off

This image from a NASA handout video shows a close up of a piece of debris falling from the external tank, then striking the left-wing of the Space Shuttle Columbia during launch on January 16, 2003. NASA officials noticed this piece of debris during liftoff of Columbia but did not consider it a major problem at the time.

Photo by NASA/Getty Images

In this handout photo from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the STS-107 crewmembers strike a flying pose for their traditional in-flight crew portrait in the SPACEHAB Research Double Module (RDM) aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia taken between January 16 and February 1, 2003, in space.

Photo by NASA/Getty Images

This image from NASA video shot by Shuttle Mission Specialist Laurel Clark shows Mission Specialists Kalpana Chawla (L) and Commander Rick Husband (R) on the flight deck of the Space Shuttle Columbia shortly before re-entry on February 1, 2003 while in space. The 13-minute video was found in the wreckage of the Space Shuttle Columbia near Palestine, Texas five days after the Shuttle broke apart.

Photo by NASA-TV/Getty Images

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FOX News and Getty Images contributed to this report.