The Space Shuttle Columbia was the first fully functional orbiter in NASA’s fleet of spacecraft. The 24-year old orbiter completed 27 successful missions before its ill-fated flight in 2003. The memorial in Arlington National Cemetery honors the seven astronauts who died when their orbiter exploded during re-entry that tragic morning on February 1st. The shuttle nosecone and the remains of the astronauts were found in Sabine County, Texas.
President George W. Bush signed a law in April 2003 that directed the Secretary of the Army to collaborate with NASA on an appropriate memorial to commemorate the astronauts. The Army is the agency that is responsible for overseeing Arlington National Cemetery.
The front of the monument depicts the patch for STS-107, the shuttle mission number. A bronze plaque affixed to the rear of the monument depicts a replica of the official crew photo. The bottom of the memorial has an inscription honoring the crew. A gathering of 400 friends, family members and former astronauts attended the memorial dedication ceremony on February 2, 2004. Three of the crew members are buried in Arlington.
The granite monument is located near a similar memorial to the Space Shuttle Challenger. It is located approximately 100 feet from the Memorial Amphitheater and the Tomb of the Unknowns.