CNN explores NASA's Columbia shuttle tragedy in riveting docuseries (video)

Since the tragic explosion of the space shuttle Challenger 73 seconds after liftoff on Jan. 28, 1986, resulting in the loss of all seven souls aboard, NASA had maintaining an exemplary safety record with no major accidents or deaths for over 17 years.  

That all changed on Feb. 1, 2003 when the space shuttle Columbia suffered a catastrophic incident during its fiery reentry over Texas after a chunk of insulation damaged a leading wing edge upon liftoff, which 16 days later later caused the Kennedy Space Center-bound vehicle to break apart and disintegrate, sadly killing its seven brave astronaut occupants inside. 

"Space Shuttle Columbia: The Final Flight" is a fascinating new four-part series premiering April 7 from CNN Originals and co-produced by BBC and Mindhouse Productions. The venerable cable news channel just released a first trailer that offers space fans an immersive look into the 2003 Columbia disaster after years of official reports, scientific studies, and investigative scrutiny uncovered the accident's avoidable causes, internal NASA chaos, and budgetary concerns.

Related: Space shuttle Columbia's final mission in photos

(Image credit: CNN)

Here's the official synopsis:

"Columbia was the first Space Shuttle to launch and redefined space travel – it took off like a rocket, landed like a plane, and was reusable – making the dream of routine space flight a tangible reality. Across four episodes, the story of the ticking-clock of Columbia's final mission is told in dramatic detail, beginning months before the troubled launch, unfolding across the sixteen days in orbit, and concluding with the investigation into the tragic loss of the seven astronauts’ lives. Weaving together intimate footage shot by the astronauts themselves inside the orbiter, exclusive first-hand testimony from family members of the Shuttle's crew, key players at NASA – some of whom have never spoken before – and journalists who covered the story on the ground, the series paints an intimate portrait of the women and men onboard and uncovers in forensic detail the trail of events and missed opportunities that ultimately led to disaster. 

"With wide-ranging access to NASA's archives, including previously unseen footage and findings from the official investigation, 'Space Shuttle Columbia' is the definitive telling of this national tragedy and the inside story of one America’s most iconic institutions, uncovering how financial pressures and a culture of complacency may have contributed to the events of February 1, 2003. The series also reflects on the legacy of the Space Shuttle era, serving as a timely exploration of the challenges and inherent dangers that remain relevant to space travel today."

The final crew of Space Shuttle Columbia STS-107 (Image credit: NASA)

Arriving on Sunday, April 7 at 9 p.m. ET/PT with its first two chapters, followed by the final pair of episodes airing Sunday, April 14 at 9 p.m. ET/PT, CNN's "Space Shuttle Columbia: The Final Flight" is executive produced by Emma Tutty and Emma Whitehead for Mindhouse, and Amy Entelis and Lyle Gamm for CNN Original Series.  

"This chapter in the Space Shuttle Program captured the nation’s attention and is equally as captivating in the retelling, with storytelling fueled by those who lived it firsthand and newly revealed footage from the NASA archive," said Entelis, Executive Vice President of Talent, CNN Originals, and Creative Development for CNN Worldwide. "Our viewers have long been fascinated by stories of space exploration and this series is a strong example of the CNN Original Series team's distinctive talent for providing a fresh perspective on historical moments."

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Jeff Spry
Contributing Writer

Jeff Spry is an award-winning screenwriter and veteran freelance journalist covering TV, movies, video games, books, and comics. His work has appeared at SYFY Wire, Inverse, Collider, Bleeding Cool and elsewhere. Jeff lives in beautiful Bend, Oregon amid the ponderosa pines, classic muscle cars, a crypt of collector horror comics, and two loyal English Setters.