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Space Shuttle Columbia Explosion Photos Hoax

Email claims that attached photographs depict the explosion of the space shuttle Columbia taken from an Israeli satellite (Full commentary below.)


Example:(Submitted August 2006)
Subject: Shuttle Columbia Explosion Photos

Shuttle explosion from Israeli satellite

These pictures were taken when the Columbia disaster occurred and just now are being circulated.

The following pictures are photos taken of the Columbia explosion from an Israeli satellite in space.

They are sequential pictures of the Shuttle Explosion, taken from an Israeli Satellite in space. They were taken....obviously,just as the Shuttle began to explode over the Earth.


Shuttle Columbia Explosion 1

Shuttle Columbia Explosion 2

Shuttle Columbia Explosion 3

Shuttle Columbia Explosion 4

Shuttle Columbia Explosion 5

This email claims that photographs accompanying the message show the destruction of the space shuttle Columbia. The sequence of images supposedly depicts the progress of a catastrophic explosion that ripped Columbia to pieces. According to the message, the photographs were taken from an Israeli satellite "just as the Shuttle began to explode over the Earth".

However, the claims in the message are untrue. The images are actually taken from a sequence in the 1998 disaster movie Armageddon in which the shuttle Atlantis is destroyed in space by a shower of asteroids. Those who have seen the movie may recall seeing the shuttle explosion sequence near the beginning of the film. In fact, a glimpse of the sequence can even be seen in one of the film's trailers.

Versions of the hoax message began circulating soon after the loss of Columbia on February 1st 2003. On its website, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) notes that it is "aware that a number of fabricated, altered or otherwise falsified photographs have been circulating on the Internet".

Even if the true origin of the images was unknown, the claims that they depict the destruction of Columbia can easily be proved false. The images clearly show that the shuttle is still in orbit around the earth when the destruction occurs. However, Columbia was well into the Earth's atmosphere when it was destroyed. Moreover, Columbia did not explode as shown in the pictures but instead disintegrated over several minutes. Debris from the shuttle came to ground over a large area of the United States. If Columbia had exploded in orbit as shown in the images, no debris would have made it back to the planet surface.

What's more, the claim that a satellite just happened to be in exactly the correct position and alignment to gain such clear images of the shuttle's demise is probably even less believable than the highly improbable plot of "Armageddon".

This foolish hoax dishonours the memory of the seven courageous astronauts who lost their lives in the Columbia disaster. Please do not forward it.

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IMDb: Armageddon (1998)
CAIB - Photos
Armageddon: Full Trailer
Wikipedia: Space Shuttle Columbia disaster

Last updated: 27th January 2010
First published: 23 August 2006
Write-up by Brett M.Christensen