Fact Check

Space Shuttle Columbia Explosion

Photographs show the explosion of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

Published Feb 16, 2003

Claim:   Photographs show the explosive destruction of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

Status:   False.

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, 2003]

Quite hard to believe this; these are amazing! Attached are pictures of the Shuttle Explosion from an
Israeli Satellite in space.
Armageddon Armageddon
Armageddon Armageddon
Armageddon Armageddon

Origins:   These

are not photographs of the destruction of the Space Shuttle Columbia, which broke up over the western United States during re-entry on 1 February 2003, killing all seven astronauts aboard. This is another example of still frames of movie effects being passed off as real photography.

These images are frames from the special effects-laden opening sequence of the 1998 whammy film Armageddon in which the Space Shuttle Atlantis is destroyed by the leading edge of debris from a comet-enclosed asteroid, thereby alerting NASA to the problem that an Earth-bound doomsday asteroid is a mere 18 days from smashing into our planet.

Even if these images were not recognizable as still frames from a theatrical movie, they could still be dismissed as "actual photographs of the Columbia's destruction" because:

  • The Columbia did not "explode" all at once as depicted here. It disintegrated over hundreds of miles as it re-entered Earth's atmosphere and traveled across the western United States on approach to its scheduled landing site in Florida.
  • The images shown here depict a shuttle in orbit. The Columbia disaster occurred when the ship broke up while it was streaking through the atmosphere at 12,000 MPH during re-entry, well after it had left orbit.

  • There was no photographic instrument in space (on an "Israeli satellite" or elsewhere) trained on the shuttle at the right moment to capture the type of images shown here.

Last updated:   20 September 2006


David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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