SHUTTLE DESTROYED, SEVEN ASTRONAUTS FEARED DEAD The space shuttle Columbia burst into flames and disintegrated over central Texas today at approximately 9 a.m. EST. Six Americans and Ilan Ramon, Israel's first astronaut, were on board.Cruising at a speed of 12,500 miles per hour and an altitude of more than 200,000 feet, Columbia was preparing for a 9:16 a.m. landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida when NASA lost contact with the craft. People as far away as Shreveport, Louisiana, reported seeing an explosion. Local TV cameras captured images of what appeared to be falling debris.This was the 113th flight in the 22 years of the shuttle program, and the 28th flight for Columbia, NASA's oldest shuttle. The tragedy comes nearly seventeen years to the day after the space shuttle Challenger was engulfed by fire in the Florida skies.Spaceflight Now has ongoing updates on the situation. MSNBC is carrying live video.

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