Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster Ensemble Performance


Below is one half of a major ensemble assessment performance I have offered my Year 12 Drama class this year.

Seven members of the class will research, script and rehearse key events leading up to, including and after the 2003 Columbia Space Shuttle disaster. Several scenes are prescribed in the task, but many additional scenes will be added by the group.

The other seven members of the class will do the same with the 1986 Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster, with both performances occurring on the same night.

Feel free to borrow or adapt this ensemble task for use with your own students if you wish.

Columbia Space Shuttle Disaster


Performance Style
Non-naturalism, with aspects of Epic Theatre and Theatre of Cruelty.

Theatrical Conventions
Transformation of character, place and object, disjointed time sequences, pathos.

Stagecraft Elements
Props, costume, multimedia.

Dramatic Elements
Tension, language, contrast.

On February 1, 2003, the NASA Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. All seven crewmembers were killed.

82 seconds after launch, a briefcase-sized piece of insulation foam broke off the Shuttle’s external fuel tank, damaging the thermal protection system on the leading edge of the left wing. Hot gases entering the wing subsequently destroyed it and caused vehicle break-up on re-entry.

Foam shedding from the external fuel tank was a common occurrence during Space Shuttle launches. But was it a breach of NASA’s own safety regulations? Was it deemed an acceptable risk because engineers could not find a solution to the problem? Did NASA learn any lessons from the Challenger disaster of 1986?

One or more scenes should be performed out of chronological order to address the theatrical convention of disjointed time sequences. The following information should be represented in the performance. Additional information may be performed, as appropriate.

•    NASA’s safety procedures
•    NASA’s organisational culture, including decision-making processes
•    NASA’s flight scheduling and delayed Columbia launches
•    NASA management refusal to use Department of Defence imaging
•    NASA’s risk assessment processes
•    Rescue and repair scenarios
•    The loss of Columbia on February 1, 2003
•    Recovery efforts of craft and crew
•    President George W. Bush’s Address To The Nation concerning Columbia
•    The Columbia Accident Investigation Board

4 Responses

  1. Badafuco says:

    Mrs. Corbin… is that you?? Dr. Inlet Elementary in the early 90s.. teaching gifted?

  2. Justin Cash says:


    The Columbia Space Shuttle Disaster play was a student-devised project, developed over several weeks and performed just once for assessment before an audience of family and friends. The script was developed by the students themselves, based on research. Apart from the task outline detailed in this post, unfortunately, the only record of the play today is memories! Thanks for your interest in this project.

  3. Judi Corbin says:

    I teach elementary gifted. I would love to review the play you have for
    the Columbia Disaster.

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