CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Feb. 1 (UPI) -- Space shuttle Columbia and its seven-member crew, including Israel's first astronaut Ilan Ramon, were lost upon return to Earth Saturday following a 16-day space research mission.
Observers in Houston who could see the shuttle as it flew overhead enroute to the Kennedy Space Center in Houston reported debris falling from the sky.
"It looked just like the Mir breakup," said Stephen Clark, a contributor to spaceflightnow.com.
Ground control teams in Houston lost tracking and radio contact with the shuttle at 9 a.m. ET.
"Contingency procedures are in effect," said commentator James Hartsfield.
Under tight security, shuttle Columbia lifted off on Jan. 16. In addition to Ramon, the crew included commander Rick Husband, pilot Willie McCool, flight engineer Kalpana Chawla, payload commander Michael Anderson and astronauts David Brown and Laurel Clark.