Columbia space shuttle disaster killed 7 crew but NASA found non-human survivors

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Today, the space race is all over the news and being led by some of the richest people on the planet.

But before private businesses got involved, NASA led the way with its space shuttle program. This came to a tragic halt when, on February 1, 2003, the Columbia disaster saw seven astronauts die when their shuttle burnt up in orbit.

The crash, which saw the shuttle disintegrate, killed all onboard and destroyed nearly all of the 80 science experiments that were aboard.

But as NASA trawled through the wreckage of the Columbia, they made a shock discovery: lifeforms that had survived the crash.

Although scientists didn't expect anything to survive the intense heat of re-entering the Earth's atmosphere, NASA managed to recover a living group of small worms called nematodes.

Hidden safe inside a thermos flask, the nematodes were placed in a reinforced locker and managed to survive impact against impossible odds.

"To my knowledge, these are the only live experiments that have been located and identified," Bruce Buckingham, a NASA spokesman, told CBS.

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Although all the results of the deceased astronauts' experiments were lost, NASA was able to learn a few things about the effect of space travel on different organisms.

"They sustained some heat damage to exteriors, but that's about it," said Nathaniel Szewczyk, a scientist who studied the worms after the crash.

The worms reportedly showed signs of muscle loss, just like humans, and even showed symptoms of diabetes from living in zero-gravity.

The descendants of the worms now live in a research facility in Minnesota, with some even sent back to space in May 2011 when NASA sent the Endeavour shuttle on its final voyage.

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