CNN Hopes Space Shuttle Documentary Series Boosts Original Series Revival

A new CNN documentary series that examines the 2003 Space Shuttle disaster is the latest effort by the Warner Bros. Discovery-backed outlet to help its original-production arm regain momentum.

“Space Shuttle Columbia: The Final Flight” relies on footage that has never been broadcast before as well as exclusive interviews. The four-part series will air Sunday April 7 and Sunday April 14,both at 9 p.m. eastern, with two hours broadcast each evening. The program is co-produced by BBC and Mindhouse Productions.

More from Variety

“This chapter in the Space Shuttle Program captured the nation’s attention and is equally as captivating in the retelling, with storytelling fueled by those who lived it firsthand and newly revealed footage from the NASA archive,” said Amy Entelis, executive vice president of talent, CNN Originals, and creative development for CNN Worldwide, in a statement. “Our viewers have long been fascinated by stories of space exploration and this series is a strong example of the CNN Original Series team’s distinctive talent for providing a fresh perspective on historical moments.”

The new series is the latest from CNN as it seeks to rebuild an ambitious slate of original productions that was scaled back under a previous management’s bid to cut costs. CNN in 2022 chose to pull back on production of the original series and films that became staple of its programming over the past decade. Series like Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown,” Stanley Tucci’s “Searching for Italy” and W. Kamau Bell’s “United Shades of America” proved valuable in helping CNN broaden its aperture and were a pillar of the network under its previous leader, Jeff Zucker.

There are signs the company has reversed its decision. CNN CEO Mark Thompson recently articulated a plan to invest more heavily in production of originals, even as he has tried to take some costs out of linear programming by canceling CNN’s New York produced morning program, replacing it with hours of series already adjacent on the schedule. A documentary series hosted by Jake Tapper that examines political scandals has helped CNN win a few hours among weekend viewers between 25 and 54, the demographic most coveted by news advertisers. CNN also recently aired a multi-part documentary series about Martha Stewart that included footage of her many interviews with former CNN primetime host Larry King.

For the new Shuttle series, CNN gained access to NASA’s archives, as well as findings from the government’s official investigation of the tragedy, in which seven astronauts were killed as Columbia disintegrated while re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere. The series examines how financial pressures and a culture of complacency may have contributed to the events of February 1, 2003 disaster.

The series presents intimate footage shot by the astronauts themselves inside the orbiter. as well as exclusive first-hand testimony from family members of the Shuttle’s crew, key players at NASA – some of whom have never spoken before – and journalists who covered the story on the ground.

“Space Shuttle Columbia: The Final Flight” is executive produced by Emma Tutty and Emma Whitehead for Mindhouse, and Amy Entelis and Lyle Gamm for CNN Original Series. The program will stream live for pay TV subscribers via, CNN connected TV and mobile apps on Sunday, April 7. It will also be available on demand beginning Monday, April 8 to pay TV subscribers via, CNN connected TV and mobile apps, and platforms run by cable distributors.

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.