The attack, allegedly pulled off by a group calling itself the Trippin Smurfs, temporarily staggered nine servers running on the Sun Solaris operating system, according to a report issued by mi2g, a security firm based in England. The attack was fired off as a protest against the U.S.'s position on Iraq.
Spokesmen at the Jet Propulsion Lab could not be reached for comment.
The attack lasted for about an hour and a half, approximately seven hours after the Columbia exploded just 16 minutes before its scheduled landing. All seven crew members were killed. The hacker group defaced the organization's Web servers with political messages, according to mi2g.
The report also points out that this is the third time the Trippin Smurfs have successfully compromised servers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. They attacked two servers on Jan. 18 of this year and another three on Jan. 25. This last incident, mi2g reports, is the first time the group has uploaded politically charged content.
Mi2g also reports that the Trippin Smurfs, which have been active since September of 2001, generally focus their attacks on Unix-style systems.
NASA's Web sites, overall, held up well Saturday in the wake of the Columbia tragedy.
Keynote Systems, Inc., an Internet performance monitor, reports that NASA's Web site, which had just been completely redesigned, suffered only minor availability problems the day of the crash. NASA's Web site slowed by a factor of four between 10 a.m. and noon, a period shortly after the shuttle exploded.
In comparison, an hour after the explosion, Internet performance in the U.S. sagged briefly as people around the world rushed to the Internet for information about the tragedy, according to Keynote Systems. For a few hours after the shuttle was lost, downloads at the Web site for the White House took twice as long, although there were no availability problems.