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What NASA rejected early in Columbia probe now back on table
Ha'aretz Daily ^ | 2/20/03 | AP - Space Center, Houston

Posted on 02/19/2003 10:10:50 PM PST by NormsRevenge

SPACE CENTER, Houston - In the days after Columbia's destruction, NASA
officials made their case: The foam couldn't have caused that kind of damage. It wasn't ice or metal that flew off the fuel tank. The left wing was not breached.

All that - and more - is back on the table and under the microscope, now that an investigation board is calling the shots.

In the period since Columbia shattered 38 miles (61 kilometers) above Texas, both NASA managers and board members have cautioned that the investigation is in continual flux, with new information turning up all the time. On Wednesday, NASA said the shuttle's nose landing gear was found in the east Texas woods.

But it is the board that has emphasized that everything is under
consideration, no matter how seemingly irrelevant or obscure or unimaginable.

The fact that the accident investigation board has put NASA's discarded
theories back on the table is "a combination of being thorough and being
independent," said NASA's Steve Nesbitt, who is temporarily serving as the board spokesman.

The 10-member board - soon to gain a new member or two - is being scrutinized for signs of independence because it was chosen by NASA. "The board wants to make sure every base is covered," Nesbitt said Wednesday.
"They're not going to take NASA's word that everything is OK in a particular area."

For example:
* After first considering damage to Columbia's heat-protecting tiles by the foam insulation falling off the fuel tank during launch, shuttle program manager Ron Dittemore soon ruled it out: "It just does not make sense to us that a piece of debris would be the root cause for the loss of Columbia and its crew," Dittemore said. "There's got to be another reason." He later softened that. But now with the board members in control, the foam appears to be a central focus.

* Agency officials at first said it was doubtful any large chunk of ice formed on the fuel tank and broke off. Dittemore also said the foam insulation was "essentially waterproof; it does not absorb moisture," and thus could not contain ice. He also dismissed any other substance besides the foam. "We do not believe it was any metal... and so I don't believe there's any chance that it was hardware." Now the board wonders if the debris was ice, foam with ice, or the heavy insulating layer beneath the foam.

* NASA quickly discounted the age of its oldest space shuttle, which had been flying for 22 years. On Tuesday, the board promised to look into whether the age of the regularly refurbished spacecraft might have played a role.

* Officials more or less dismissed the notion that space debris could have brought down Columbia. But it is on the board's list of possible causes.

* NASA said a breach in Columbia's left wing was unlikely given the surge in temperatures that was detected. "I have no breach," Dittemore said. But the board concluded that the wing had to have been penetrated by the superheated gases surrounding the descending spaceship, and the breach had to have been bigger than a pinhole. How much bigger is still unclear.

* Even sabotage, a notion that is anathema to NASA, is not being ruled out for the flight that carried Israel's first astronaut, Ilan Ramon. "I don't like to use the word sabotage. But among the broad investigation that we're conducting, purposeful or willful damage is one of the things that we're looking at," the board's chairman, retired Navy Adm. Harold Gehman Jr., said Tuesday.

As for the hole in the wing, it could have developed inside or outside
Columbia, the board said. Gehman said it's possible the explosive charges
inside the left landing gear compartment may have gone off. Again, NASA
dismissed that idea early on.

Steven Schneider, professor of aeronautics and astronautics at Purdue
University said human nature means that even experts sometimes interpret data in a way they like. He fears that may have happened with the in-house engineering analysis into the potential damage from the impact of tank debris during liftoff.

Within a week, NASA and its contractor engineers had concluded that the damage to Columbia's thermal protective layer, if any, was minimal and posed no safety threat. Shuttle managers signed off on the findings five days before the shuttle ended its science mission and headed home. That entire evaluation is now being redone, in excruciating detail.

TOPICS: Foreign Affairs; Government; Israel; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: columbia; nasa; probe; rejected; shuttle; sts107; table

1 posted on 02/19/2003 10:10:50 PM PST by NormsRevenge
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To: NormsRevenge
NASA never "rejected" any explanation. They said they couldn't explain how the foam could have caused the damage.

Of course, the tinfoil types can't understand the distinction ...

2 posted on 02/19/2003 10:13:33 PM PST by jlogajan
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To: snopercod; NormsRevenge
Dittemore also said the foam insulation was "essentially waterproof; it does not absorb moisture" ...

Weren't we given to understand that this guy knows where the battery is under the hood?

Absorbtion is not required to have a foam-ice compound.

3 posted on 02/19/2003 10:18:05 PM PST by First_Salute
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To: NormsRevenge
"It just does not make sense to us that a piece of debris would be the root cause for the loss of Columbia and its crew..."

"...Why,..that would be just....just absolutely unDIGnified."

4 posted on 02/19/2003 10:24:10 PM PST by guitfiddlist
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To: First_Salute
particle beam shot to the shuttle... over China or Eastern Russia...

at 22000 mph... the parts would have started flying off visibly about 500 miles west of California.

pass my tinfoil... I am hearing the "voices" now....
5 posted on 02/20/2003 12:02:01 AM PST by Robert_Paulson2 (clintonsgotusbytheballs?)
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To: Robert_Paulson2
6 posted on 02/20/2003 12:02:45 AM PST by Robert_Paulson2
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To: Robert_Paulson2
I've got what I think is a new twist. I'm having trouble dealing with a problem that first shows up very near the beginning of the aero heating and yet the Columbia lasts almost all the way until the end of aero heating about 7 minutes later.

The only explaination I can come with is that the initial breach was very small and grew slowly and in away that didn't damage the structure quickly.

I think the intial breach was no more than a half inch or so in the RCC leading edge. The breach had to be well outboard of the wheel well on the left side and just under the leading edge. The first sensors to go were farther out and back on the wing. There wiring runs out along the wing where they can be burned long before the wires along the wheel well were burned.

The wing is traveling at about a 40 degree of attack, so a breach on the leading edge bottom would hit the leading edge bulkhead near its top edge and burn through. The breach itself would grow slowly due to it's edges burning. Hot gases are now running inside the top surface of the wing, softning the aluminum skin, and damaging the RTV bonding the upper tiles. Top surface tiles start peeling off, not the bottom surface. This is the early debris. Extra heating also noted on the body above the wing from a blow through.

As the RSS breach grows larger and the plama stream changes direction from the roll reversals, other sensors start failing, temperatures raise. The wing is losing structural strength in its top surface and eventually folds back and comes off altogether, the shuttle tumbles and major parts fly off everywhere.

The idea is a small entrance wound, but a large exit one.

7 posted on 02/20/2003 12:07:13 AM PST by John Jamieson
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To: John Jamieson
My initial reaction (IANANASAE) was the possibly the heat from re-entry somehow breached the landing gear compartment. One or more of the landing gear tires exploded. End of mission.
8 posted on 02/20/2003 12:13:12 AM PST by Freedom4US
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To: John Jamieson
I'm glad you are around to keep an eye on this investigation for interested Freepers.

What is you take on Dittemore? Based on some earlier threads and especially the one about undocumented repairs to reusable booster rockets, I think there is a possibility that the shortcuts taken will lead to upper management, and maybe even to Dittemore. Dittemore's initial totally discounting the foam issue with no accompanying explanation as to why caused me to get suspicious.
9 posted on 02/20/2003 12:19:56 AM PST by connectthedots
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To: connectthedots
I like Dittemore and thought he was totally honest in his evaluations. He'll probably be fired for his honesty.
10 posted on 02/20/2003 2:24:10 AM PST by John Jamieson
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To: Freedom4US
I think we're looking for the root cause here. Tires ain't it.
11 posted on 02/20/2003 2:25:25 AM PST by John Jamieson
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To: John Jamieson

Agreed re: Dittemore, a man in a very difficult position.

Your comments re: small breech or hole in wing are right on, I am afraid.

The temperature rises sensed and reported by sensors weren't that rapid, yet significant, IMO... and ensuing damage to control and structural was fatal.

I'm not sure about burn-thru of the wing from front and out back occurring.

Do the many sounds recorded during disintegration possibly include pyro detonation concussive signature and when with respect to loss of craft?

Thanks for all the info.

12 posted on 02/20/2003 7:45:56 AM PST by NormsRevenge (Semper Fi)
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To: John Jamieson
Glad to hear you have such high regard for Dittemore. On your qappraisal of him, and until I hear something from you that is differennt, I will assume he will get to the bottom of this situation and hold those who might need it, accountable.
13 posted on 02/20/2003 12:28:52 PM PST by connectthedots
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