Skip to comments.Flawed NASA Culture Blamed for Columbia Disaster
Posted on 08/26/2003 7:46:45 AM PDT by Fali_G
WASHINGTON A flawed NASA culture is to blame for the Columbia shuttle disaster, according to a detailed, 200-plus-page report released Tuesday.
Earlier Tuesday, NASA (search) leaders were bracing for a storm of criticism.
"The report is going to be embarrassing," physics professor Robert Park of the University of Maryland told Fox News.
Space shuttle Columbia broke into pieces on Feb. 1 upon return into the atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts aboard.
Members of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (search) completed the report late last week after spending seven months probing the technical facts of the space tragedy and interviewing scores of engineers and other space workers to attach the fundamental blame.
"The language is frank and direct and there may be some surprises," John Logsdon, a CAIB board member, said Monday.
Sean O'Keefe (search), who heads the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, warned space workers earlier this summer that they should prepare themselves for a report that will be "really ugly" as it outlines flawed engineering decisions that led to the destruction of Columbia as it returned to Earth following a 16-day mission.
O'Keefe said Monday that the report "is going to have no fuzz on it, no gloves. It is going to be straightforward." To prop up morale, the NASA administrator said he was telling space workers "we need to not be defensive about that and try to not take it as a personal affront."
Retired Navy Adm. Harold W. Gehman Jr., the CAIB chairman, said about half of the report would deal with management and engineering decisions that failed to prevent the accident. Included was an analysis of flaws in NASA traditions and processes that might have contributed, according to those familiar with the report.
"There has been a subtle change at NASA," Park told Fox, adding that in the control room at the time of the accident he'd been told that "there were no NASA employees. It was all contractors."
Lawmakers are now faced with the decision of what to do about NASA's funding and whether the space shuttle program should go on. Astronauts and family members of the seven who died aboard Columbia say that in spite of the dangers, they want the shuttle to keep flying.
"There are a lot of things that are worth risking your life for," Apollo astronaut Walter Cunningham told Fox News.
Most of the work of the investigation board has been in the open, with members conducting frequent public hearings and news conferences. Gehman followed his plan of releasing information as it became known and the board weeks ago announced its "working scenario" of the physical facts of Columbia's loss.
The board concluded that Columbia came apart because there was a break in a heat shield panel on the craft's left wing. The friction heat of re-entry, soaring to 3,000 degrees, penetrated the wing and shattered the craft.
Tests suggested that the heat shield was broken by a lightweight chunk of foam insulation that ripped off the shuttle's external fuel tank and smashed the wing at high speed during launch.
Although the foam impact was captured on film, engineers evaluating the issue concluded it represented no threat to the spacecraft. Managers did not ask for spy satellite pictures that could have given information on the damage even though some lower-level engineers requested it.
The conclusions came after the 13-member board examined the key parts of some 84,000 pieces of the shuttle, including an on-board data recorder, that were recovered by thousands of workers who spent weeks scouring forest lands in Texas and Louisiana. Experts on the board used sensor data signals and charred remnants to trace the searing path of re-entry heat that tore through Columbia's wing and melted it from the inside.
To test their theory, members of the board directed experiments that fired chunks of foam insulation at a mock-up of the space shuttle wing. One high-speed collision smashed a 16-inch hole and some board members called it "the smoking gun" of Columbia's destruction.
During its investigation, the CAIB issued preliminary recommendations that NASA should follow before returning to space. These included developing a way to repair damaged heat shield panels while the shuttle is in orbit, improved photos of the craft during launch, the routine use of pictures of orbiting space shuttles taken by some of the nation's spy satellites, and a sharper system of inspections to detect flawed or failing parts.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Wasting taxpayers' money must be one of them.
There are times when I just want to rip a reporter's lungs out. This report should be a major embarassment to NASA employees, but the management structure and "some" engineers, their lack of professional attention to the matter of the foam strikes on the shuttle are the problem here, not the rank and file NASA employees.
We have a serious issue here. Instead of talking about it in adult terms, we see this nitwit reference "space workers", a term clearly used to place the whole of NASA into an admired untouchable group, almost angelic and clearly incapable of being judged too harshly should the report actually warrant it.
These are NASA employees. That's the way we have referenced them for thirty years, or at least since the name change, whenever that took place. That's the way they should be referenced here. No need to coin a new manipulative term.
Already this morning I've seen reference to the families of the lost crew, saying above all else they support the continued presence of men in space. Well shezam, there's a news flash. This isn't about that. This is about making sure people are held accountable for their negligence and the example is set so that this level of complacence never again costs the lives of seven "space workers".
The manipulators will be out in full force today.
The problem with NASA is so large it is hard to explain it.
They don't design spacecraft, they design artillery and man-rate it. Over the last thirty years, every failed effort from NASA has followed that paradigm.
Their greatest failure has been the inability to be the catalyst for a thriving space industry. Instead they have been a wet blanket.
The Challenger and Columbia accidents are but two symptoms of a bureaucracy in its dotage.
You win again!
All roads lead back to r12, which the original foam & it's adhesive was based on(a known perfect product was replaced by a known inferior product to support the Freon scam, end of story...., or maybe a beginning?)
Or in the Warren Commission;
"...use the whole bottle, damn it!
The stress on a shuttle airframe is much less than on your typical airliner, since the shuttle is not pressurized. The airframe will basically last forever.
Better technology might be a reason to retire the shuttles, but so far, nobody has invented any.
Contractors are temp employees hired and fired for one specific job. All the other reasons are secondary to an employee pool that works "on call" and knows exactly when they will be fired.
Nasa's use of this tactic for their employee pool has destroyed any hope for morale, commaraderie or quality control among their workers. Contractors do nothing more then required because of the short lifespan of their employment. And to raise concerns of possible malfunction or unsafe practice could and usually does shorten even further their time of employment.
Been there, saw it first hand while machining shuttle parts outsourced to private firms around the space coast. Nasa saves big bucks on payroll, equipment and employee benfits but has alienated their entire employee pool that do everything and anything for income while waiting for NASA's call to return.
It gets well over 200 degrees and cares a great deal when enough of those tiles come off. The tiles were a neat concept but someone should have been given a moment of pause when they saw how easily a pencil can go through them. Ablative shielding may have been old school, but it worked, was durable and didn't cost a fortune.
The shuttle should have been a stepping stone that they there should have only been two of. Once they saw that the costs and turn around time was so high they should have said "Okay, we leaned a lot from this, now lets take what we've learned move on to the next level."
The shuttle was a good concept that the agency and politicians clung to for way too long.
Not couple of years. China says it will put man in space this year. We believe this, oddly, is good thing.
towards the end of the last century!
(Triumph the insult comedy dog style delivery)
I always suspected billandboris simply split the money and had a good laugh at the taxpayer's expense.
Anyone know if that has changed?
NASA cannot build what Congress won't fund.
Well...I'm looking for something apart from the 'Plasma eat the wing out from the inside' thingy...and behold it appeared.
It appear in comment for less than 10 seconds..and at the last minute of the video...interesting.
What was this **important point..that NASA included..yet seem to slide it in sideways with some smoke so the viewer would not notice before final credits started rolling.
The 10 second comment...."Columbias RCS packs failed...Columbia tumbled..and came apart"
On several Columbia threads on FR..myself posted history problems with the RCS packs..and possible failure of **This aspect..being more the reason Columbia disintergrated..over the wing burn.
On several previous STS missions..significant RCS thruster failures occured ..bypasses were effected from cockpit...in one case..a failure occured in an STS mission 2002 During final status check prior to de orbit burn cycle.
The earliest know "off nominal" external event during Columbia's reentry occurred at 13:51:19 GMT. After this the reentry flight was plagued by ever increasing off nominal yaw and roll aero-moments. The shuttle attempted to correct these errors using the RCS. The basic operation of the OMS and RCS are described in figures A7 thru A12. Fig. A5 Fig. A5 details the off nominal roll and yaw trend from the first event to LOS. Fig. A6 lists all of the RCS jet firings for the same time period. Fig. A5 indicates that there was a significant increase in both the roll and yaw moment after the 13:56:00 point. The roll moment appears to go positive causing the shuttle to roll to the right while the yaw moment goes negative causing the shuttle to turn towards the left. Fig. A6 also shows a tremendous increase in RCS jet firings after the 13:56:00 point as well. However, the increase in RCS jet firings does not appear to be in an effort to correct the yaw and roll moments that were happening. Only the left and right RCS yaw jets were firing and only in an alternating sequence for about the same duration. The only real attempt to correct the negative yaw moment was at the end when the right hand RCS jets began firing continuously until it appears the RCS engines failed. Event Time (GMT) Duration (Sec.) RCS Thruster Remarks 1 13:51:45.38 0.24 L2L Earliest known off nominal external events detected by remote sensors 2 13:51:45.36 0.24 L3L Earliest known off nominal external events detected by remote sensors 3 13:52:08 - R2R Jet firing occurs during data loss (See Fig. A3 Event 6) 4 13:52:08 - R3R Jet firing occurs during data loss (See Fig. A3 Event 6) 5 13:52:24 - R2R Jet firing occurs during data loss (See Fig. A3 Events 7, 8 and 9) 6 13:52:32 - R3R Jet firing occurs during data loss (See Fig. A3 Events 7, 8 and 9) 7 13:54:33 0.24 R3R Orbiter envelope brightens for approximately 0.3 sec. 8 13:54:33 0.24 R2R Orbiter envelope brightens for approximately 0.3 sec. 9 13:56:17.28 0.24 R3R Left main gear brake line temperature rise. 10 13:56:17.30 0.24 R2R Left main gear brake line temperature rise. 11 13:56:17.52 0.24 R3R Left main gear brake line temperature rise. 12 13:56:17.54 0.24 R2R Left main gear brake line temperature rise. 13 13:56:54.71 - L2L Jet firing occurs during data loss (See Fig. A3 Events 13 and 14) 14 13:57:01.12 - L2L Jet firing occurs during data loss (See Fig. A3 Events 13 and 14) 15 13:57:46.35 - L2L Jet firing occurs during data loss (See Fig. A3 Events 13 and 14) 16 13:57:53.12 - L2L Jet firing occurs during data loss (See Fig. A3 Events 13 and 14) 17 13:56:54.66 - L3L Jet firing occurs during data loss (See Fig. A3 Events 13 and 14) 18 13:57:01.07 - L3L Jet firing occurs during data loss (See Fig. A3 Events 13 and 14) 19 13:57:46.33 - L3L Jet firing occurs during data loss (See Fig. A3 Events 13 and 14) 20 13:57:53.10 - L3L Jet firing occurs during data loss (See Fig. A3 Events 13 and 14) 21 13:57::43.94 0.48 R2R Left upper wing skin temperature OSL (Off Scale Low) 22 13:57:44.42 0.48 R2R Left upper wing skin temperature OSL (Off Scale Low) 23 13:57:43.92 0.48 R2R Left upper wing skin temperature OSL (Off Scale Low) 24 13:57:44.40 0.48 R2R Left upper wing skin temperature OSL (Off Scale Low) 25 13:59:30.68 7.40 R2R Start of R2R yaw firing 26 13:59:30.68 7.40 R3R Start of R3R yaw firing 13:59:32 LOS (Followed by 32 seconds of additional flight data from the OEX data recorder) 27 13:59:36.80 0.60 R4R Additional jet required to counteract increasing aerodynamic moments 28 13:59:37.30 0.10 R1R Additional jet required to counteract increasing aerodynamic moments 29 13:59:52.114 - - PASS Fault Message L RCS LEAK 30 14:00:01.540 - - PASS Fault Message L RCS LEAK 31 14:00:01.900 - - PASS Fault Message L RCS LEAK 32 14:00:02.654 - - PASS Fault Message L RCS LEAK 33 14:00:03.637 - - PASS Fault Message L RCS PVT Data taken from STS-107-Timeline-Rev15.xls Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS): The shuttles OMS (Orbital Maneuvering System) is used to boost the shuttle into orbit after the ET falls away during launch and ascent and adjust the shuttles inclination in orbit, if necessary. The OMS is also used for braking and maneuvering the shuttle during the deorbit burn procedure. A detailed description of the OMS is contained in, "Shuttle Systems OMS.pdf", from the Kennedy Space Center web site. Fig A7 shows the locations of the left and right OMS engines and the OMS pods. Fig. A8 shows the inner workings of the left OMS pod. The OMS pod also holds the components for the aft portion of the RCS and is then referred to as the OMS / RCS pod. In addition to housing the RCS, if one or both of the OMS engines were to fail, the RCS can make up for the missing OMS thrusters. Reaction Control System (RCS): Upon reentry the shuttle adjusts its attitude, (yaw angle, roll angle and pitch angle), using the RCS (Reaction Control System). From Entry Interface (EI) at 400,000 feet the shuttle controls the yaw, roll and pitch using the RCS thrusters only. The gradual switchover to controlling the air craft using the aerodynamic surfaces is as follows. When the dynamic pressure reaches 10 PSF the ailerons become active and the RCS roll thrusters are deactivated. When the the dynamic pressure becomes 20 PSF the elevons are activated and RCS Pitch thrusters are deactivated. The rudder is activated at Mach 1 and the RCS yaw thrusters are then deactivated. This final step occurs at Mach 1 and 45,000 feet. Yaw Angle, Yaw Rate and Side Slip
Roll Angle Pitch Angle and Angle of Attack
deciphers the OMS / RCS jet firing terminology. The NASA reentry timeline gives the time and duration of OMS / RCS jet firings. When the shuttle is traveling in atmosphere it is difficult to determine how much motion the maneuvering jets provide. In space the jets are good for about 3° of rotation per second of jet firing.
General Purpose Computer (GPC) Failures
Nothing is mentioned in either the STS-107 Timeline or STS-107 Ground Track documents about failures of the General Purpose Computers (GPC's) on board the Columbia. However, based on the intervals of communication interruptions closely related to the events of RCS jet firings during reentry, it can be deduced that the GPC's were failing rapidly. The space shuttle has five general purpose computers that are all identical. Four of the computers are loaded with the same software for guidance, navigation and control. The fifth computer is loaded with software produced by a different company referred to as Backup Flight Software (BFS). This software is only used in the event of loss of control of the orbiter and can be initiated either by another GPC or manually by the pilot. At 13:58:40 GMT the STS-107 Timeline Rev. 15 makes a reference to BFS. This means that by that point, within 14 minutes of Entry Interface (EI), all four of the other GPC's had taken themselves off line due to faulty data readings or other errors. There are no reports of the BFS being used in any previous shuttle mission. When the timeline indicates a communication interruption / data loss, followed closely by a short duration firing of the RCS jets, that is more than likely a computer going offline and another one resetting itself to take over the operations. The following web page from the Kennedy Space Center web site gives a detailed description of the operation of the space shuttles avionics systems, Shuttle Avionics. All five GPC's are located in the forward fuselage and therefore should not have been affected by any damage to the left wing. See page, Overview of the Space Shuttle Orbiter, for locations of GPC's and other critical components.
Events just prior to LOS
*** Article body in whole with diagrams at:
*** Nasa is still not comming clean ...are they.
I'm sorry, but you just don't get it. There IS no next level with today's technology.
Don't you remember the X-33 welfare program for aerospace engineers? They never could make that SSTO concept work, as Werner von Braun could have told them before they pissed away billions of dollars.
If the Shuttle goes, that's the end of the US manned space program - probably forever. We, as a country, don't have the money, we don't have the committment, and more seriously, we don't have the expertise any more. Is the "Beavis and Butthead" generation going to design and build the next generation spacecraft? I don't think so...
The space workers - e.g. contractors - work for a living. NASA is like the officer corps, more worried about promotions and retirement than getting the job done.
I always laughed at the press when I was at KSC. The local press always called us "NASA engineers" when we did something good. But when we screwed up, it was "United Space Alliance engineers".
The media are a bunch of miserable whores. Your best bet is to read the CAIB report yourself and draw your own conclusions. (What I have read so far indicates that it's pretty much a whitewash.)
I'm sorry to report that the following small paragraph in Chapter 3 (1.6Mb .pdf) is the only mention of the change in the foam. (I hope some FReeper can prove me wrong on this, but I can't find any other mention at all).
Throughout the history of the External Tank, factors unrelated to the insulation process have caused foam chemistry changes (Environmental Protection Agency regulations and material availability, for example). The most recent changes resulted from modifications to governmental regulations of chlorofluorocarbons.
...The foam types changed on External Tanks built after External Tank 93, which was used on STS-107, but these changes are beyond the scope of this section.
That's it? Or is there another "section"?
Exactly. Congress wanted the race to the moon. It wasn't JFK's idea, he ran the PR for it. Private space development has been aced out. The White House has never favored manned space development, and until Congress decides to do it, it won't happen. We are, in other words, stuck on this backwater mudball forever.
Of course there isn't. That's because when the shuttle was finished NASA management and the congress-critters made the fatal mistake of saying "Alright, this is good enough."
Don't you remember the X-33 welfare program for aerospace engineers?
I imagine it kinda like the effect on space craft developement that Blondie had when they recorded "Rapture" which is credited with killing disco (should have happened years earlier). Single stage to orbit isn't going to happen with the energy density of current fuels. The best we're going to get is something akin to the X-15 thats strapped under the wing of a B-52.
We, as a country, don't have the money, we don't have the committment, and more seriously, we don't have the expertise any more.
Hell, we never had the expertise. Our space program was imported via Operation Paperclip. Just for laughs, I'd like to see them try to build another Saturn 5. They could even try to reverse engineer it from pieces of ones that were built and never used. I'd bet it couldn't be done in 10 years even if they had a "waste anything but time" budget.
I hinted at this in an earlier post, but if this country is going to have a "space program" that amounts to anything more than sending Tonka Trucks to Mars, on thing has to go....NASA. Incredible things can be done while you are building a monster like NASA, but once it's built, it's a liability.
If our manned space program ends with the shuttle, we may as well mothball them all now and see if we can find a country with money thats sucker enough to buy them. As for the X-33, maybe the Chinese will be able to work the bugs out of the aero spike engine and use them for something.
Magnetic levitation tracks may someday replace the traditional vertical launch pad
A full-scale track proposed by Marshall to be built and operated at Kennedy Space Center would be about 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) long. It would accelerate a spacecraft to about 2 Gs for 9.3 seconds and reach speeds of 400 to 600 m.p.h. (640 to 960 kilometers per hour).
Researchers at Marshall are already testing 50-foot (15-meter) and 400-foot (120-meter) tracks at the center.
Plasma drive allready exists
Boeing builds Zenon [gas] Ion thrusters currently used on satillites. Pulsed Plasma drive is another configuration.
Aero spike mated to magnetic rail launch...not to farfetched.