Skip to comments.Astronauts doomed from the start
Posted on 02/02/2003 6:35:58 PM PST by TLBSHOW
Astronauts doomed from the start
THE seven astronauts on space shuttle Columbia may have been doomed in the first moments after they were shot into space 16 days ago.
NASA officials are investigating whether loose foam from an external tank that struck Columbia's left wing during takeoff contributed to its disintegration under the stress of re-entering the Earth's atmosphere one of the most dangerous parts of any shuttle mission. The last words between mission control at Houston and shuttle commander Rick Husband gave no clue of impending disaster:
Mission control: "Columbia, Houston, we see your tyre pressure messages and we did not copy your last."
Cdr Husband: "Roger, but . . ." No more was heard.
The homeward-bound space shuttle broke up in flames and trails of smoke and vapour over Texas yesterday, killing all seven astronauts aboard.
The disaster struck 16 minutes before Columbia, the oldest in the shuttle fleet at 22 years, was due to land at Cape Canaveral in Florida. Echoing the tragedy of space shuttle Challenger, which stunned the world 17 years last week, Columbia exploded at an altitude of about 63km as it was travelling 18 times the speed of sound.
The explosion scattered debris and human remains across hundreds of square kilometres in Texas and Louisiana and shook houses in the area around Nacogdoches, Texas.
Police in Hemphill, eastern Texas, said human remains believed to be from the crew of Columbia had been recovered.
"I can confirm human remains from the space shuttle Columbia have been found in the debris," Hemphill police spokeswoman Karen Steele said, declining to elaborate.
A burnt torso and thigh bone were found on a Texan country road while elsewhere a scorched helmet and arm patch from one of the space suits were discovered.
In a televised address to the nation, an emotional President George W. Bush paid homage to the astronauts, saying, "The crew of the shuttle Columbia did not return safely to earth but we can pray that they are safely home".
The sparse information NASA had yesterday seemed to point to failures on the craft's left side.
Sensors on the shuttle's left wing and in the left wheel gear detected a sudden temperature increase or failure minutes before the vehicle exploded 63km over Texas as it flew at more than 20,000km/h.
NASA had concluded only two days ago there was no serious damage to the tiles, but was uncertain last night.
"As we look at that now in hindsight we cannot discount that there might be a connection," stunned shuttle manager Ron Dittemore said.
Investigators have all but ruled out terrorism as a cause because the shuttle's high altitude and extreme speed effectively put it out of range of an attack from the ground.
Officials are focusing on the extent of damage sustained during take-off.
Experts said many other malfunctions could have destroyed the shuttle during re-entry, when a cocoon of hot plasma envelops the spacecraft.
Columbia's underside and the leading edges of its wings would have been subjected to some of the highest temperatures during re-entry up to 1650C as friction from air rushing by heated its surface, experts said.
During this critical period, computers control the shuttle's angle of descent as it flies with its nose pointed about 40 degrees upward; the slightest deviation from the ideal orientation can expose underprotected parts of the vessel, causing it to burn up.
The shuttle's chief defences against an inferno are about 28,000 heat-resistant tiles attached to its vulnerable aluminium exterior. Experts have worried about the tiles' tendency to break off during flights since the earliest days of experimental test flights.
Relatives of the astronauts six Americans and an Israeli watched in horror while waiting at Cape Canaveral's VIP area to welcome their loved ones.
Residents in Texas, Louisiana and Alabama reported hearing the explosion as the shuttle fell apart at more than 18 times the speed of sound.
Bob Molter from Palestine, Texas, said he had seen the shuttle break up in the sky.
"There was a big boom that shook the house for more than a minute, and I went outside because I thought there had been a train accident," he said.
"I looked up and saw the trails of smoke zig-zagging, going across the sky."
Thousand of pieces of debris landed over vast areas of Texas and Louisiana which experts said may take years to find. People were warned not to touch any wreckage because it might be contaminated with toxic propellants.
President George W. Bush rushed to the White House from where he described the disaster in a televised address as a national tragedy.
"The Columbia is lost. There are no survivors," he said, before later ordering all flags be flown at half-mast.
The crew, six of whom were married and five of whom had children, were relatively inexperienced. Only three had flown in space before.
NASA has ruled out human error.
These folks at NASA are no more above suspicion than the people we've had at the CIA, for example.
Does anyone REALLY think that CIA employees are a risky bunch, but NASA folks aren't?
I suggest that given enough scratch--which al-Qa'ida, Saddam, and the Saudi Arabian oligarchy, for example, have in great abundance--do you really think it impossible that they could have bought a high-ranking technician who might have fixed things so that Israeli Air Force officer never saw earth again? And our brave crew with him?
Sorry, to me it is no more improbable to consider than that NASA folks in toto were lax and incompetent--again.
I think the great majority of those folks are too conscientious, especially after Challenger, to allow something like this to happen quite by accident.
I have NOTHING to go by than my own tinfoil hat-eligible suspicions, but this is just too coincidental.
A shuttle flight, post-9/11, with Israel's first astronaut, disintegrates on reentry?
Nah, that's just a coincidence...isn't it?
Wow, it was a little bigger than I thought. I thought it was about the size of a small person.
Looks like it was bad from the start. No point in telling the crew and public if there was no way out. The chance for a safe re-entry was still there.
Yeah, I agree. It just would've been a death sentence.
There was no sure way of knowing how much damage there was, once the shuttle was in orbit. Second guessing is all there is. 20-20 hindsight is much clearer.
WRIGHT IS RIGHT! RESPONDED TO KOZAK: "I think you're missing the point. ON THE GROUND, it's a multi-step procedure. In space, on an emergency basis, ANY tile repair is going to be better than bare shuttle aluminum skin. And it could easily be cut-n-paste. Anything to improve the chances of getting home." KOZAK RESPONDED: Really? You know this for a fact? What type of adhesive do they use in the vacumm and temperature extremes of space? Duct tape? You think you are MORE informed then the engineers and techs at NASA? You think that they haven't studied this in the past? EVERYTHING is SO EASY from the couch and in retrospect....
The black heat-shield material would ALREADY BE GLUED to the styrofoam AS USUAL. The only step needed to be acomplished by the crew in space is cutting the already-coated styrofoam and then glueing it to the shuttle. I would think that there is some kind of adhesive that could be used in space.
As far as being "MORE informed than the engineers and techs at NASA," I am not an engineer and I don't purport to be one. I do, however, "think-out-of-the-box," which according to what happened on the Apollo 13 mission, the "engineers" were pretty poor at "thinking-out-of-the-box." It seemed to be a strain for them to come up with a way to make the contraption work. I FREQUENTLY come up with creative, "thinking-out-of-the-box" ways to accomplish things.
P.S. The Doctor just came in and we're breaking outta here right now!!! Finally, after a WEEK!
It would be like looking for viles of smallpox, or another weaponized bio agent in Iraq.
Engineers tend to want to "do things right." Engineers abhor slapdash solutions and will usually reject any solution that doesn't come with a guarantee of engineering elegance and permanency. But when you're out there with missing tiles, bare aluminum skin and your own neck on the line, you TAKE the inelegant solution because it keeps you from cremation.
So the engineers will naturally tend to reject any repair idea that isn't as good as a ground-applied tile. That's just their mindset. They are also, unfortunately, huge disciples of the Not Done Here Theory - it can't be good because we didn't think of it.
Thanks for the credit Jael, that was admirable on your part to take the time to link to my original post, but you did the most thorough job. Giving credit for "first source" isn't something the mass media often does, especially when they get their story ideas from sites like FreeRepublic!
I consider the Greg Katnik NASA article finding a group effort, starting with Prov1322's initial post Very close-up, slo-mo of the Columbia launch debris. which caught my attention and started my initial research (flash video no longer up unfortunately), through the far more excellent detailed posts you have made in this thread. [By the way, I have discovered that the reason you couldn't reach my link to NASA engineer Greg Katnick's article "Working on a Tile Damage Mystery (in which significant tile damage due to external tank insulation debris was found on Columbia's flight STS-87 in late 1997) was because I accidently linked to his bio instead of the article, which you fortunately managed to find again yourself and post in this thread. Interestingly, I first found the alternate link you posted in this thread, http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/2121/used_news.htm, but searched a little more to find the "official" nasa link. We must both use Google.]
So, WE Freepers broke this story about Katnick's NASA article first, on 2/1/2003 on Freerepublic at http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/834139/posts?page=54#54.
As best as I can tell, this did not make the major news until the following two articles:
* Orlando Sentinel's Bob Shaw and Michael Cabbage wrote the article Foam chunks a problem since 1981. This was posted at www.orlandosentinel.com on Monday, 2/3/2003, however the same article with the title Fuel-tank insulation capable of causing `incredible damage' is at www.centredaily.com, a PA newspaper, with the post date 2/2/2003.
* John Kelly's 2/3/2003 Florida Today article NASA's debris experts have been working on foam issue for years . This was posted at Freerepublic by McGruff at http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/835049/posts.
Since that time, a Google news search shows Katnik's name all over the place, this story is really spreading. On 2/4/2003, The NY Times James Glanz and Edward Wong's article " '97 Report Warned of Foam Damaging Tiles-Absence of Freon Led to Detachment of Foam" also fell in line to make Greg Katnik a bit famous, as kattracks posted a link to at http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/835505/posts.
But remember, we posted it here at FreeRepublic first!.
In my original post, I noted that Katnick had written an article. It was on a NASA educational site for students, and its obvious its the same source the big guys used -did they get it from FreeRepublic, or did they do their own search?; The news guys turned it into a "report," and the Orlando Sentinel provided this clarification just yesterday, 1/4/2003:
The NASA engineer credited with writing a sharply critical 1997 report about damage to heat-resistant tiles on the space shuttle Columbia said Monday that the report had actually been ghostwritten by another NASA writer.
But Greg Katnik, a shuttle engineer who led the team that inspected the Columbia in December 1997, stood by the accuracy of the report. The report said more than 300 of the shuttle's fragile tiles had been damaged by foam insulation that fell off its external fuel tank during liftoff from Kennedy Space Center.
The report, which summarized a formal 76-page inspection analysis that Katnik had submitted to NASA, also said that more than 100 of Columbia's tiles had to be replaced and called the damage to the shuttle "significant."
But Katnik, a 20-year employee of Kennedy Space Center, said his formal analysis had been summarized and "embellished" by a NASA writer for NASA Quest, an agency-run Web site aimed at schoolchildren.
"I don't write that way either for kids or adults," he said. "I think he [the writer] was trying to make it dramatic for the kids.
"It wasn't meant to sound that dire," he added.
Katnik pointed to passages on the Web site describing a "massive" loss of insulating foam from the external fuel tank.
He said the NASA ghostwriter had accurately summarized the facts in his report -- which was not filed until February 1998 -- but had made the language more conversational. For example, his conclusion that the number of damaged tiles was "out of family" was changed to read, "the extent of the damage at the conclusion of this mission was not 'normal.' "
He said the NASA writer had turned his customarily "dry" technical language into something "that is more or less a detective story." It was intended to be an example of "how engineering is used to detect and fix a problem," he said.
The report was first cited in a story in Monday's Orlando Sentinel. The newspaper's attempts to reach him for comment Sunday had been unsuccessful.
On Monday, after receiving numerous calls from reporters, Katnik was given clearance by his NASA supervisors to answer questions.
Anthony Colarossi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-6218
Keep it up.
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