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.
All I'm saying is that many will accept no other explanation, even if the investigation proves that any such damage was minor and noncontributory to the root cause of the crash.
If so, how, in your theory?
FWIW, I know NOTHING about any of it, but wonder if, despite the security, there was not sabotage involved long before the shuttle lifted off.
The probability is remote, but given the Israeli on board I can't get it out of my mind.
Highly doubtful. I think the explanations offered by NASA so far are reasonable: that security prior to launch was adequate to prevent any onboard sabotage, and that at the time of the accident, the shuttle was too high and traveling too fast to have been attacked from an external source.
If so, how, in your theory?
I have no personal "theory".
While I am just as interested in learning of the cause as is everybody else, I'm also resigned to the fact that a thorough investigation and analysis is going to take quite some time. I see no reason to engage in speculation or jump to premature conclusions.
The Shuttle was in a 57 degree left bank (as part of its entry flight attitude procedures known as the Roll Schedule, I am given to understand), meaning it was rolled along its center line axis with left wing low, and right wing high.
A staggered series of sensor failures and reading anomalies occurred; sensors intended to measure the temperature of the airframe (not the surface of the airframe) indicated 45 degrees higher on the left than right, sides.
There was indication of a left elevon above normal which caused the Shuttle to roll further to the left.
The Shuttle autopilot attempted a corrective roll to the right.
Thereabouts in the timeline, the temperature and pressure sensors for the left in-board and left out-board main landing gear tires, quit, ie. as they say, "went off-scale low."
That prompted the Shuttle's computers to alert the flight crew. Mission Control asked the crew if they saw the message on their displays. The Shuttle Commander began a response, promptly interrupted by we don't know what ... near the top of the hour.
And we do not yet know what initially caused the deterioration of the left wing.
Can someone explain to me if it would be possible to break into NASA's computer and cause the Columbia to re-entere at the wrong angle and burn in the atmosphere? The more explanations I hear on television, the more I wonder what are the chances that the first time NASA has lost astronauts on re-entry had to be when the israeli astronaut was on board!
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