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Space Shuttle Columbia Breaks Up Over Texas

If you haven't heard already, the Columbia broke up this morning east of Dallas while coming in for a landing in Florida.

Google News has stories as they come in from various web sites.

http://news.google.com/

CNN also has a story up.

All seven crew members are lost and the cause of the accident is unknown at this time.

Update 15:24 MST

NASA has put up a page about the Columbia with crew biographies and an overview of the STS-107 mission.

http://www.nasa.gov/columbia.html

Space.com is also posting regular updates about the Columbia disaster.

http://www.space.com/

[ This Message was edited by: moderator on 2003-02-01 15:40 ]

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Space Shuttle Columbia Breaks Up Over Texas

God Bless Those Lost Today, God Bless The Family's Of Those Lost, a said day in American history... but....We shall rise bigger and better, That's because we are America.... All of our gains, come with a price and sometimes that price is the ultimate price, Life ..... God Bless Their Brave Soles ! Mark Luce

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Space Shuttle Columbia Breaks Up Over Texas

My prayers go out to all the friends and families of the shuttle crew.
Wade Rhodenizer

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Space Shuttle Columbia Breaks Up Over Texas

Pretty sad... I watched the press conference yesterday afternoon it sounds like a lot of NASA folks are pretty tight-knit. The loss of the Columbia really took the wind out of some of the NASA people holding the conference.

I would hate to have been on the committee that OK'd the return flight based on the analysis of the piece of insulation that bonked the left wing during ascent. There will be a lot of second guessing in the weeks to come.

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Space Shuttle Columbia Breaks Up Over Texas

I've been to a course that teaches crash investigation, and even investigated one in the field. I don't envy the investigation team's task on this one, given the fact that it broke up at 207k feet doing mach 18. You can learn far more than you might think from wreckage, provided you can recover it. That could be a problem in this case.

One of the first things wreckage will tell you is how the aircraft came apart. If an aircraft breaks up in flight, the first components to come off (generally close to the cause) fall first, with some exceptions due to differences in weight. So if they start finding wing components in CA, AZ, or NM, that should tell you something.

Believe it or not, it's possible to identify an in-flight fire vs post-flight fire from burn and melt patterns. So even though things burned up, investigators may be able to separate pre-breakup heat damage from post-breakup heat damage. Another more obvious example from the jet world is that it's possible to tell how fast a jet engine was turning when it hit water by the way the fan blades are bent. Gauge needles leave imprints on faces at impact; you can even tell which indicator lights were lit in the cockpit at impact because hot bulb filaments break differently than cold ones. But you have to have wreckage to be able to do any kind of forensic investigation.

One thing in their favor, though, is the fact that the shuttle is one of the most monitored pieces of equipment in existence, and telemetry will tell them more than a black box would on an airliner. I suspect telemetry will tell them what they need to know, provided they find a smoking gun in the wreckage to verify it.

On an interesting note, the Israeli onboard was one of the pilots that flew an 8-ship F-16 raid to destroy Iraq's Osirak nuclear power plant in 1981.

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Space Shuttle Columbia Breaks Up Over Texas

Quote:


One thing in their favor, though, is the fact that the shuttle is one of the most monitored pieces of equipment in existence, and telemetry will tell them more than a black box would on an airliner.

Which is why it was interesting that little was said in the first press conference about the sensor data. The flight deck manager and the shuttle program manager, simply read their notes and wasn't until questioning by the press that they stated more. When both of the gentlemen came out they initally said that hydraulic temp sensors went dead, then tire pressure sensors went dead, then structure tempeture sensors went dead in the left wing. They stated that this did not raise alarms because sensor failures happen. Fair enough.

But then a journalist asked "What is the frequency with which these sensors fail and did this at any point raise alarm?"

Then the shuttle manager responsed something to the effect of: Well after the hydraulic tempature sensors failed we traced it back and noted that this was systemic, meaning that the sensors failing were on different circuits and this did raise some alarms.

Now it came out today that earlier in the descent the data shows drag going up on the left wing.

Not even trying to suggest there is a cover up at all, simply that given real time data aquisition (and the amount of sensors) NASA probably know quite a bit more than they are saying right now.

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Space Shuttle Columbia Breaks Up Over Texas

I guarantee you that somebody in Houston looked at what was going on and said "Oh, ****!" Granted, sensors fail, but when they cascade like that something's definitely wrong.

In NASA's defense, you don't want to go to the press with things until it's absolutely nailed down with complete certainty. In today's talking head world, any info released will be scrutinized, so it better be right. If you have to go back later and retract a statement, you sacrifice the public's confidence in the investigation.

You're right, though -- there's a lot going on in mission control. Yet the workload is parceled out into systems. Abnormal readings get attenton. What nobody's saying is that it probably wouldn't have made a difference. The indications occurred after the de-orbital burn when they were entering the atmosphere. So what if an engineer comes up and says, "Hey, boss, it looks like the left wing's coming apart..."? What could they do? Do you tell the crew that their heat shield is failing and they'll likely disintegrate in the next 7 minutes? It's not like they could turn around and go back.

To me the inexcusable part is looking at video of an object hitting the shuttle at T+60 and staking the lives of seven people on the decision that it's insignificant without even trying to check it out. I've seen what birds can do to aircraft at far lower speeds. Sure, they didn't have a robotic arm to look. For all I know they didn't have suits to go outside, either (may want to re-think that one). But there were people at the ISS that could've looked, if it was possible to sacrifice part of the mission to attempt a rendezvous.

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Space Shuttle Columbia Breaks Up Over Texas

Yeah, I bet a big sinking feeling developed in more than a few flight engineers stomaches when they found out the sensors were unrelated in circuitry and starting to cascade. Pretty sad, an accident unfolding in front your monitors but nothing you can do.

I agree with your defense on NASA, it just seemed they were doing a bad job of holding back what they knew. Of course, I probably wouldn't have done much better.

I was disappointed too in the Shuttle Managers response on why they didn't take telescope photos of the underside of the wing. He basically said "Well if it was damaged there was nothing we could do anyway". True, the Columbia might not have been salvagable, but at least the crew could have been brought down by some other means.

An interesting note was that from day one they had reports of debris in CA and a journalist on Saturday asked the Shuttle Manager how he felt about these reports. Dittmore swore it off as simply reports of people seeing normal "high temp plasma" (presumably caused by changes in the airs refractive index at high temp) around the shuttle and mistaking it for debris. Furthermore, he noted that if stuff was falling off as far back as CA that he would have known about it from sensor data. Now they are saying they have found debris in CA....

For record, I think we should ditch human space flight until we can get it down pat with robots. Humans are too costly and errors are too painful. Carl Sagan made a nice case for un-manned space exploration in "Pale Blue Dot".

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Space Shuttle Columbia Breaks Up Over Texas

We were duck hunting that morning. We saw it coming across the sky as a big fire ball, then break into 3 or 4 larger pieces.

We had no idea what it was until we got back home and watched the news report......they showed exactly what we hd seen.

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Space Shuttle Columbia Breaks Up Over Texas

ARMallardSlayer what did you think the big fireball was at the time?

I guess if I had been out in the field and happen to notice it, I might think it was a plane or perhaps a large meteor.

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Space Shuttle Columbia Breaks Up Over Texas

That's what we thought of.......then we started wondering in a comet was due to be seen. I remember watching the other comet while we were bowfishing at night.

I asked if the shuttle was in the air on that day, but no one knew. Too bad that's what it was.....

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