December 30, 2008

Report Details Last Minutes Of Shuttle Columbia

NASA on Tuesday revealed new details on the failed flight of space shuttle Columbia, which resulted in the deaths of seven astronauts on Feb. 1, 2003.

The report provided a grim depiction of how the craft lost pressure, causing the crew's safety harnesses and helmets to fail. The report showed that even if they had worked properly, the crewmembers would have had no chance of surviving the winds, shock waves and other extreme conditions in the upper atmosphere.

"Clearly the accident was not survivable under any circumstances, but (the report) will probably help for designing things for future spacecraft -- and maybe even aircraft," said David Mold, NASA's assistant administrator for public affairs.

According to the report, crewmembers died due to a lack of oxygen, but it remained inconclusive as to whether it was caused by depressurization or from hitting something as the spacecraft spun violently out of control.

Additionally, three crew members weren't wearing gloves, which provide crucial protection from depressurization. One wasn't in the seat, one wasn't wearing a helmet and several were not fully strapped in.

The new 400-page Columbia Crew Survival Investigation Report will give NASA engineers new insight into how to design new shuttle capsules that will be able to brave harsh conditions.

Unbeknownst to the astronauts or NASA, the shuttle had been critically damaged by a piece of foam debris that fell off its fuel tank during liftoff. Columbia disintegrated as it returned to Earth at the end of its space mission.

According to the report, one of the crewmembers "was conscious and able to respond to events that were occurring on board," 26 seconds after the first loud master alarm sounded due to a failure in control jets.

An internal NASA team recommends 30 changes based on Columbia, many of them aimed at pressurization suits, helmets and seatbelts.

The analysis is NASA's most complete telling to date of the final minutes of the shuttle mission known as STS-107, which lifted off on January 16, 2003, for a 16-day microgravity research mission that included, for the first time, an Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon.

Ramon was killed alongside commander Rick Husband, pilot William McCool, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, and Laurel Clark.


On the Net: