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Shuttle Columbia crew  (Source: NASA)

Shuttle debris during the crash  (Source: NASA/AP)
NASA recently released a 400-page safety report based on the shuttle Columbia disaster

A new report released by NASA indicates the seven astronauts aboard doomed space shuttle Columbia had seat restraints, helmets and pressure suits that worked poorly, and caused "lethal trauma" as the shuttle disintegrated.  

"This report is the first comprehensive, publicly available accident investigation report addressing crew survival," according to NASA.  "The results are intended to add meaning to the sacrifice of the crew's lives by making spaceflight safer for all future generations."

The finding comes as part of the NASA-backed 400-page safety study which took another look at the 2003 shuttle tragedy.  The report includes many grim details about what the crew likely experienced before the shuttle fully disintegrated over the state of Texas.  

There was absolutely no way the crew could have survived the crash, but NASA is interested in learning about past safety issues for future accidents.  

The crew didn't have proper training, and assuming something could have been done, one crew member wasn't wearing a helmet, three astronauts didn't have on gloves, and all seven had their visors in the upright position.

Even though there is little chance the crew could have survived the re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, there were several issues brought up that must be fixed in the future:  the helmet and shoulder harness issues, along with a parachute landing system that needs at least one crew member to be conscious.  

NASA said that even if everything was working properly, the shock waves and harsh conditions of the upper atmosphere would have ultimately killed them.

It's likely Columbia crew members knew for at least 40 seconds they were no longer in control of the shuttle before they finally went unconscious.  All the astronauts either died from lack of oxygen or smashing into something as the shuttle spun out of control -- NASA regulators are unable to accurately determine which event killed the astronauts.

Although NASA is already working on the next generation shuttle which will be responsible for ferrying astronauts and supplies into orbit, the U.S. space agency is looking at possible safety regulations that can be improved to keep astronauts safer in the future.

The Orion space vehicle is designed to fit six people and is expected to make its first flight in 2015, with NASA ultimately planning to reach the moon by 2020.





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You think?
By FITCamaro on 12/31/2008 9:18:16 AM , Rating: 4
quote:
A new report released by NASA indicates the seven astronauts aboard doomed space shuttle Columbia had seat restraints, helmets and pressure suits that worked poorly, and caused "lethal trauma" as the shuttle disintegrated.


Lethal trauma? Who'd have thought temperatures of several hundred to a few thousand degrees would be lethal. The restraints, helmets, and pressure suits were a non issue. The astronauts were incinerated by the temperatures that came into the shuttle as a result of the breach in the ceramic tiles.

It was likely not a very pleasant way to go.

And what do they mean the crew didn't have proper training? It's not like those commanding the mission had never been in space before.

I'm with brad on this. This is nothing but fuel for Obama's people to try and cut NASA funding. Hope all those people in Florida who voted for him on the promise of a maintained or expanded NASA budget are kicking themselves in the face for their stupidity.




RE: You think?
By Reclaimer77 on 12/31/2008 1:06:19 PM , Rating: 5
I agree. As I read this article I'm still trying to figure out how better safety equipment would have saved their lives. The thing EXPLODED and broke up into pieces ! There are no escape pods or parachutes for the crew. How would they ever survive ?

Please someone help me, what am I missing here ?


RE: You think?
By KaiserCSS on 12/31/2008 4:07:09 PM , Rating: 5
Honestly, I don't know.

I downloaded a copy of the NASA report and skimmed it over. There are five events listed in Section 1.1 as "Events with lethal potential. They are as follows:

quote:
"The first event with lethal potential was depressurization of the crew module, which started at or shortly after breakup.

The second... was unconscious or deceased crew members exposed to a dynamic rotating load environment with nonconformal helmets and a lack of upper body restraint.

The third... was separation from the crew module and the seats with associated forces, material interactions, and thermal consequences. This event is the least understood die to limitations in current knowledge of mechanisms at this Mach number and altitude. Seat restraints played a role in the lethality of this event.

The fourth... was exposure to near vacuum, aerodynamic accelerations, and cold temperatures.

The final event... was ground impact."


Note, this quote is DIRECTLY from the NASA report on page 1-1 of the Integrated Story section; the only alterations made by myself are the bold letters for emphasis and small truncations for clarity.

To be completely honest, I found this report morbidly depressing and somewhat confusing. First of all, I understand the need for NASA to research a disaster of this caliber in order to develop better safety measures, but doesn't researching the specific mode of death for astronauts traveling through the atmosphere at 16,000mph and around 1,500 degrees Celsius seem more than a little excessive?

NASA themselves claim that even if all of the safety features had worked as they were supposed to, there was very little hope of the astronauts surviving the shuttle breakup and re-entry forces.

As for the bold, I can't help but think, what on Earth were they talking about? Exposure to cold temperatures? Upon reviewing the NASA audio loops, comparing audio times to footage times, and watching the video compilation at www.chrisvalentines.com/sts107/ it is quite clear that the crew was perfectly conscious and well up to the point of break-up. They were well into the atmosphere, and the tire heat sensors were going haywire minutes before. Who came up with the idea that cold temperatures could have been a contributing lethal event upon re-entry? It simply doesn't make sense to me, but of course I am no NASA investigator.

I just don't understand whether the need for a "Columbia Crew Survival Investigation Report is truly necessary or not.


RE: You think?
By JonnyDough on 12/31/2008 6:47:14 PM , Rating: 2
The cold temps 2nd to last on the list are likely a result of what they would have experienced if they had lived through the initial dissemination of the shuttle. Even if they had survived it breaking apart, they were at too high of an altitude for a parachute. At that height you need oxygen and a pressurization suit with warming elements.

I'm just guessing, but I think that the shuttle exploded just after re-entry, as the heat shield had just begun to cool. As the shuttle gets closer to the earth, two things happen. One, you have atmospheric pressure and two gravity increases...which means that the change in temperature to the heat shield happens more quickly, more dramatically. These two things combined likely caused the shuttle to tear apart.

Any large hole on the belly or nose of the shuttle and it gets ripped apart by the fierce winds. More so, the inadequate interior pressure - similar to what an exploding house experiences in a tornado.


RE: You think?
By JonnyDough on 12/31/2008 6:52:06 PM , Rating: 2
I'm not sure if that answered the fourth issue or not for you but I'm pretty sure I'm on target. If you've ever been in a hot air balloon up high you know it's cold. Also, if you've you're familiar with aviation, you know that you have to break ice off the wings of a small jet. Not only is the air cooler at elevated levels (think snow caps on mountain tops), but you can experience the same thing any time you're in wind. Take for instance a motorcycle ride or sitting in front of a fan. Molecules of air moving over the surface of heated mass, pick up thermal properties from and whisk them away.


RE: You think?
By Zeggy12 on 12/31/2008 10:22:07 PM , Rating: 3
Just a quick note,

On average, the temperature in the atmosphere drops at a rate of 1.98 degre celcius per 1000 feet. Till you hit the tropopause (occurs at approx 35000') and stablelizes at a temperate of -56C.

Wind factor does not mean its colder... -10C with 100MPH winds is still -10C. An objet (your body) will loose heat quicker and attain -10C much faster on a windy day (but will never go below -10C (if it gets really windy (jets flying at 500MPH you get a temperature rise (around 25C))).

As for jets... The only time you need to heat the wings to shed ice is in the lower altitudes during flight in icing conditions (temperature below 0C and in cloud or other precipitation).

So I think the cold is mentioned at the end so if for some reason you are able to survive up to an altitude of 50000' and you decide to bail out and use a parachute, without an exposure suit, 5 minutes at -56C and 120MPH (terminal speed) you are not going to make it.

The final thing that was mentionned was the impact (I think thats self explanatory...

Cheers,

Zegg


RE: You think?
By Reclaimer77 on 12/31/2008 7:21:50 PM , Rating: 1
Great post Kaiser.

quote:
I understand the need for NASA to research a disaster of this caliber in order to develop better safety measures, but doesn't researching the specific mode of death for astronauts traveling through the atmosphere at 16,000mph and around 1,500 degrees Celsius seem more than a little excessive?


Exactly. Thats what I'm saying. What are we talking about seatbelts and helmets for ?? What the hell...


RE: You think?
By jordanclock on 12/31/2008 8:15:56 PM , Rating: 2
Because when we're talking about something like space flight, we want to know every last thing that went wrong. We know why the shuttle failed, but NASA wants to know every single point of failure and every single thing they can improve. I doubt this kind of scrutiny is really any different from any other time there is a malfunction of any kind. Space flight requires an extreme degree of precision and it would be extremely foolish to simply say,"The shuttle blew apart because of a hole in the wing. That's a wrap!" and not look at other things that went wrong, whether they contributed to the accident or not.


RE: You think?
By toyotabedzrock on 1/1/2009 10:08:45 PM , Rating: 2
For interplanetary travel and colonization to become a reality these safety issues need to be addressed.

I'm sure someone had the same thought about race cars back in the very early 1900s.

Which makes me think that a similar type of design, a inner structure that is very strong and just big enough for the crew, would be a good first step along with better restraints. Also research into solving it would be to find a better heat shield material, or eventually a way to renter at a low speed and not require a heat shield.


RE: You think?
By jordanclock on 12/31/2008 5:17:08 PM , Rating: 2
The report doesn't say they would have survived with better equipment and training, they're saying that the equipment and training isn't good enough. In a less catastrophic event, the equipment and training would have been the cause of their death.

This isn't a report about how they could have saved the astronauts on Columbia, it's a report about learning every last detail possible to make sure future spaceflights are safer, including situations that are unlike the Columbia disaster.


RE: You think?
By Davelo on 1/1/2009 12:58:27 PM , Rating: 2
We don't need a massive investigation to answer the obvious. Why doesn't Nasa instead answer why after half a trillion dollars they have made little progress in the last 40 years?


Report for Obama
By bradshannon on 12/31/2008 9:03:06 AM , Rating: 1
I don't think it's coincidence that this report is coming out right before Obama takes office and cuts NASA's budget.




RE: Report for Obama
By FPP on 12/31/2008 10:40:04 AM , Rating: 5
The only way to guarantee this not happening ever again is to replace the Shuttle. The Obama admin is feeling out canceling ARES and I suspect this is the reason it came out.

The Shuttle was always a poorly conceived and designed system. It's engines never lived up to their promises as reusable, the ship took 30,000 man hours to turn around, it was terribly complex and, in the event of catastrophic failure, it would kill the crew.

Bush correctly put a stake through it's heart and proceeded to develop an alternative. Orion is safer, cheaper to build abd operate. In addition, Bush correctly stimulated private manned space efforts, culminating in the Spacex successes now happening. He may not be a great thinker, but he sure is a clear thinker.


RE: Report for Obama
By Ringold on 12/31/2008 6:37:23 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
It's engines never lived up to their promises as reusable


I thought the SSMEs were the originals? Or are you talking about the SRBs?

At any rate, canceling Ares I and V isn't such a bad idea -- it's failing to replace it with DIRECT or some other equivalent or superior plan that will be sad.

Here's an idea for DailyTech article or blog post; how about looking at all the options on the table? Ares, Atlas V, Delta IV, DIRECT, and whatever else, plus maybe any indications on which way we may be heading. Maybe a little comparison to where other countries stand and how we're all advancing comparatively.


RE: Report for Obama
By Reclaimer77 on 12/31/2008 8:44:27 PM , Rating: 1
quote:
The only way to guarantee this not happening ever again is to replace the Shuttle.


Not true.

The reason this happened is because environmentalist wackos protesting triumphed over good engineers and scientists and forced them to change the foam.

Old foam = no foam related accidents.
New "greener" foam = 1 shuttle lost with all hands, and TWO others "slightly" damaged by it and repaired in orbit.

quote:
The Shuttle was always a poorly conceived and designed system.


Where do people get off saying this ? The Shuttles have logged hundreds of thousands of miles and hours. Performed every mission given to them. Made god knows how many trips with only 2 losses, NEITHER because of a design flaw.

What more do you want ? They are over 20 years old and STILL performing admirably. Give credit where credit is due.

I totally agree its time for the Shuttle to be retired. But I want to see it retired with the dignity and honor these amazing machines deserve. Not to be spit on by people with no knowledge of the utter complexity of reusable space flight.


Missing the point
By Donovan on 12/31/2008 11:47:25 AM , Rating: 3
I'm not sure why people are so quick to attack NASA for this. It's clear that everyone considers this sort of situation utterly unsurvivable, but what about other situations? An incident at lower altitude/speed that should be survivable might become fatal due to the astronauts not wearing their proper safety equipment as noted in the report. Regardless of whether it would have helped Columbia astronauts, the fact that these procedures were not being followed is important for the future.

It's like having someone who is fatally shot in the head fall off a balcony and discovering that the railing was too low. A higher railing wouldn't have saved the life of the person who was shot, but it might save the life of the next person who merely trips.




and?
By omnicronx on 12/31/2008 2:49:13 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
A new report released by NASA indicates the seven astronauts aboard doomed space shuttle Columbia had seat restraints, helmets and pressure suits that worked poorly, and caused "lethal trauma" as the shuttle disintegrated.
Damn you Nasa, how could you be so inconsiderate as to not have these astronauts die in comfort? The least we could have done is made the proper changes so that we only cause them "non lethal trauma" before they disintegrate..




continue the mission
By maddenjd on 12/31/2008 4:29:57 PM , Rating: 2
In my opinion we should continue to explore, we all know the risks. The crew accepted, and to an extent so do the families. I would be proud if I (or a family member) was lost on a mission to expand the knowledge of the HUMAN race.




Good to know
By Bateluer on 12/31/08, Rating: -1
RE: Good to know
By ice456789 on 12/31/2008 9:23:59 AM , Rating: 3
I don't think the purpose was to discover if they could have survived, the purpose is to discover how to make it so future astronauts COULD survive the same thing. The value is not in the press release, it's in making the whole thing safer.

It's the same reason we investigate every accident... to help prevent or minimize the next one.


RE: Good to know
By FITCamaro on 12/31/2008 9:52:03 AM , Rating: 2
There is no way to survive that kind of accident. The people inside were cooked. And even if they weren't, they still would have died on impact. They were going too fast to bail out as well.

The only to survive that is to not have it happen.


RE: Good to know
By saiga6360 on 12/31/2008 10:35:58 AM , Rating: 2
Seriously. They should have beamed down when they had the chance. What was Scotty doing???


RE: Good to know
By bobsmith1492 on 12/31/2008 11:08:07 AM , Rating: 2
Ionization on the hull surface from re-entering the atmosphere obviously messes with transporters, silly!


RE: Good to know
By Souka on 12/31/2008 11:07:55 AM , Rating: 2
I thought I had read that at least one or two astronauts were alive when they hit the water...unconscious of course, but alive.

Anyhow...yeah...best way to survice is not to have it happen...%100 agree.


RE: Good to know
By d4a2n0k on 12/31/2008 11:17:29 AM , Rating: 2
You are thinking of the Challenger explosion in '86 when the cockpit capsule hit the Atlantic. These poor people were spread over Texas....


RE: Good to know
By Reclaimer77 on 12/31/2008 3:15:58 PM , Rating: 1
quote:
the purpose is to discover how to make it so future astronauts COULD survive the same thing.


Dude it was going like Mach 10 at the time. It suddenly exploded and broke up, barely into our atmosphere. There were reports of body parts landing in neighborhoods !

There is NO way on this Earth to survive that. EVER.


RE: Good to know
By Davelo on 1/1/2009 12:50:42 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah this is really a waste of time and money by Nasa and I don't understand why Bateleur's comment was slammed down to a -1.

Why doesn't Nasa instead investigate ways of prevention? Seems to me that all of the shuttles problems always comes back to the poor design which uses the problematic outer hull tile system.


RE: Good to know
By Mitch101 on 12/31/2008 9:28:31 AM , Rating: 5
Learning from mistakes often reveals a lot more than when everything goes right.

I remember they were designing a planes flame suppression system and the guy remote controlling the plane didn't land correctly causing the plane to role into a huge fireball. That footage is online all the time. While initially it was seen as a very expensive test that went horribly wrong it was also seen as the fire retardant design was useless. Had it been a controlled textbook landing and the fire suppression worked it would have been claimed a success but text book landing usually result in a safe landing not a crash scenario.


RE: Good to know
By Sunrise089 on 12/31/2008 11:02:43 AM , Rating: 2
Sure, and the lesson here was learned years ago now - don't let foam knock holes in the shuttle's heat protection. That was the mistake to learn from. The stuff about astronaut survivability AFTER the shuttle itself fails is ridiculous.


RE: Good to know
By Jedi2155 on 12/31/2008 11:59:18 AM , Rating: 2
You are only thinking of the publicized mistakes and learnings. Are you so sure that it was the only thing learned? It was the main reason for the shuttle failure in this instance, but I don't think that was the only thing they learned during the study.


RE: Good to know
By therealnickdanger on 12/31/2008 9:49:45 AM , Rating: 2
People seem to forget that for the 5 seconds of Armstrong's "one small step" speech, there were millions of man-hours and billions of dollars spent and many lives lost to make it happen. While this 400-page report might partly explain the obvious (death @ Mach-20), what if it results in a flight suit that can handle those forces? What if they develop a proper automated abort system that could save future astronauts?

The report is money well spent.


RE: Good to know
By FITCamaro on 12/31/2008 9:54:47 AM , Rating: 2
If they were looking at designing a new shuttle your point would be valid, but they're not. And it wasn't a matter of g-forces. It was heat. Even if the suit can withstand the g-forces, it can't nullify them. The people in the shuttle wouldn't have been able to move.


RE: Good to know
By FITCamaro on 12/31/2008 10:00:39 AM , Rating: 2
Let me also add that they were in the atmosphere when the breach that doomed the shuttle occurred. There was no way they could have aborted. The shuttle has one chance at landing after they start the re-entry sequence. It has no power when it lands. It's landing is a controlled crash. If they're off target, there is no second chance and they have to bail out.


RE: Good to know
By marvdmartian on 12/31/2008 10:25:24 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
If they were looking at designing a new shuttle your point would be valid


So I'm guessing you missed this line in the article??

quote:
Although NASA is already working on the next generation shuttle which will be responsible for ferrying astronauts and supplies into orbit


And by understanding what killed the astronauts, they CAN hopefully design better systems or suits for the future, that would make the chances of survivability much higher than these astronauts had. What exactly? I don't know, but I'm sure the brainiacs at NASA are coming up with something or other (exoskeleton suits, maybe?).


RE: Good to know
By Sunrise089 on 12/31/2008 11:01:20 AM , Rating: 2
No. There is zero opportunity to design a survivable system that can withstand an out-of-control craft traveling at Mach 20 through the upper atmosphere. The heat and g-forces make better restraints or automated parachute systems or whatever totally irrelevant.


RE: Good to know
By FITCamaro on 12/31/2008 12:20:20 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
So I'm guessing you missed this line in the article??
quote: Although NASA is already working on the next generation shuttle which will be responsible for ferrying astronauts and supplies into orbit


The ORION program is not a shuttle. It is a capsule like the Apollo program. It's reentry will be a free fall followed by deploying parachutes to land it safely. Not a glided in approach like the shuttle does.


RE: Good to know
By grandpope on 12/31/2008 12:50:21 PM , Rating: 2
So, if they were do decide to build a shuttle in 10-20 years, would comprehensive data on how to make it safer NOT be valuable?


RE: Good to know
By Reclaimer77 on 12/31/2008 3:25:17 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
What if they develop a proper automated abort system that could save future astronauts?


You don't get it do you ?

There was absolutely NO warning that they needed to abort, even if they could, which they couldn't.

At those speeds and AMAZING heat, they had seconds to live once the heat shielding failed.

It's why they call it CATASTROPHIC. Because NOTHING can be done.


RE: Good to know
By FPP on 12/31/2008 6:08:17 PM , Rating: 2
The subject is acadamic.

There was no "abort" plan in that part of the flight envelope. The ship broke up. The occupants die. When control ceases, the ship crashes, end of story.

There will be no new shuttle for the forseeable (10 years) future. Capsules are far safer, cheaper to operate, better payload to weight ratio, asymetric aerodynamic shape is more efficent, something NASA knew in 1976 and ignored for political reasons. The Bush NASA correctly acknowledged this in Orion's design. The Russians, Spacex Corp., Transformational Space Corp., all agree on this.

NASA put this out to impress upon the Obama administration to take heed at making a mistake of cancelling Orion at their own political peril, and they are correct in doing so.

The Obama admin is trotting out using old boosters and the only reason is that the booster companies got to them. Titan, Atlas and the others would have to be uprated to manned flight reliability, for which they are not designed, regardless of how cheap the purport to be.


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