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(29,876 posts)
Thu Jan 31, 2013, 05:07 PM Jan 2013

Columbia Shuttle Crew Not Told of Possible Problem With Reentry

Source: ABC NEWS

Jan. 31, 2013
What would you tell seven astronauts if you knew their space shuttle was crippled on orbit?

It was a question that faced NASA's Mission Control considered after initial suspicions that something might be wrong with the shuttle Columbia as it was making its doomed reentry in 2003.

Wayne Hale, who later became space shuttle program manager, struggled with this question after the deaths of the Columbia crew 10 years ago. Recently he wrote about the debate in his blog, recalling a meeting to discuss the dilemma:

"After one of the MMTs (Mission Management Team) when possible damage to the orbiter was discussed, he (Flight Director Jon Harpold) gave me his opinion: 'You know, there is nothing we can do about damage to the TPS (Thermal Protection System). If it has been damaged it's probably better not to know. I think the crew would rather not know. Don't you think it would be better for them to have a happy successful flight and die unexpectedly during entry than to stay on orbit, knowing that there was nothing to be done, until the air ran out?"

Read more: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/columbia-shuttle-crew-told-problem-reentry/story?id=18366185

Columbia Shuttle Crew Not Told of Possible Problem With Reentry (Original Post) Purveyor Jan 2013 OP
If I were a member of the crew, I'd want to know... Cooley Hurd Jan 2013 #1
I wouldn't want to know........ TheDebbieDee Jan 2013 #15
Oh my gawd. Control-Z Jan 2013 #2
As was I when I heard it on ABC Radio News at the top of the hour. eom Purveyor Jan 2013 #3
It's a right... Jerry442 Jan 2013 #4
I would want to know so we could start working on a solution, like maybe using the DhhD Jan 2013 #5
Documents detail shuttle what-ifs Wilms Jan 2013 #25
The destruction of Columbia was due to utter incompetence Kelvin Mace Jan 2013 #6
+1 ellisonz Jan 2013 #21
It... deathrind Jan 2013 #7
Well I never heard about this until today. eom Purveyor Jan 2013 #9
Wow! SouthernDonkey Jan 2013 #8
One of my friends and co-workers was on that flight. lapfog_1 Jan 2013 #10
Wow iandhr Jan 2013 #11
This has been known for several years Ian Iam Jan 2013 #12
It has? I remember a lot of speculation being bandied about...... TheDebbieDee Jan 2013 #16
The truly damning information begins at the 41.03 mark Ian Iam Jan 2013 #20
Difference between known and demonstrable. /nt TheMadMonk Jan 2013 #30
I don't believe there's anything new here..... groundloop Jan 2013 #13
Just like there was NOTHING that could be done with Apollo 13? benld74 Jan 2013 #14
What, exactly, do you propose they do? TrogL Jan 2013 #17
Uh.. you gotta be kidding me. Flying Squirrel Jan 2013 #19
Well the world will NEVER know now will they? benld74 Jan 2013 #22
Apollo 13, not Apollo 11. longship Jan 2013 #27
Send up another shuttle with just a pilot and rescue suits. TheMadMonk Jan 2013 #31
There wasn't time. jeff47 Jan 2013 #33
What's Justin Bieber got to do with this. daleo Feb 2013 #34
He's what passes for a modern day hero. TheMadMonk Feb 2013 #37
Music industry has been inventing heroes forever daleo Feb 2013 #48
No shuttle to send TrogL Feb 2013 #46
Anyone recall why temporary stays at ManiacJoe Jan 2013 #18
Different orbit. Xithras Jan 2013 #23
I think Columbia did not have docking capability too. nt XRubicon Jan 2013 #26
Had transfer been a real possibility, it wouldn't have mattered. Xithras Feb 2013 #36
Completely different orbits, wouldn't have had enough fuel to reach. nt DRoseDARs Jan 2013 #24
Hooray for me. rocktivity Jan 2013 #28
Duly noted. +1 eom Purveyor Jan 2013 #29
What a twat Scairp Jan 2013 #32
gee...zuss... cntrfthrs Feb 2013 #35
I think I'd rather personally not know -- but I sure wouldn't feel I could make that gateley Feb 2013 #38
Telling Them RobinA Feb 2013 #44
Agree. Maybe that should have been something discussed before the launch? gateley Feb 2013 #47
what lousy reporting. blackspade Feb 2013 #39
Columbia was too heavy to reach ISS LunaSea Feb 2013 #40
Thanks for the link... blackspade Feb 2013 #45
What's the news? I thought that was a LONG foregone conclusion... Blue_Tires Feb 2013 #41
Why isn't a rescue space shuttle ever an option? WestCoastLib Feb 2013 #42
Seems to me like that was an option in the earlier flights where they wouldn't launch unless Purveyor Feb 2013 #43
NASA's prime mission is not safety. Psephos Feb 2013 #49
"He's a pilot! You tell him the condition of his craft!" (Line 33944) 24601 Feb 2013 #50
Remind me again who was pResident when this was allowed to happen? Ian David Feb 2013 #51
Columbia Dies over Texas - story by radio host Thom Hartmann Ian David Feb 2013 #52
What happened to NASA's motto liberal N proud Feb 2013 #53

Cooley Hurd

(26,877 posts)
1. If I were a member of the crew, I'd want to know...
Thu Jan 31, 2013, 05:11 PM
Jan 2013

If shit was to hit the fan, I'd be contemplative. I'd want to listen to my favorite songs. Say goodbye to my girlfriend and my dog. Many other things...



(11,119 posts)
15. I wouldn't want to know........
Thu Jan 31, 2013, 06:52 PM
Jan 2013

It's added torture and suffering to know what might happen. I would want just what those shuttle-nauts got - to go quickly before even realizing that something was wrong.

I think Mission Control, or whoever they are, made the right call.


(1,265 posts)
4. It's a right...
Thu Jan 31, 2013, 05:24 PM
Jan 2013

...to know what's happening to you. Not just for astronauts, but for everyone. Save the paternalism for infants.


(4,695 posts)
5. I would want to know so we could start working on a solution, like maybe using the
Thu Jan 31, 2013, 05:24 PM
Jan 2013

fuel to start a low grade decent right away instead of burning up fuel doing the preplanned mission.



(26,795 posts)
25. Documents detail shuttle what-ifs
Thu Jan 31, 2013, 09:10 PM
Jan 2013


Throughout the two-week flight of Columbia in January, NASA engineers and managers had wrestled with whether the impact of insulating foam on the shuttle’s wing during launch posed any threat. But neither serious inspection plans nor workable rescue scenarios were ever developed because the need for them wasn’t recognized.


The NASA team described their findings in an oral presentation on May 22 to the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, which verbally described the findings to the news media. But both NASA and CAIB declined to to provide the briefing documents on which those findings were based; documents that MSNBC.com has since obtained.

Parallel tracks: Rescue, repair

The study rests on two major assumptions:

That there was a recognized catastrophic threat to the shuttle and crew, either from a 6-inch hole in the leading edge of the wing, or a 10-inch gash from the loss of a panel-to-panel seal.

That NASA management was willing to risk another shuttle launch even before the cause of the fatal damage to the first was known.

From those assumptions, the NASA team developed a timeline of events:




Kelvin Mace

(17,469 posts)
6. The destruction of Columbia was due to utter incompetence
Thu Jan 31, 2013, 05:25 PM
Jan 2013

They were right back where they had been with Challenger: The had to make a decision about the safety of the ship versus expediency. Once again, they chose expediency. And once again, people died.

This borders on murder.


(1,786 posts)
7. It...
Thu Jan 31, 2013, 05:27 PM
Jan 2013

...has been known for a long time that mission control did not tell the crew because they simply did not know if there was even a problem or not. All they knew was that something (thought to be a piece of foam which it was) came off the main tank and impacted on the leading edge of the wing the real infuriating part is this.

"It was agonizing for Rocha, who had begged the Mission Management Team to ask the Department of Defense to use whatever it had to take high resolution photos. He was turned down. In an exclusive interview with ABC News in 2003 he detailed how his requests were repeatedly denied.

"I made a phone call to the manager of the shuttle engineering office, the same person that had relayed the 'No" message to me from orbiter management. I was still pretty agitated and upset. Had he spoken to our engineering director about this? I wanted the director of JSC engineering to be informed. Had he been informed? And he said no. I was thunderstruck and astonished again."


(28,524 posts)
10. One of my friends and co-workers was on that flight.
Thu Jan 31, 2013, 05:35 PM
Jan 2013

she had the office about 4 down from mine.

I don't know whether she would have wanted to know or not.




(11,119 posts)
16. It has? I remember a lot of speculation being bandied about......
Thu Jan 31, 2013, 06:59 PM
Jan 2013

I also remember how quickly after the accident that speculation of how much damage the foam coming off of something and impacting against several heat shields at 500 MPH would do.


Ian Iam

(386 posts)
20. The truly damning information begins at the 41.03 mark
Thu Jan 31, 2013, 08:32 PM
Jan 2013

Not only were the astronauts not told of the danger; the higher-ups denied requests to even gauge the extent of the damage.


(11,379 posts)
13. I don't believe there's anything new here.....
Thu Jan 31, 2013, 06:28 PM
Jan 2013

I remember hearing about these types of conversations several years ago. Most of this stuff came out in the investigation.


(9,816 posts)
14. Just like there was NOTHING that could be done with Apollo 13?
Thu Jan 31, 2013, 06:36 PM
Jan 2013

Different circumstances, BUT they tried at least! They gave them a fighting chance! Did we lose lose ability to try in the first decade of this century? WTF!

As Jimmy V said Never never give up!


(32,818 posts)
17. What, exactly, do you propose they do?
Thu Jan 31, 2013, 07:19 PM
Jan 2013

Go EVA (without proper EVA gear) and weld it (without a welding torch)?

Launch food, water and air up to them every day? (using what for boosters and spacecraft)

I don't remember anybody saying "nothing could be done" for Apollo 11. They had sufficient food and air, just in the wrong places. A bit of jiggerypokery fixed it. No amount of jiggerypokery is going to fix a busted wing.


Flying Squirrel

(3,041 posts)
19. Uh.. you gotta be kidding me.
Thu Jan 31, 2013, 08:30 PM
Jan 2013

If one of those astronauts had been, say, your spouse or child? I think you'd be saying they should have made every effort to make sure they returned safely instead of refusing to inspect the damage more closely and crossing their fingers for a safe re-entry.


(9,816 posts)
22. Well the world will NEVER know now will they?
Thu Jan 31, 2013, 08:38 PM
Jan 2013

AND with the schedule pushing those on the ground, THEY didnt properly think it out UNTIL NOTHING could be done!


(40,416 posts)
27. Apollo 13, not Apollo 11.
Thu Jan 31, 2013, 09:38 PM
Jan 2013

A good flick, made by Ron Howard. Good cast, Tom Hanks, as usual, doing his good job. The only miscast was Bill "Game-over, man; game-over" Paxton. However, Ed Harris was brilliant as Gene Kranz. And the guy playing Guenther Wendt was also perfect in his small role.

BTW, astronauts do not hug each other in space, according to James Lovell. But Ron Howard did a damned good job in this flick. After all, the micro-gravity scenes were actually film on the Vomit Comet. That's why the micro-G shots were all so short in the film.

What an experience that must have been for Hanks, Paxton, and Kevin Bacon who went through it.

Docudrama film at its best.



(6,187 posts)
31. Send up another shuttle with just a pilot and rescue suits.
Thu Jan 31, 2013, 11:11 PM
Jan 2013

And of course a whole lot of hope.

Once upon a time we hade heros. Now we have Justin fucking Beiber.

Judging by what was deduced to have happened, it's very remotely possible that just stuffing a woollen jumper into the hole might have made enough of a difference to let them pancake on a flooded saltpan.

When there's nothing to lose, and everything to gain, you attempt the impossible, you don't salvage the mission and wait with bureaucratic indifference for seven people to die in ignorance of their own fate.

Other options were discarded very early in the design process, on the presumption that any disaster would be immediate and catastrophic, OR could be overcome by mounting a rescue mission. However, no serious planning for the latter was ever done.


(26,549 posts)
33. There wasn't time.
Thu Jan 31, 2013, 11:50 PM
Jan 2013

They didn't have enough supplies to last until a new shuttle could be prepped and launched.

The "long shot rescue plan" would have been to try to boost the shuttle to the ISS, but that probably couldn't be done with the fuel on board.



(6,187 posts)
37. He's what passes for a modern day hero.
Fri Feb 1, 2013, 01:51 AM
Feb 2013

Someone our kids aspire to be.

And at that he's a somewhat tainted hero. Anyone with any nouse at all knows it's all about the money. That he's a cutout figure, discovered on You Tube and totally reinvented for television and tweenies.

I grew up at the end of an era. One in which professional sportsmen had full time real jobs in the community. And regular gig down at the local, that paid beer money was enough for most musos who also held down real daytime jobs.

I grew up in a day and place when Everyboy's goal was to play at the MCG for the Ashes or Premiership Cup, OR to walk on the Moon, exept for a few weirdos who just wanted to be like some mythical bloke called Muhdad. The task itself was goal enough, not just a path to an unsustainable lifestyle and a crash and burn finish which seems to be the lot of anyone who rises to a point of public adulation these days.

And I grew up in a day when America would have gone hat in hand to their most hated enemy, and cobbled together in two days a mating device that MIGHT have let them get enough emergency supplies up there to damned well do something, even if it was bring them back two at a time in Soyez capsules.

I grew up where The Space Family Stone and Rocketship Gallelieo were glowing futures just around the corner, and not quaint fables of a future that never was.

They could have bloody well tried and not just wrung their hands and hoped.

FFS exactly the same lack of will to damned well try something, any bloody thing, is why Fukushima turned into the disaster it became. Instead of deliberatly accepting a certain amount of fallout, the did almost nothing whilst searching for an optimal solution. They aimed for none, and got a fuckton instead.


(21,317 posts)
48. Music industry has been inventing heroes forever
Fri Feb 1, 2013, 09:38 PM
Feb 2013

Kids aspire to grow up to be all kinds of role models, these days as always.

But I agree that NASA should have tried as hard for Columbia as they did for Apollo 13.


(32,818 posts)
46. No shuttle to send
Fri Feb 1, 2013, 01:45 PM
Feb 2013

This is not like a jet fighter that you can launch in 30 minutes. It takes months to get a shuttle ready to go unless there's one on the launchpad ready to go, which there wasn't.

When the shuttle re-enters it's going some insane speed like Mach 10. The wings are pollished to micron tolerances because the slightest scratch will cause friction, which will cause exactly what we saw. The scratch likely wouldn't even be visible to the naked eye.

Personally, I agree they should have been told if nothing else so those who were into that kind of thing could make peace with their Maker for longer than the few seconds available once they knew they were in trouble. They might also have been allowed to make their own decision about what to do, basically die in space (likely by their own hand) or die on re-entry. I suppose what they could have done is boosted the shuttle to the highest possible orbit in the hopes that another shuttle mission could come along and attempt to repair the wing, then fly one or both shuttles back with the bodies. Given the technology involved, I doubt even this was possible. That's not what I'm arguing about.

The problem is - I remember John Glenn's first flight. There was potential that his heat shield was loose. They chose to leave his retro rocket pack attached so its clamps would hold the heat shield in place until air pressure took over. The pack was burned away during re-entry. This was ridiculously risky because if it had burned away in an uneven manner, it could have tumbled the capsule and it would have burned up. They DID consult with Glenn, but in the process the whole world heard about it and the world stopped to watch TV or glued to the radio. They're probably still hearing from people second-guessing them.

In that case, as in Apollo 13, (thanks for the correction up above, I've got the flu and can barely see the screen) there actually was a coherent alternative.


(16,191 posts)
23. Different orbit.
Thu Jan 31, 2013, 08:55 PM
Jan 2013

The shuttle wasn't on an orbit capable of intersecting the space station, and there was no way to change the orbit.

This is why, after the Columbia disaster, NASA prohibited shuttle launches into orbits incapable of docking with the station. This is also why there was such a fight over the last servicing mission to the Hubble. Hubble can't be reached on an orbit capable of reaching the ISS, so servicing it would have meant no lifeline for the servicing shuttle crew. In the end, the requirement was waved for that one mission...Hubble will never again be serviced by a human.


(16,191 posts)
36. Had transfer been a real possibility, it wouldn't have mattered.
Fri Feb 1, 2013, 01:26 AM
Feb 2013

Between the ISS and the shuttle itself, there were enough space suits to move the crew in a series of emergency spacewalks. The ISS can handle up to 13 people, and there were only 6 people onboard when the Columbia burned up, so capacity wasn't an issue either.

The problem was the orbital trajectory. There was no possible way for the two to intercept each other .


(2,749 posts)
32. What a twat
Thu Jan 31, 2013, 11:30 PM
Jan 2013

Those people had a right to know. They could have said goodbye to their families in the event the worst happened, which it did. This is so wrong on every level. The real problem was that those in charge really didn't believe that the styrofoam could cause damage so terrible it would endanger the shuttle. They were in complete denial that is could even happen...until they tested it afterward. They shot the same foam at an actual shuttle part, the wing, and it blew a hole clean through it. I will never forget their faces. They were stunned, to say the least.


(62,683 posts)
38. I think I'd rather personally not know -- but I sure wouldn't feel I could make that
Fri Feb 1, 2013, 03:02 AM
Feb 2013

decision for somebody else.

I hope I'm never in that position. Wow. How would you ever know if you made the right decision? Wow.

RIP, Columbia Crew.


(9,762 posts)
44. Telling Them
Fri Feb 1, 2013, 12:36 PM
Feb 2013

would have been making the decision for them the same as not telling them. It's not a solvable problem.


(62,683 posts)
47. Agree. Maybe that should have been something discussed before the launch?
Fri Feb 1, 2013, 03:49 PM
Feb 2013

Anyway, tragic no matter what -- and it doesn't matter to the crew now, anyway.


(10,056 posts)
39. what lousy reporting.
Fri Feb 1, 2013, 06:36 AM
Feb 2013

It's like the reporter stopped mid thought and turned it in.

For instance, if it wasn't just the foam, then what was it? (rhetorical for me, just a critique of the writing).
Why was it not possible to boost to the space station? That was one of the reasons that they built the damn thing.

A tragic story overall.


(2,882 posts)
40. Columbia was too heavy to reach ISS
Fri Feb 1, 2013, 10:34 AM
Feb 2013

Yes, shuttle was originally designed for station travel, but those plans were trashed before shuttle was built, and many changes were made as shuttle struggled for purpose. (Thank Nixon)

PBS website covers several rescue scenarios-

An interesting read that might make you mad.


(10,056 posts)
45. Thanks for the link...
Fri Feb 1, 2013, 01:17 PM
Feb 2013

I hadn't seen that Nova before, but I'm familiar with the info!
My questions were purely rhetorical.
My issue was with the terrible reporting that doesn't come close to explaining ....well anything about the tragedy.


(55,445 posts)
41. What's the news? I thought that was a LONG foregone conclusion...
Fri Feb 1, 2013, 11:18 AM
Feb 2013

that Mission Control knew there was a problem at launch, and essentially decided to close their eyes, cross their fingers and pray it wouldn't result in a catastrophic failure...

ok, we now have a slightly sharper picture of who discovered what when; and who called who in the chain of command, but nothing else of substance...


(442 posts)
42. Why isn't a rescue space shuttle ever an option?
Fri Feb 1, 2013, 12:13 PM
Feb 2013

I realize that our space program is underfunded as it is, and a single space launch is a monumental financial cost. But, shouldn't we be prepared to send another shuttle after a crew that may have a problem with theirs?



(29,876 posts)
43. Seems to me like that was an option in the earlier flights where they wouldn't launch unless
Fri Feb 1, 2013, 12:26 PM
Feb 2013

a rescue shuttle was ready and able to launch.

I could be mistaken but I'm sure someone here knows that for sure.


(8,032 posts)
49. NASA's prime mission is not safety.
Fri Feb 1, 2013, 10:47 PM
Feb 2013

When you strap people on top of hundreds of tons of explosives, and shoot them into space at thousands of miles per hour, there's an understanding that those who volunteer for such missions are taking a big risk. Test pilots, race car drivers, special forces soldiers, firemen, etc., etc., all know that risk comes with the job.

NASA's responsibility is to conduct a space program. Of course it tries to minimize risk, but eliminating it is impossible and counter to the whole enterprise.

The rescue rocket idea is/was untenable. There was no way the space facility could prep two vehicles simultaneously. The logistics of fueling up a rescue craft with liquid oxygen and rocket fuels (which takes weeks of planning and methodical prep), along with ensuing saturation of already-stretched ground support capacity, would actually increase the chances of disaster, while the cost would shut the program down cold.

Meanwhile, because the shuttles were not designed to dock with each other, an additional huge risk would be taken getting the vehicles to rendezvous, and somehow transfer the astronauts safely from one craft to another.

The space shuttle is the single most complex system ever designed by humans. Vectors for error multiply exponentially when you double the load on all the support systems.

Rockets blow up. They always have. That's their nature. If one can't accept that, don't be an astronaut.

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