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STS-107, Chronicle Of A Disaster Foretold?

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STS-107, Chronicle Of A Disaster Foretold?

Old 2nd Feb 2003, 10:57
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Sorry if this is slightly out of context but I have decided that this thread will deal with the technical discussion of the Columbia disaster. Please use the Shuttle Columbia breaks up during re-enry thread for emotional/condolence type posts. [edited]

I cannot understand why you guys are all so uncritical of the Shuttle
missions.

They are serve no scientific purpose at all.
The technology is old. The "experiments" conducted on board are
laughably trivial; mainly for high school teaching programs ("let's
see what happens to watercress when we grow it in microgravity").

Not a single piece of scientific research from a Shuttle mission has
ever appeared in a decent peer-reviewed scientific journal; it all
goes into mediocre NASA house journals. The whole thing is a
preposterous waste of money.

Unmanned vehicles are safer, cheaper and have produced stunning
scientific discoveries.

The real tragedy of yesterday's accident is that seven highly
talented and courageous individuals lost their lives for a
completely pointless trip into space; the international space station
is an adult equivalent of building a tree house.

Last edited by Danny; 3rd Feb 2003 at 00:34.
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Old 2nd Feb 2003, 11:16
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Dear Luke,

The ISI web of science has about 2050 publications in the database involving the space shuittle. This is the latest.

Lancaster RS, Spinhirne JD, Manizade KF
Combined infrared stereo and laser ranging cloud measurements from shuttle mission STS-85
J ATMOS OCEAN TECH 20 (1): 67-78 JAN 2003

Of course the launch and repairs to the Hubble and the launch of Chandra (the X-ray observatory) were also key parts of major scientific accomplishments.

The recent flight had nothing to do with ISS, incidentally.
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Old 2nd Feb 2003, 11:46
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Beasusoleil
okay, I agree that the shuttle was helpful in repairing Hubble (which
has been productive scientifically). But relaunching a repaired
Hubble would have been safer and cost a lot less than the Shuttle
program.

In my post I did acknowledge that many papers have appeared from
the shuttle program. But they are generally trivial, in house
journals with little or no citation impact.

For example on Pubmed today there are 849 papers from the Shuttle
trips. None of these are in the big life science journals (such as
Nature, Science, Cell, New England Journal of Medicine, Lancet or
journals of similar caliber). Instead they are in obscure journals
with titles such as "the effects of microgravity on cell wall
metabolism" and "the effects of microgravity on the mouse immune
system". These are data-dredging exercises which do no address
fundamental questions. I just now trawled through the abstracts of
the most recent 100 of these papers, and the only feeling I am left
with is how pointless most of this "research" is. If the billions spent
on manned space programs had been invested in the NIH, the
scientific product would have been dramatically better.

I know I may get some hostile reaction to this (and I appreciate the
courteousness of your email). However I mean no disrespect to the
crew who died so tragically yesterday. But we don't serve them
well by suspending our critical faculties. If the shuttle program
ends now, there will be no effect at all on scientific progress (in fact
it would be be helpful, because earmarked funds could be
rediverted into real science).

Luke
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Old 2nd Feb 2003, 12:19
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Luke Davies

Not a single piece of scientific research from a Shuttle mission has ever appeared in a decent peer-reviewed scientific journal
I'm not sure why you feel the need to criticise now, but this statement is complete rubbish. I used to work with data from SRTM (Shuttle Radar Topography Mission), and plenty of data from that and the SIR-C/X-SAR (Shuttle Imaging Radar/X-band Synthetic Aperture Radar) experiments were published in the Journal of Geophysical Research - which everybody (apart from you) would regard as a "decent peer-reviewed scientific journal".

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Old 2nd Feb 2003, 12:40
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Luke, what you say has been said many times before and it is a valid point when faced with the high cost of losing life. But the simple fact is that we are explorers, we are curious about everything that exists around us. What we know of our Universe comes from our need to find answers and that will never change. Unfortunately the pioneers of this "extension of knowledge" sometimes become victims of the quest, but that is known by all participants.

You must not forget that manned space exploration is in its infancy, but it will continue, and it will bring rewards, perhaps not immediately to us, but certaintly to our descendants. The road to knowldege and understanding is filled with danger but thankfully it has not stopped us. Remember, where there is a mountain there will be someone ready to climb it, no matter how dangerous or costly it is.
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Old 2nd Feb 2003, 13:06
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Evo, what you say is correct however the point trying to be made is that the same research and results could have been attained on an unmanned spaceflight . As a pilot this does not sit well with me as I am sure many others who read such but I am afraid from a purely research/results/cost orientated standpoint it is difficult to argue against the merits of an unmanned program.
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Old 2nd Feb 2003, 13:34
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firewall - I completely agree. But that's not the point.

The statements were that "They are serve no scientific purpose at all" and "Not a single piece of scientific research from a Shuttle mission has ever appeared in a decent peer-reviewed scientific journal". That's just wrong. The shuttle has flown some very high quality experiments that have produced very high quality data. Could it have been done cheaper? Yes, in almost every case it could have been - but only a fool, NASA-basher or troll would claim it has done nothing of scientific value.

But that's enough from me. Not the time or place for the old manned/unmanned argument.
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Old 2nd Feb 2003, 13:55
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Although I haven't worked in astronautics for about 10 years since I discovered the joys of flight test, I still routinely come across many papers on work done in the Orbiter - albeit on the technology level.

The political point made by Luke isn't a new one. The fact is NASA decided to go in a particular way which isn't particularly cost-efficient in terms of pure science done. However it has allowed huge flexibility and statistically a good level of safety and success given the complexity of the technology. It has also forced the development of technologies that as mankind expands outwards, will be essential. You could argue that they should be working more on STS' successor, but you can't deny the huge effect the programme has had on world science.

Incidentally he's also wrong; probably the most prestigious basic science journal in the world is "Nature" and a quick search on their website found a huge number of papers where shuttle work is mentioned. I can't say I understand many of the titles, but I'm an Engineer not a biologist so this is unsurprising - I can certainly see the significance of papers like "Effect of microgravity on the crystallization of a self-assembling layered material" which is big stuff in semiconductor technology.

I suppose it's inevitable that the accident will cause a lot of open discussion, and some political points will be aired. So I'll make one of my own. I am British, and for my entire adult life I have lived under governments that have never seen any benefit in participating in manned spaceflight. That upsets me.

G
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Old 2nd Feb 2003, 14:51
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LUKE: The Shuttle's missions are not all scientific. Earlier "secret payload" missions assuredly included military/defense objectives; most probably they included the retrieval of several former Soviet spy satellites.
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Old 2nd Feb 2003, 15:00
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A good link...

Most interesting part to me:
____________________________________
---------
8:59am ET
---------

A message from Mission Control about low tire pressure:
?Columbia, Houston. We see your tire pressure messages and
we did not copy your last.?

Commander Husband:
?Roger, uh ...?

The transmission goes silent for several seconds, followed by
static. This would be the last communication with Columbia or
its crew.

---------
9:00am ET
---------

The shuttle is 39 miles over central Texas at this time.

NASA PAO:
?Columbia out of communications at present with Mission
Control as it continues its course towards Florida.?

Agonizing moments go by while mission controllers frantically
try to restore communication with the shuttle.

---------
9:06am ET
---------

Mission Control:
?Columbia, Houston. Comm check??

Columbia breaks apart over Dallas, ......
__________________________________________

6-7 minutes from Loss of Communication to Break Up? I don't know how accurate this is, but I would have thought that once things start going wrong at 210,000' / M18 they go wrong very quickly, and until I saw the above, I presumed this process took a few seconds at most.

Maybe by 9:06 they mean the first reports, or confirmation? However, I am sure it will be cleared up - some of the film footage probably has a time stamp....

NoD
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Old 2nd Feb 2003, 15:18
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Question STS-107, Chronicle Of A Disaster Foretold?

I thought that a separate thread to discuss the probable causes of the loss of Columbia was called for, as a mark of respect to those expressing their sentiments over the loss of life in the first.

My concern is that an initial incident, possibly resulting in the eventual loss 15 days 22 hours and 22 seconds into the mission, namely that of the impact of foam insulation debris at launch on the shuttle's left wing was never considered dangerous enough to warrant further action.

NASA's announcements so far regarding this event include statements that any damage from the incident was assessed as not representing a danger, that there were no on-board capabilities to visually examine the area of the wing in question, nor any capability by the crew for repairing any damage sustained to the tiles.

My observation is that the tiles, and any questions relating to them are of prime importance for obvious reasons. The questions I have include:

1) Why did NASA discount the incident at launch?

2) What, if any measures did NASA take to inspect the left wing during the mission (eg) by land or space-based telescopes etc. ?

3) Had the incident at launch time been taken seriously, what options would have been available to NASA in order to save the crew (eg) launch of another shuttle, diversion of the shuttle to the ISS etc. ?

As in "normal flight" incidents, while the "primary" cause may have been an equipment failure, the reason for the eventual disaster may well lie in "human error".
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Old 2nd Feb 2003, 15:30
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All your points are answered on the other thread.

<<1) Why did NASA discount the incident at launch? >>
They did not by any means...

<<As in "normal flight" incidents, while the "primary" cause may have been an equipment failure, the reason for the eventual disaster may well lie in "human error".>>
May be true, but not along the lines of the baloney you wrote above...

In short, they considered it, were unable to do anything to inspect it, and if they found a problem, what do they do? There was no means of repairing any damage even had they discovered it.

We're not talking civil aviation safety standards here. There are plenty of "critical aspects" where a single point failure = death to all. The astronauts knew that better than anyone...

Maybe before starting this link, you should have read the other thread, particularly the recent post with a link to a site with an FAQ section that repeatedly and comprehensively answers your questions.

NoD
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Old 2nd Feb 2003, 16:05
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Luke, the NIH budget for 2003 is $27 billion. In 2003, NASA intended to spend $113 million on bioastronautics, and $56 million on fundamental space biology. There have been numerous complaints, from organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences, that the NIH cannot demonstrate what scientific and medical results it is getting from spending these large sums of money. Certainly, there is not $27 billion worth of science annually being published in the peer review journals, both great and minor.

Regarding your suggestion that Hubble should have been returned to earth, repaired, and relaunched, it is impossible without the shuttle to do that. Very very few unmanned spacecraft are designed to withstand atmospheric re-entry, and none of these are intended to be re-used.

Airship, regarding the first question on your new thread, which NOD rightfully suggested that you first look at the google group FAQ link listed in a post above:

1) Why did NASA discount the incident at launch?
NASA did not discount it. NASA did an assessment based on the estimated size, weight, and velocity of the foam insulation that struck the left wing, and concluded that it was unlikely to have caused significant damage. In October 2002, a piece of insulation from the same general area of the external fuel tank pulled away and struck a cowling on one of the solid rocket motors (SRMs). NASA recovers and reuses the SRMs, and thus was presumably able to examine the amount of damage from that strike. The damage to the cowling was considered superficial.

That said, having a sizeable piece of insulation tear away from the external tank and strike either the shuttle or an SRM in two of the last three launches suggests there was:
1.) a recent change in the composition of the insulation or how the insulation was manufactured; or,
2.) a recent change in the process for bonding the insulation to the tank; or,
3.) a quality control problem in the manufacturing or installation of the insulation.

As the previous strike was in October, temperatures during pre-launch checkout and launch would not seem to be a factor.
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Old 2nd Feb 2003, 16:24
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NoD,

I think it's a great shame that you feel the need to bring out the insult handbook like that. Would a "Hi, I think most of your points are covered, hope you find them" not have sufficed? You know that you wouldn't have the balls to talk to strangers like that face to face, so the fact that you do so behind the shield of a Username is only going to serve as a sign of your cowardice. Feel free to be a grump but there's no place for your rudeness here.

AMR
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Old 2nd Feb 2003, 16:32
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NoD

I believe that all Shuttle re-entries involve several minutes of 'routine ' comms black out thanks to a plasma field round the craft at the period of max temps.

It appears the breakup happened during this period
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Old 2nd Feb 2003, 17:13
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Airship - in answer to Q3, I think the only option would have been an abort launch command which would have brought the shuttle down on an emergency strip. That decision would have to have been taken early, perhaps within seconds of seeing the bit fall off, with very little data instantly to hand and would have taken a (!)VERY BRAVE PERSON(!) to make it.

Imagine facing the NASA bosses that afternoon when the damage had been assessed as 'negligible' and YOU aborted the launch.

As it happens, it would appear to have not been negligible, and lives would probably have been saved, but ...................
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Old 2nd Feb 2003, 17:14
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According to the NASA spokesman on telly this morning the crew did inspect the wing whilst in space (during a spacewalk I think) and could not find any damage.
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Old 2nd Feb 2003, 17:15
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I believe that all Shuttle re-entries involve several minutes of 'routine ' comms black out thanks to a plasma field round the craft at the period of max temps
I was under the impression they knew pretty much to the second when communications were to be lost

If this was the case, surely they wouldnt have been surprised to be cut off mid-conversation?
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Old 2nd Feb 2003, 17:45
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Question

I have read the FAQ, while useful, it does not offer any satisfactory answers. Some notable points it contains and I quote are:

1) "...one of the tasks assigned to the STS-107 crew was to take photographs of the
External Tank immediately after tank separation to see just what broke off, where it broke loose, and how big it really was. Those photos were taken, but sadly they will probably not be recoverable."
2) "Even if there had been some suspicions, there was simply no way for the crew to perform any sort of check of the underside of the shuttle."
3) "...an EVA was simply not possible as there was no EVA airlock."
4) "...the Shuttle program manager specifically stated that the crew had no capabilities to to tile repairs." (original typographic errors)
5) "...in this flight, the shuttle did not have the docking system to dock to the station." (the station being the ISS)

What one is forced to conclude is that even if the cause of the disaster was damage sustained to the heat-shield in the incident at launch, there was no way of verifying its' condition in-flight. Even if the damage could have been verified soon after, there was no way for repairs to be effected. Even if there had been a way to launch another shuttle in a resue attempt, or to divert the shuttle to the ISS, there would still have been no rescue due to the lack of the EVA airlock and docking system because of the original mission constraints.

It sounds like the builders and operators of the Titanic not only believed their vessel was unsinkable but that even when the vessel was struck, decided not to launch any lifeboats at all, and sending an SOS would have been an entire waste of effort.
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Old 2nd Feb 2003, 17:48
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John Farley,

I believe blackouts of shuttle communications during re-entry no longer happen. The shuttle communicates and transmits data in the UHF, S, and Ku bands. The Ku (and I think the S band as well) band space-ground data is sent using geostationary TDRS (Tracking and Data Relay) satellites. Using the TDRS avoids the blackout that was the constant feature of all Mercury through early shuttle missions.

Downlink data rate on the Ku Band is 50 Mbps. So NASA should have all the telemtry data to the moment of breakup and complete loss of signal.
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