On February 1, 2003 the Columbia disintegrated when the spacecraft was on its return from a 16-day mission. NASA has just completed the report on the incident saying that the crew never had a chance.
In August 2003 it was concluded that Rick Husband, William McCool, Mike Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, Laurel Clark and Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon died from the trauma and loss of oxygen.
New details of that report were released by NASA on December 30, 2008 that will lead to safety improvements on future flights. The 400 page report was complied by the spacecraft crew survival team. Recommendations run the gamut from additional crew training to pressure suits. Spacecraft design also featured in the report.
It has been determined that the astronauts quickly lost consciousness from lack of oxygen. While it was also considered that the members of the spacecraft would not have regained consciousness their seat restaints failed and their heads were tossed about inside their helmets. That movement would have proven lethal.
The shuttle heated up from the friction with the Earth’s atmosphere as it plunged downward at approximately 200,000 feet. Although some of the crew members had closed their helmets their suits were not strong enough to give protection at altitudes over 100,000 feet. The crew module shattered at 140,000 and 105,000 feet over a 24-second time span.
The Chronicle reports:
“This (report) adds the big picture of what happened,” said Johathan Clark, the husband of Columbia astronaut Laurel Clark and a former NASA flight surgeon.
“If you look at any aircraft mishap, you will always see a component.of it that deals with the human factors,“ said Clark. ”That is what did the crew know, when did they know it and when did they respond, and how did they die.“
The findings were worth the near six-year wait, he said.
“I think it was very well done,” he said. “It was very thorough. Because it was not constrained by time it was as thorough and analysis as you could possible do.”
Two years after the loss of the Columbia NASA begun shuttle operations again. President Bush has directed that NASA retire the remaining shuttles in 2010 after their missions are completed. The missions include finishing the assembly of the International Space Station and one mission to work on the Hubble Space Telescope.
The shuttles will be replaced with the Orion moonship and the Ares I and Ares V launchers. The first launch of the moonship is set for 2015.