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Could the Crew of Columbia Have Been Rescued?

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Winston

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Could the Crew of Columbia Have Been Rescued?

 

AfterBurners

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This is the disaster that was caused by the broken tile? I think I saw the same video. They considered sending anotner up there and went through different scenarios.
 

cbwho

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It's extremely sad they didn't even bother to try. NASA management definitely not the right stuff.
 

georgegassaway

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This is the disaster that was caused by the broken tile?
Not "a broken tile". An entire leading edge RCC panel was smashed. A ground test firing real foam, of the actual size of the piece that broke off, at real velocity, aimed at a real RCC panel (taken from Enterprise) produced a "basketball sized hole" in it. Until THAT test was done, some NASA people thought that the shuttle could fly thru a mountain-sized piece of foam and survived (Well, I exaggerate... a bit. The attitude was "it's just foam", as though there could never be a big enough piece to hit just the wrong place at high velocity to cause fatal damage. Never mind that if one of those people was hit in the head by a piece of foam at that size and mass and velocity , that "just foam" would have not left much above their shoulders. I mean, really they clung to that "it's just foam" mantra until the test months later, and even then a few still did not believe that they could ever be wrong) .


Later analysis of on-orbit radar tracking of Columbia showed a mysterious piece of debris that apparently drifted away from it in orbit. After the accident and the theory of the broken RCC panel, this was suspected to be a major part of the shattered panel, having been blown inwards at the time then "wiggling" out during orbital maneuvers.

Bottom line, yes, there was a decent chance at rescuing the crew. But key parts of NASA management by 2003 had grown back into smug ultra-hubris mode like it had in January 1986 (Challenger disaster, "prove in an hour it is NOT safe or else we will launch as scheduled"). A group of worried engineers had arranged for a spysat to take images of Columbia. A manager went ape-crap over their involving "national security assets" and cancelled the imaging that would have revealed the damage.
 
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mach7

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Here is Endeavor's wing where Columbia's failed, the join between the 7th and 8th grey leading edge Re-enforced Carbon carbon (RCC).



As I understand it, there is no consensus as to the size of the hole/damage. That area of the wing gets VERY hot during re-entry, the reason for using the RCC leading edge sections. Unfortunately RCC is relatively fragile, but has excellent thermal properties. It was an engineering compromise.

If I remember properly from the accident reports published in Aviation Week after the report, there was a theoretical re-entry procedure that might have saved the crew. Columbia would have had to re-enter in a slight crab, using the body of the shuttle to lessen the heating on the damaged RCC area. This would have put much higher stress on the shuttle causing it to be grounded after it landed, If it succeeded in landing.

The telemetry showed the progress of the burn through in the wing with temp sensors, I believe the last was an over temp in the landing gear bay just before the wing failed. Corresponding to the temp data, the auto-pilot was making corrections up until failure due the the increased drag caused by the progressing burn through.

All in all, a very sad day for NASA.

This is all from memory, so take it as such. Others here probably know better.
 

AfterBurners

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Here is Endeavor's wing where Columbia's failed, the join between the 7th and 8th grey leading edge Re-enforced Carbon carbon (RCC).



As I understand it, there is no consensus as to the size of the hole/damage. That area of the wing gets VERY hot during re-entry, the reason for using the RCC leading edge sections. Unfortunately RCC is relatively fragile, but has excellent thermal properties. It was an engineering compromise.

If I remember properly from the accident reports published in Aviation Week after the report, there was a theoretical re-entry procedure that might have saved the crew. Columbia would have had to re-enter in a slight crab, using the body of the shuttle to lessen the heating on the damaged RCC area. This would have put much higher stress on the shuttle causing it to be grounded after it landed, If it succeeded in landing.

The telemetry showed the progress of the burn through in the wing with temp sensors, I believe the last was an over temp in the landing gear bay just before the wing failed. Corresponding to the temp data, the auto-pilot was making corrections up until failure due the the increased drag caused by the progressing burn through.

All in all, a very sad day for NASA.

This is all from memory, so take it as such. Others here probably know better.
Do they knew they had a problem but figured let's chance it kind of attitude and see what happens? I'm not sure on the events it was long ago but were any type of repairs done at all?
 

mach7

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They knew a large chunk of foam had hit the wing. No repairs were thought necessary at the time by NASA management.
Like Challenger, there were engineers who were very concerned but were not listened to.

As you said, this was a long time ago. I know I kept the Aviation Week issues that covered this (like Challenger) but who knows where in the basement they are.
 

rcktnut

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The Science Channel just had a show on the Columbia disaster Nov. 25th on Deadly Engineering. It explains everything from what happened and what they could have possibly done to rescue the crew, and what was done after to prevent it from happening again. View it if you can.
 

BABAR

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Absolutely a sad and tragic day.

Sending up a second shuttle, in a rush, skipping all the “low risk” safety checks, smacks very close to sending good money after bad.

Yes, would have been great if crew had been saved.

Much worse if TWO shuttles were lost for the same reason, “priority of launch exceeds priority for safety.”

There’s a message here for model rocketeers as well, when you’ve waited for a day off or travelled a long distance and finally are physically present at the date and location with a pad and either the winds are high, a piece broke off but miiiiiiggght work if you jury-rig it, or the motor you planned on wasn’t available or was a dud, but you have an old Estes E motor (what was that lot number?) that simmed sort of borderline stable.....

Challenger was another flight that probably would have gone well had someone just had the guts to say, “hey, it’s cold today, there’s a lot of ice, we live in a Florida, it’s gonna be better in a week or two.” We don’t HAVE to fly today.”
 

DeWain

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I had read that the engineering manager for the tiles dismissed the danger from the foam strike. NASA management listened to him because he rather forcefully presented himself as the "expert." He did have expertise with the tiles, but not the RCC (carbon sheets). A valuable lesson in recognizing who has the real expertise in a particular area. And a lesson in not letting a forceful person control the agenda.
 

crossfire

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If they knew there was damage and didn't try to do a rescue its murder. They could have done something.
 

lakeroadster

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If they knew there was damage and didn't try to do a rescue its murder. They could have done something.
Everything about space flight is dangerous, it's all about risk management. If they had known then, what we know now, they would have done things differently.

Hindsight produces 20/20 vision.
 

crossfire

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Everything about space flight is dangerous, it's all about risk management. If they had known then, what we know now, they would have done things differently.

Hindsight produces 20/20 vision.
It dosen't take a whole lot of smarts to think of a rescue. Yes it would have been very difficult to do.
 

BABAR

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Hindsight produces 20/20 vision.
Nope, I think even Hindsight is 20/40 at best, and that’s for people that even BOTHER to study history.

Also remember, history books are generally written by the winners. Had we LOST WW2, we might be reading something’s quite differently (and possibly in German or Japanese!). Scary.
 

JoePfeiffer

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If they knew there was damage and didn't try to do a rescue its murder. They could have done something.
Only in the movies. Read that wikipedia article -- maybe they should have realized how bad the odds were, but they didn't.

The real issue was with the whole design of the shuttle. Putting the crew next to the SRBs and the main tank is what caused both fatal accidents. Landing like an airplane is a romantic notion that caused a huge amount of extra complexity, cost, and risk.
 

lakeroadster

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Also remember, history books are generally written by the winners. Had we LOST WW2, we might be reading something’s quite differently (and possibly in German or Japanese!). Scary.
Scary indeed and timely that you should mention that. I just finished reading a book written by Frederick Libby entitled "Horses Don't Fly". It's an awesome book.

Libby was a WWI ace, born in Sterling Colorado, who fought for the RAF. So here we have a first hand account of his life and times. I mentioned on Facebook that Libby had nothing good to say about Manfred von Richthofen (MvR, aka The Red Baron), basically stating, & I'm paraphrasing here, that MvR was a vulture that preyed upon wounded / inferior planes in order to boost his numbers. Other German aces, such as Oswald Boelcke he, Libby, held in very high regard. So much so that when Boelcke was shot down and killed, the RAF dropped a wreath over the German airbase in honor of him. When I mentioned this on another forum a fella wanted to argue with me about it.

Hey, it's not my opinion, it's a first hand account, written by Libby, the guy that was actually there.
 
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rcktnut

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The real issue was with the whole design of the shuttle. Putting the crew next to the SRBs and the main tank is what caused both fatal accidents. Landing like an airplane is a romantic notion that caused a huge amount of extra complexity, cost, and risk.
It was one hell of a workhorse but as far as crew safety bad news. No way to escape on the way up, designed with fragile components that if damaged to a certain extent no way to survive re-entry.
 

GlenP

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The official report created by a group of highly respected and knowledgeable people with direct access to the personnel involved is the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) Report, for those who want to learn about the actual facts uncovered during the investigation. Some complex issues were at play that exceed the bandwidth of a thread on a hobby forum.



but that is an interesting video on the concept of transferring a crew to another shuttle.
 
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Marc_G

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Also remember, history books are generally written by the winners. Had we LOST WW2, we might be reading something’s quite differently (and possibly in German or Japanese!). Scary.
"The Man in the High Castle."

An intriguing book and one heck of an Amazon series!
 

KC3KNM

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Tape and drop glue in trough

Wipe off excess. All the glue is now on wrong side, but wait

Slide in place

Tape over joint, burnish over joint

Set up root side DOWN, so glue will run back down from back side to joint
View attachment 440688View attachment 440689View attachment 440690View attachment 440691View attachment 440695View attachment 440688View attachment 440689View attachment 440690View attachment 440691
I’m not sure that Gorilla Glue would hold up during reentry.
 

BABAR

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I’m not sure that Gorilla Glue would hold up during reentry.
Oops, wrong thread.

Will ask Angie to move.

Thanks
 
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Ez2cDave

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They knew a large chunk of foam had hit the wing. No repairs were thought necessary at the time by NASA management.
Was the Shuttle Crew ever informed, by NASA, that there had been a Wing Impact, during launch ?

If the answer is "yes", why was no EVA done to evaluate the damage ?

If I were the Shuttle Commander, we WOULD have done an EVA, had I been informed . . . "Houston, we have a hole in the Leading Edge of the Port Wing, the size of a BRIEFCASE" ! ! !

I think a combined NASA / RUSSIA ( multiple Soyuz launches ) Rescue Mission could have pulled it off, safely . . .

Dave F.
 
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mach7

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Hindsight is 2020.

NASA management was informed of the impact on the wing by the foam.
The crew was informed.
Some engineers were concerned about the damage to the wing, some were not. Management decided to back the
ones who who said everything was good, the wrong choice.

A rescue mission would have been incredibly risky, Not so much dangerous but risky.

The crew did not have the proper EVA suits or the Canadarm with the camera to do a low risk inspection of the area. A procedure for a relatively high risk EVA was available, as was the possibility of imaging the wing with with clandestine assets.

NASA management decided that none of these were needed, they incorrectly believed that the re-entry was safe.

Risk management was what NASA's leaders job was/is, they failed that day.

The crew would NOT preform a high risk EVA without NASA's approval. This is not hollywood, this is real life. The crew believed, with the information at hand that a safe re-entry would be the outcome.


The end result was the loss of the crew and the shuttle, a huge tragedy that we all wish never happened.

Human spaceflight is incredibly unforgiving. NASA management made the wrong decision. They paid with their careers, the crew paid with their lives.
 

Vitruvius

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I normally don't get involved in the "what if..." threads, but the problems go back even further; to the very beginning. Originally, the Shuttle was to be the "DC-3" of space travel", but thanks to the late George Shultz as director of Office of Management and Budget, put the kibosh to the original idea which was that the Shuttle would be launched on a reusable ship. Shultz raised heck about the cost and extra research needed to develop that reusable ship. THAT'S why the shuttle ended up as it did. Blame Shultz for the deaths of both crews, IMHO
 

Antares JS

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Was the Shuttle Crew ever informed, by NASA, that there had been a Wing Impact, during launch ?

If the answer is "yes", why was no EVA done to evaluate the damage ?

If I were the Shuttle Commander, we WOULD have done an EVA, had I been informed . . . "Houston, we have a hole in the Leading Edge of the Port Wing, the size of a BRIEFCASE" ! ! !

I think a combined NASA / RUSSIA ( multiple Soyuz launches ) Rescue Mission could have pulled it off, safely . . .

Dave F.
Yes, they were informed but trusted NASA's conclusions that the foam was little threat.

An EVA was not possible because the airlock hatch at the back of the mid-deck that is used for EVA's was connected to the spacelab in the payload bay. The only exit was through the main hatch on the side, which would have required depressurizing the entire cabin to use.

Not enough ready-to-go Soyuz craft would have been available and even if they were, Columbia was in an orbit that couldn't be reached by a Soyuz from Baikonur.
 

georgegassaway

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Until Soyuz made its 136th flight, the Space Shuttle (135 missions) had the BEST safety record of any crewed spacecraft that had more than 10 missions. Apollo was the most dangerous, killed one crew (Apollo-1), came VERY close to killing another crew (Apollo-13) and almost asphyxiated/poisoned its last crew (Apollo-Soyuz) during descent (RCS dump fumes after a valve to let in fresh air was opened too soon).

We'll see what the safety records of the "new capsules" are once each of them has done 135 missions. Crap happens, space is hard.
 

mach7

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Yup, Even knowing everything we know today, if I had the choice I would strap myself into a shuttle and enjoy the ride!

As you said, Space is hard.

 
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