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Space Science

Space Shuttle Columbia Breaks Up Over Texas 2398

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the not-looking-good dept.
An anonymous reader writes "NASA lost communication with space shuttle Columbia shortly before its scheduled landing on Saturday. It was unclear whether there were any other problems." Various news programs have been showing debris falling from the sky, and NASA has declared an emergency.Update: 02/01 15:29 GMT by H : Confirmation has come - the shuttle has broken up over Texas while coming in for landing Florida.
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Space Shuttle Columbia Breaks Up Over Texas

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  • I heard it (Score:2, Informative)

    by revscat (35618) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @10:47AM (#5203282) Journal
    I live in the Dallas area. Around 8 AM CST we were making breakfast when we heard what sounded like the distant sound of thunder, loud enough for me to hear over the crackling of bacon. 30 minutes later we turn on the TV and are told that NASA lost contact with Columbia at around 8AM CST somewhere south of Dallas.

    Now they're speculating about the presence of an Israeli on board.

    Not again.
  • by EaglesNest (524150) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @10:48AM (#5203283)
    Here's the yet not-updated NASA site for mission STS-107. [nasa.gov]
  • More links and info (Score:5, Informative)

    by ke4roh (590577) <jimesNO@SPAMhiwaay.net> on Saturday February 01, 2003 @10:48AM (#5203286) Homepage Journal
    This was my submission, seconds later than this story post:

    The U.S. Space Shuttle Columbia, flying STS 107 [nasa.gov] apparently dissentegrated over north Texas during re-entry according to CNN [cnn.com], CBS [cbsnews.com], and NBC [msnbc.com] TV reports. Columbia launched on January 16 for that orbiter's 28th journey. Communication was lost at 8:00 Central Time (14:00 GMT), 16 minutes prior to the scheduled landing, at an altitude of 200,000 feet (61km) and velocity of 12,000 miles per hour (19,000 km/h). NASA advises people to report and avoid debris in the area because it may inlude toxic propellants.

  • by Fideaux! (44069) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @10:48AM (#5203290) Homepage
    Reports have them at 2x the speed of sound, and altitude of 200,000 ft. Not very good conditions for a bailout.

    CBS seems to have the most hi-res footage of the breakup.

    Analyist on NBC discusses launch/pre-launch dammage to heat sheild on the leading edge of the wing, that was deemed safe by NASA.
  • Photos (Score:5, Informative)

    by PD (9577) <slashdotlinux@pdrap.org> on Saturday February 01, 2003 @10:48AM (#5203292) Homepage Journal
    I have my photos on my website:

    www.pdrap.org [pdrap.org], link from the front page.

    The actual photo page is here [pdrap.org]

    I didn't actually see the space shuttle until it had exploded, so all my photos are of the shuttle as it burns and breaks up. The instant that the shuttle exploded was dramatic. One second I'm looking for it, the next, it was a bright burning ball of fire.

    Very sad. Columbia was my favorite shuttle.
  • Original CNN article (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 01, 2003 @10:49AM (#5203298)
    CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (AP) -- NASA lost communication with space shuttle Columbia shortly before its scheduled landing on Saturday. It was unclear whether there were any other problems.

    Mission Control reported no communication with the shuttle after 9 a.m. EST.

    The shuttle was carrying the first Israeli astronaut and six Americans, and authorities had feared it would be a terrorist target.

    Fifteen minutes after the expected landing time, and with no word from the shuttle, NASA announced that search and rescue teams were being mobilized in Dallas and Fort Worth areas.

    NASA, while not saying the shuttle had exploded, broken up or crashed, warned that any debris found in the area should be avoided and could be hazardous.

    Inside Mission Control, flight controller hovered in front of their computers, staring at the screens. The wives, husbands and children of the astronauts who had been waiting at the landing strip were gathered together by NASA and taken to separate place.

    Columbia was at an altitude of 200,700 feet over north-central Texas at a 9 a.m., traveling at 12,500 mph when mission control lost contact and tracking data.

    Reporters at the landing strip were ordered away 7 minutes after the scheduled touchdown with still no sign of the shuttle.

    In 42 years of human space flight, NASA has never lost a space crew during landing or the ride back to orbit. In 1986, space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after liftoff.

    Security had been tight for the 16-day scientific research mission that included the first Israeli astronaut.

    The shuttle Columbia was captured by TV cameras as it flew over Dallas, Texas, on Saturday morning, on its way to a planned 9:16 a.m EST landing at the Kennedy Center.

    Ilan Ramon, a colonel in Israel's air force and former fighter pilot, became the first man from his country to fly in space, and his presence resulted in an increase in security, not only for Columbia's January 16 launch, but also for its landing. Space agency officials feared his presence might make the shuttle more of a terrorist target.

    On launch day, a piece of insulating foam on the external fuel tank came off during liftoff and was believed to have struck the left wing of the shuttle. NASA said as late as Friday that the damage to the thermal tiles was believed to be minor and posed no safety concern during the fiery decent through the atmosphere.

    Science mission

    Columbia's crew -- Ramon and six Americans -- completed all of their 80-plus experiments in orbit.

    They studied ant, bee and spider behavior in weightlessness as well as changes in flames and flower scents, and took measurements of atmospheric dust with a pair of Israeli cameras.

    The 13 lab rats on board -- part of a brain and heart study -- faced the guillotine following the flight so researchers could see up-close the effects of so much time in weightlessness.

    The insects and other animals had a brighter, longer future: the student experimenters were going to get them back and many of the youngsters planned to keep them, almost like pets.

    All of the scientific objectives were accomplished during the round-the-clock laboratory mission, and some of the work may be continued aboard the international space station, researchers said.

    The only problem of note was a pair of malfunctioning dehumidifiers, which temporarily raised temperatures inside the laboratory to the low 80s, 10 degrees higher than desired.

    Some of Columbia's crew members didn't want their time in space to end.

    "Do we really have to come back?" astronaut David Brown jokingly asked Mission Control before the ride home.
  • by AgentUSA (251620) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @10:50AM (#5203313) Homepage
    It's updated:

    Deorbit burn occured at 8:15 a.m. EST (1315 GMT). Communication lost with Columbia at 9:00am EST while Columbia was at approximately 200,000ft over Central Texas.

  • Re:Very sad... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Bandman (86149) <bandman@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Saturday February 01, 2003 @10:51AM (#5203318) Homepage
    well, the guy on CBS (some NASA spokesman) said that while they have the door they can exit out of, he couldn't imagine a situation where that would be feasable. So probably not, no. :-(
  • BBCTV and NASA TV (Score:5, Informative)

    by sh0rtie (455432) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @10:51AM (#5203327)

    BBC news live (needs Real/Helix player)
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsa/n5ctrl/live/now2.ram [bbc.co.uk]

    Story
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/2716369.stm [bbc.co.uk]

    NASA TV Live (Real/Helix Player)
    http://quest.nasa.gov/ltc/ram/nasalive-v.ram [nasa.gov]

  • Nasa TV feed (Score:3, Informative)

    by EvilBastard (77954) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @10:52AM (#5203331) Homepage
    http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/MM_NTV_Web.h tml

    Voiceover says (paraphrased) Declared a contingency over central america. If you find debris, inform law enforcment and do not touch as it may be hazardous

    one of the screens showing what looks like a debris trail

    Use the Dial up 55kb, not the 225 kb please
  • Re:Very sad... (Score:5, Informative)

    by GMontag (42283) <gmontag@guymo[ ]g.com ['nta' in gap]> on Saturday February 01, 2003 @10:53AM (#5203342) Homepage Journal
    Impossible.

    The emergency exit business is the hatch on the side, astronauts hook to a pole and slide out. Only if they have time. Parachute down.

    They made no indication that they knew anything was wrong before contact was lost.

    There was a report on FOX that a tile or some piece had come off on launch and hit a wing, was not supposed to be a problem. Not sure if that was this missions launch or not.
  • Re:HOLY.... (Score:3, Informative)

    by stevew (4845) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @10:54AM (#5203352) Journal
    The pictures look pretty conclusive. Well - I'm now brought back to 1986 when I heard the news of Challenger. That wasn't a pleasant day either.

    They just announced that they lost contact with shuttle at 200K feet as it was heading to Kennedy. They've warned that any debris should be avoided since it could be toxic.

    We've lost 7 valiant explorers. God rest their souls.
  • Several Comments (Score:5, Informative)

    by p_trekkie (597206) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @10:54AM (#5203355) Homepage
    1. No Surface to Air missile can reach above 100k feet.

    2. There is almost no fuel on the space shuttle during reentry.

    3. Most likely cause of destruction was damage to heat shield.

    4. Survival is possible... space shuttle was relatively slow, already mostly throught the atmosphere the crew may have been able to bail out, and they do have parachutes.

    5. This does not bode well for manned space exploration
  • Re:I heard it (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 01, 2003 @10:54AM (#5203359)
    There was an Israeli on board, but they're simply speculating that there might have been an act of terrorisim because of that. The sound you heard was most likely the sonic booms that normally occur, and are not abnormal at all.
  • Toxic Substances (Score:4, Informative)

    by hughk (248126) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @10:55AM (#5203363) Journal
    Red Fuming Nitric Acid + Hydrazine, I think are on board. These are hypergolic (recting spontaneously don't need an igniter) which is why they are ideal for manouvering jets. They are also exemptionally nasty.

    Under normal circumstances, the shuttle is checked and astronauts don't leave for a good 15 to 30 minutes after the shuttle has landed.

  • Re:Very sad... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @10:55AM (#5203366)
    Well, it couldn't be a SAM due to the altitude of the Shuttle on breakup.

    At 200,000 feet, there'd be no way to survive.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 01, 2003 @10:55AM (#5203367)
    This is sad, sad day. Here's CNNs profile [cnn.com] of the crew of the Columbia.
  • Re:I heard it (Score:3, Informative)

    by somethingwicked (260651) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @10:57AM (#5203373)
    Now they're speculating about the presence of an Israeli on board

    Um, not speculation. The first Israeli astronaut was on board

  • update (Score:3, Informative)

    by TheHawke (237817) <rchapin@peli[ ]coast.net ['can' in gap]> on Saturday February 01, 2003 @10:57AM (#5203377)
    Palestine TX reports hearing and feeling "massive impact". Possibly the vehicle itself has crashed in that area...

    NASA has issued a statement for the DFW \ Palestine region advised to keep clear of any shuttle debris for toxic fumes and chemicals used in the shuttle's propellant systems.

    While you are reading the posts, lets send a prayer up for the crew members of the mission...

    rc
  • Re:Toxic Substances (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 01, 2003 @11:00AM (#5203400)
    They're not used for manouvering during landing. The shuttle comes in under no power (gliding), with only hydraulics to power the arial surfaces (elevators, ailerions, etc.)
  • by joe_janitor (628983) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @11:00AM (#5203401)
    Here's a timestamped update of the final minutes of the mission on the Spaceflight Now [spaceflightnow.com] site.
  • Re:I heard it (Score:2, Informative)

    by RoyalHoser (27490) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @11:02AM (#5203415)
    I live an hour east of Dallas, and we got hit with a rather significant shockwave... It was enough to make me turn on the cable news networks right away.
  • by Some Bitch (645438) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @11:10AM (#5203494)
    On launch day, a piece of insulating foam on the external fuel tank came off during liftoff and was believed to have struck the left wing of the shuttle. Leroy Cain, the lead flight director in Mission Control, had assured reporters Friday that engineers had concluded that any damage to the wing was considered minor and posed no safety hazard.
    Source: cnn.com [cnn.com]
  • Don't watch FNC (Score:3, Informative)

    by cyranoVR (518628) <cyranoVR AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday February 01, 2003 @11:24AM (#5203617) Homepage Journal
    it would be a real shame to take that as a reason to accelerate the war processus.

    Well I would advice you not to turn on Fox News Channel...right under the Shuttle coverage their ticker is running stuff about Iraq, Saddam and "coming war." Not very subtle if you ask me.

    (By contrast, CNN's ticker has nothing but information about the shuttle)
  • by jafiwam (310805) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @11:24AM (#5203620) Homepage Journal
    One of the eye-witnesses in Texas stated that it appeared the contrail had a spiral characteristic that might mean the craft was tumbling during or before re-entry. This may imply that it was not a catastrophic explosion, rather some other event that went wrong.

    Part of the insulation on one of the boosters apparently came off on takoff (gaining orbit) and struck a wing. The wing was checked during flight and said to not be damaged.

  • by xScruffx (546751) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @11:31AM (#5203693) Journal
    Thank you very much for pointing this out. Much like the other (well-publicized) tragedies that have happened of late, it's probably best for the chillin' to be *told* about this stuff by their PARENTS rather than CNN/FNN/whathaveyou.

    Now, if that's the only tube in the house . . . let them play in their room or something for a bit.

    xScruffx
  • Re:Several Comments (Score:5, Informative)

    by Temkin (112574) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @11:32AM (#5203712)
    1. No Surface to Air missile can reach above 100k feet.

    True of shoulder launched missiles, but I'm not so sure about things like the Aegis SM2's, or fighter launched air-to-air missiles. However, it's safe to say, it's very very unlikely it's a missile.

    2. There is almost no fuel on the space shuttle during reentry.

    Compared to the main tank, true. But they use thruster rockets right down to the point they drop subsonic, and these thrusters use hypergolic (self igniting) fuels.

    4. Survival is possible... space shuttle was relatively slow, already mostly throught the atmosphere the crew may have been able to bail out, and they do have parachutes.

    Not at 200,000 feet. Entry interface is at 400,000 feet. Region of maxiumum heating is at 43 miles up, or 227,040 feet. At that point, they're still doing 15,000 miles per hour. They exit ionization blackout 12 minutes before touchdown, still doing 8200 miles per hour. Surviving egress from an aircraft above Mach 1 is dangerous. Above Mach 3, pretty much not surviveable, unless you have some kind of armored escape pod.

    5. This does not bode well for manned space exploration

    Agreed. I think we need to replace the shuttle system. It's 30 year old technology.

    Temkin
  • by joe_janitor (628983) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @11:38AM (#5203767)
    Since it seems slashdotted...



    1502 GMT (10:02 a.m. EST)
    News reports say President Bush is being briefed. It is expected he could soon make a statement to the nation.
    1500 GMT (10:00 a.m. EST)
    There have been no further announcements from Mission Control.
    1440 GMT (9:40 a.m. EST)
    During a mission status news conference yesterday, Entry Flight Director Leroy Cain was asked about any possible damage to the shuttle's thermal tiles during launch. The tiles are what protect the shuttle during the fiery reentry into Earth's atmosphere. Tracking video of launch shows what appears to be a piece of foam insulation from the shuttle's external tank falling away during ascent and hitting the shuttle's left wing near its leading edge. But Cain said engineers "took a very thorough look at the situation with the tile on the left wing and we have no concerns whatsoever. We haven't changed anything with respect to our trajectory design. It will be a nominal, standard trajectory."
    1436 GMT (9:36 a.m. EST)
    NASA is asking that any persons finding debris should stay clear given the hazardous nature of the materials and alert local authorities.
    1435 GMT (9:35 a.m. EST)
    The last voice communications from the crew involved a tire pressure message. Communications were then garbled and static. Contact with the shuttle was lost at about 9 a.m. EST.
    1429 GMT (9:29 a.m. EST)
    Search and rescue forces are now being deployed, NASA says.
    1427 GMT (9:27 a.m. EST)
    NASA says the shuttle was about 200,000 feet up and traveling at 12,500 miles per hour when contact was lost. From all the reports we're receiving, it is becoming clear that the shuttle broke apart over Texas.
    1419 GMT (9:19 a.m. EST)
    Contingency plans are in effect in Mission Control.
    1416 GMT (9:16 a.m. EST)
    This was the time of Columbia's landing. What we know is contact was lost with the shuttle at about 9 a.m. EST and a sighting by residents in Texas reported a debris cloud following the plasma trail as Columbia streaked overhead.
    1415 GMT (9:15 a.m. EST)
    The flight dynamics officer reports there is no tracking of the shuttle.
    1414 GMT (9:14 a.m. EST)
    Entry Flight Director Leroy Cain has instructed flight controllers to get out their contingency plan.
    1410 GMT (9:10 a.m. EST)
    NASA is still seeking tracking data. Communications with the shuttle were lost about 10 minutes ago.
    1409 GMT (9:09 a.m. EST)
    Still no contact with Columbia or crew.
    1406 GMT (9:06 a.m. EST)
    Mission Control waiting for C-band tracking data and UHF communications with Columbia through MILA. Houston lost communications with the shuttle a few minutes ago over Texas. We have gotten reports of debris in the sky.
    1405 GMT (9:05 a.m. EST)
    THERE HAS BEEN NO COMMUNICATIONS WITH THE SHUTTLE. Mission Controllers waiting for tracking data from the Merritt Island station.
    1404 GMT (9:04 a.m. EST)
    We're getting reports from Texas of debris behind the shuttle's plasma trail during reentery.
    1401 GMT (9:01 a.m. EST)
    Columbia is out of communications with flight controllers in Houston. Now 15 minutes from landing time.
    1359 GMT (8:59 a.m. EST)
    At an altitude of 40 miles, shuttle Columbia has entered Texas.
    1357 GMT (8:57 a.m. EST)
    The shuttle is now 43 miles over New Mexico. Columbia is now reversing its bank to the left to further reduce speed.
    1356 GMT (8:56 a.m. EST)
    Columbia's speed is now about 15,000 miles per hour as it streaks over northern Arizona.
    1355 GMT (8:55 a.m. EST)
    The shuttle is now soaring over the southern portion of Nevada. Columbia set for touchdown at Kennedy Space Center in Florida in about 20 minutes. SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 1, 2003
    1353 GMT (8:53 a.m. EST)
    Columbia is now crossing the California coastline. SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 1, 2003
    1351 GMT (8:51 a.m. EST)
    Altitude 47 miles. Speed 16,400 miles per hour.
    1349 GMT (8:49 a.m. EST)
    Columbia is beginning the first in a series of banks to scrub off speed as it plunges into the atmosphere. These turns basically remove the energy Columbia built up during launch. This first bank is to the right.
    1346 GMT (8:46 a.m. EST)
    Thirty minutes to touchdown. Altitude 64 miles. Columbia will be making landfall over California shortly, flying north of San Francisco. The shuttle's course will take it over Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and then along the Gulf Coast and into the Florida Panhandle.
    1344 GMT (8:44 a.m. EST)
    ENTRY INTERFACE. The protective tiles on the belly of Columbia are now feeling heat beginning to build as the orbiter enters the top fringes of the atmosphere -- a period known as Entry Interface. The shuttle is flying with its nose elevated 40 degrees, wings level, at an altitude of 400,000 feet, passing over the southern Pacific Ocean, about 4,400 nautical miles from the landing site, at a velocity of Mach 25. Touchdown is set for 9:16 a.m. EST at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
    1342 GMT (8:42 a.m. EST)
    Columbia is currently above the Pacific Ocean at an altitude of 90 miles.
    1336 GMT (8:36 a.m. EST)
    Now 40 minutes to touchdown. Today's landing will be the 62nd to occur at Kennedy Space Center in the history of space shuttle program. Dating back to May 1996, this will mark the 40th of the last 45 shuttle missions to land in Florida. KSC is the most used landing site for the shuttle. Edwards Air Force Base in California has seen 49 landings and White Sands in New Mexico supported one.
    1332 GMT (8:32 a.m. EST)
    The remaining two Auxiliary Power Units are being activated to supply pressure to the shuttle's hydraulic systems, which in turn move Columbia's aerosurfaces and deploy the landing gear. One unit was started prior to the deorbit burn; the others just a few moments ago. The units are only activated during the launch and landing phases of the shuttle mission. Also, a dump of excess propellant through the shuttle's Forward Reaction Control System has been completed.
    1331 GMT (8:31 a.m. EST)
    Columbia's current altitude is 146 miles. Time to touchdown: 45 minutes.
    1323 GMT (8:23 a.m. EST)
    Onboard guidance is maneuvering Columbia from its heads-down, tail-forward position needed for the deorbit burn to the reentry configuration of heads-up and nose-forward. The nose also will be pitched upward 40 degrees. In this new position, the black tiles on the shuttle's belly will shield the spacecraft during the fiery plunge through the Earth's atmosphere with temperatures reaching 3,000 degrees F. Columbia will begin interacting with the upper fringes of the atmosphere above the Pacific in about 20 minutes.
    1318 GMT (8:18 a.m. EST)
    DEORBIT BURN COMPLETE. Columbia has successfully completed the deorbit burn, committing the shuttle for its journey back to Earth. Landing is scheduled for 9:16 a.m. EST at Kennedy Space Center in Florida to cap Columbia's 16-day microgravity science flight.
    1315 GMT (8:15 a.m. EST)
    DEORBIT BURN IGNITION. Flying upside down and backwards about 176 miles above the Indian Ocean to the west of Australia, Columbia has begun the deorbit burn. The firing of the two Orbital Maneuvering System engines on the tail of the shuttle will last nearly three minutes, slowing the craft by over 250 feet per second to slip from orbit. The retro-burn will send Columbia to a touchdown at 9:16 a.m. EST on a runway just a few miles from the Kennedy Space Center launch pad where the shuttle lifted off 16 days ago.
    1311 GMT (8:11 a.m. EST)
    Pilot Willie McCool is activating one of three Auxiliary Power Units in advance of the deorbit burn, now four minutes away. The other two APUs will be started later in the descent to provide pressure needed to power shuttle's hydraulic systems that move the wing flaps, rudder/speed brake, drop the landing gear and steer the nose wheel. NASA ensures that at least one APU is working before committing to the deorbit burn since the shuttle only needs a single unit to make a safe landing.
    1309 GMT (8:09 a.m. EST)
    GO FOR THE DEORBIT BURN! With the fog burning off and high-altitude winds deemed acceptable, entry flight director Leroy Cain has given space shuttle Columbia's astronauts the "go" to perform the deorbit burn at 8:15:30 a.m. EST for return to Earth. The upcoming two-minute, 38-second retrograde burn using the twin orbital maneuvering system engines on the tail of Columbia will slow the shuttle's velocity just enough to slip the craft out of orbit and begin the plunge back into the atmosphere. Columbia is headed for a landing at 9:16 a.m. EST at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
    1303 GMT (8:03 a.m. EST)
    Columbia is now in the proper orientation for the deorbit burn. The shuttle is flying upside-down and backwards with its tail pointed in the direction of travel. The shuttle's vent doors have been closed and final configuring of the onboard computers has been completed.
    1259 GMT (7:59 a.m. EST)
    A weather briefing is being given to flight controllers. The fog is burning off. But the question is whether the situation is clearing fast enough to permit an on-time landing of Columbia today.
    1255 GMT (7:55 a.m. EST)
    A report on the conditions at the Shuttle Landing Facility indicates sky conditions scattered at 5,000 feet, scattered 29,000 feet and visibility of 4 miles.
    1249 GMT (7:49 a.m. EST)
    Mission Control has told the crew to maneuver the shuttle and press on with the final preparations for the deorbit burn. However, the weather is still being evaluated and a final "go" to perform the braking rocket firing to drop from orbit has not been made. The deorbit burn is scheduled for 8:15 a.m. EST to send the shuttle on the course for landing at Kennedy Space Center at 9:16 a.m. EST. If this deorbit and landing opportunity is waved off, Columbia would make another orbit of Earth and target a deorbit burn at 9:49 a.m. and touchdown at 10:50 a.m. EST.
    1245 GMT (7:45 a.m. EST)
    The crew has deactivated the shuttle's kitchen area. And pilot Willie McCool has completed the Auxiliary Power Unit prestart, which positions switches in the cockpit in the ready-to-start configuration. One of the three APUs will be started prior to the deorbit burn. Coming up on a "go/no go" decision for the deorbit burn in the next few minutes.
    1232 GMT (7:32 a.m. EST)
    The latest check on upper level winds shows conditions are trending more favorable, NASA says. It remains quite foggy, however, at the runway. But visibility is expected to improve as the morning continues.
    1212 GMT (7:12 a.m. EST)
    The crew has been given the approval to begin their "fluid loading" protocol to drink large amounts of liquids to help in readapting to Earth's gravity, a precursor to today's landing. Although there is still optimism for favorable conditions at Kennedy Space Center for touchdown at 9:16 a.m. EST, visibility is currently restricted by fog at the runway. But it is expected that as the sun continues to rise the fog will burn off this morning. In addition, strong winds aloft are being monitored.
    1200 GMT (7:00 a.m. EST)
    The astronauts are finshing up the chore of checking the hundreds of switches in the crew module, verifying that they are in the right position for entry. In Mission Control, officials are continuing to monitor and discuss the winds aloft at Kennedy Space Center. Weather balloons have revealed that the winds are strong and shift directions are various altitudes. Based on the conditions, NASA will have to determine if Columbia can safely fly through the winds. And, if so, which end of the runway to use.
    1128 GMT (6:28 a.m. EST)
    CAPCOM Charlie Hobaugh in Mission Control has given commander Rick Husband the Deorbit and Landing Preliminary Advisory Data update. The deorbit burn is now targeted to begin at 8:15:30 a.m. EST and last for two minutes and 38 seconds, slowing the ship by about 250 feet per second. That will put Columbia on course for its hour-long glide back to Earth. Once in the skies off Kennedy Space Center, Husband will pilot the shuttle around a 213-degree right overhead turn to align with Runway 33 for touchdown at 9:16 a.m. EST. Meteorologists are monitoring upper-level winds in determining which end of the runway will actually be used today. At present, Runway 33 is being targeted.
    1115 GMT (6:15 a.m. EST)
    Now two hours away from the deorbit burn. Weather continues to improve at Kennedy Space Center this morning. In the next hour, the crew will begin suiting up. And then in about 90 minutes, entry flight director Leroy Cain is scheduled to make the final "go/no go" decision on the deorbit burn.
    1050 GMT (5:50 a.m. EST)
    Columbia's clam shell-like payload bay doors have been closed and locked for today's fiery descent into Earth's atmosphere and 9:16 a.m. EST landing at Kennedy Space Center. Mission Control has given commander Rick Husband a "go" to transition Columbia's onboard computers from the OPS-2 software used during the shuttle's stay in space to OPS-3, which is the software package that governs entry and landing. And Columbia will be maneuvering to a new orientation in space to improve the communications link with NASA's orbiting data relay satellites. Meanwhile, NASA astronaut Kent Rominger is flying weather reconnaissance around Kennedy Space Center aboard a T-38 jet trainer. The low clouds and fog reported earlier are expected to dissipate for landing on the first entry opportunity today at 9:16 a.m. EST. There is a backup opportunity available an orbit later. The wind is expected to pick up for the 10:46 a.m. EST landing attempt but should be down the runway and within limits. So with weather expected to cooperate in Florida today, the astronauts should be back on Earth in a couple hours to wrap up their 6.6-million mile voyage.
    1000 GMT (5:00 a.m. EST)
    The seven Columbia astronauts are marching through the deorbit preparation timeline at this hour, stowing away equipment and readying to close the ship's payload bay doors for today's reentry and landing to conclude the 16-day science mission. Earlier this morning the Spacehab module was closed after the success marathon research mission that featured about 80 experiments. The weather forecast remains favorable at Kennedy Space Center's shuttle runway for a touchdown at 9:16 a.m. EST. However, meteorologists are watching low clouds and fog in the area. It is believed the cloudiness and fog will burn off as the sun rises. FRIDAY, JANUARY 31, 2003 Columbia commander Rick Husband, pilot William McCool and flight engineer Kalpana Chawla tested the shuttle's re-entry systems today, setting the stage for landing Saturday to close out a 16-day science mission. Touchdown on runway 33 at the Kennedy Space Center currently is targeted for 9:15:50 a.m. EST. Read our full story. THURSDAY, JANUARY 30, 2003 Astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia are completing their final runs on experiments in the Spacehab Research Double Module and beginning preparations for Saturday's landing. Most of the 80 experiments already have completed their data collection, and today was the last day for the remaining investigations, in particular the Water Mist Fire Suppression Experiment (MIST)
    , the Mediterranean Israeli Dust Experiment (MEIDEX)
    and the Advanced Respiratory Monitoring System (ARMS)
    . MIST, which got a late start due to problems setting up the test chamber, is nearing its 30th run as it studies the effectiveness of fog-like water droplet concentrations in putting out flames. The experiment is sponsored by the Center for Commercial Applications of Combustion in Space at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden as part of continuing program to design replacements for environmentally hazardous chemicals such as Halons. MEIDEX will be recording its final data takes of lightning "sprites" and "elves," after successfully imaging a major dust concentration in support of its primary objective to study how fine dust particles, or aerosols, affect the Earth's environment. MEIDEX was sponsored by the Israeli Space Agency and Tel-Aviv University in association with Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon's first space flight for an Israeli. Crewmembers also began wrapping up and storing the final blood, urine and saliva samples they are providing for studies of human physiology associated with the ARMS cardiovascular experiments and the Physiology and Biochemistry Team experiments. The samples will be kept at appropriate temperatures in refrigeration systems in the Spacehab module for return to Earth and further study. And the Biotube experiment, which was activated Wednesday, looked at flax seeds as they grew in the presence of strong magnetic field. Scientists on the ground used video downlinks to monitor the length of root growth to ensure appropriate fixation times. Commander Rick Husband and Flight Engineer Kalpana Chawla of the day shift took turns simulating landing on the PILOT computer-based training system. Pilot Willie McCool of the night shift will get in his practice session overnight. Landing is scheduled for 9:16 a.m. EST Saturday and preliminary forecasts show excellent conditions at the Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida. If weather decides not to cooperate, there are plenty of supplies to support the crew until conditions are favorable. Husband also peeked under the floor of the Spacehab module to look for water that might have leaked out of the balky air-conditioning system earlier in the mission. He reported finding no moisture that could contaminate Spacehab systems if jostled during Saturday's re-entry and landing, but covered several holes in the water sub-assembly with tape as a precaution.
  • by jpatokal (96361) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @11:38AM (#5203768) Homepage
    Remember how long it took to reinstate the STS program after the Challenger Incident?

    Yes.

    What are the chances NASA will send up STS 108 on schedule?

    Zero. I wouldn't be surprised if the shuttles never fly again.

    Will they use the soyuz emergency capsule to return earthside?

    Unlikely. Remember, the Soyuz is not just an emergency capsule, it's a full-blown launcher system. Most supply and crew change missions to the ISS are flown with Soyuzes, so technically the shuttle is not an irreplaceable part of the ISS program.

    However, Russia's financially strapped space program has been hard pressed to produce even the current number of spacecraft (the "escape capsule" Soyuz is swapped for a new one every 6 months), so whether they alone can keep going is doubtful.

    -j.

  • Re:Very sad... (Score:5, Informative)

    by waytoomuchcoffee (263275) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @11:39AM (#5203771)
    I had always assumed that the front compartment would be highly reinforced and could remain intact longer than the rest of it. It seems that is not the case.

    It is, however it won't help them. Even if the front compartment survived the explosion, it will still drop all the way down.

    That's what happened to Challenger btw. At least some were alive for the 20 or minutes or so it took to hit the water. While there were no recordings, evidence was found, such as the emergency air supply being turned on for the pilot -- that can only be done behind the seat by another person, so it was obvious people were moving around.

    Let's all hope that is NOT the case this time. That would be a simply horrible prolonged way to die :-( Rest in peace, shuttle astronauts, this is an extremely sad day.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 01, 2003 @11:41AM (#5203786)
    This is entirely false. There was a big upraor sevral years ago over the Cassini probe, which was carrying a plutonium reactor on board. http://www.animatedsoftware.com/cassini/cassini.ht m and http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF -8&q=cassini+nuclear&btnG=Google+Search
  • by fustar (593000) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @11:41AM (#5203790)
    Buzz (Aldrin) says that the hypergolic fuel remaining on the shuttle looks like brown cloud. He says stay away because it will coat the inside of your lungs and asphyxiate you within 48 hrs.
  • by Neophytus (642863) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @11:43AM (#5203810)
    NAME: Ilan Ramon (Colonel, Israel Air Force) Payload Specialist

    PERSONAL DATA: Born June 20,1954 in Tel Aviv, Israel. Married to Rona. They have four children. He enjoys snow skiing, squash. His parents reside in Beer Sheva, Israel.


    Sounds like a nice guy [nasa.gov] :-/
  • by Floyd Turbo (84609) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @11:44AM (#5203818) Journal
    Checking the schedule, the next flight to the station was scheduled to be STS114 [nasa.gov], which was supposed to launch in March. That clearly won't happen now.
  • by user no. 590291 (590291) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @11:54AM (#5203887)
    There will never, ever be any radioactive material launched into space, for very good reason.

    Kind of difficult to have nuclear powered satellites [google.com] without radioactive material, I imagine.

  • Re:Don't watch FNC (Score:3, Informative)

    by leviramsey (248057) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @11:55AM (#5203891) Journal
    Well, I think it's fucking suspicious that a news organization that parrots everything the Bush administration says did not have anything on air about an administration Official saying that's its "highly unlikely that the accident is due to terrorism."

    Funny you should say that. At this moment, the ticker is in the shuttle run. Fox keeps about 100-200 headlines for the crawl, grouped by subject. The shuttle is now the lead on the crawl. In addition, the "FOX NEWS ALERT" is "WHITE HOUSE: NO INDICATION OF TERRORISM" (stronger words than "highly unlikely").

    I wonder...can you take your mind off the fucking war for even an hour or two to mourn this tradgedy???

    I am mourning this tragedy... I have been since I heard about the lost contact on the Weather Channel. Your value system is fucked up if you think that seven deaths is more important than orders of magnitude more deaths in a coming war.

  • by visionik (63503) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @12:00PM (#5203920)
    Their is a good description of what happens during the shuttles landing at:

    http://www.x-plane.com/orbiter.html

    x-plane is an amazing flight simulator that uses an amazingly realistic flight model - great "physics" in video game software speak - and can simulate shuttle landings. The shuttle is a glider. I'm a glider pilot, but certainly not anything like a shuttle pilot ... however I have flown a shuttle on X-plane for what its worth.

    The shuttle changes its bank during the phase of the landing it was in to reduce speed. It's not banking to try change its course, it banks to increase drag and reduce speed. The shuttle just rotates over oneo its left or right side a bit.

    The shuttle switches back and forth from banking right to banking left to stay on course while performing these drag increasing maneuvers.

    FYI, these maneuvers are also done with the shuttle at a very steep angle of attack - as high as 70 degrees. This angle is also used to increase drag to slow the shuttle down.

    The last confirmed communication happened shortly after the shuttle made its first switch from being banked right to being banked left.

    It is very possible that the switch to being banked left introduced a change in force which led to a structural failure of the wings or control surfaces which are used during the landing. Given the high drag, high angle of attack, banked flight angle the orbiter would be in at the time, the shuttle would almost immediately start spinning end over end at 12,000 mph, disintegrating almost instantly.

    Nasa also reported that one of the last data events they received from the shuttle was a "loss in tire pressure". It's alternatively possible that this could happen after an internal explosion in the shuttle, with part of the explosion debris puncturing the tire.

    Below is a chronology from spaceflightnow.com - Notice the change in bank angle time.

    1401 GMT (9:01 a.m. EST)

    Columbia is out of communications with flight controllers in Houston. Now 15 minutes from landing time.

    1359 GMT (8:59 a.m. EST)

    At an altitude of 40 miles, shuttle Columbia has entered Texas.

    1357 GMT (8:57 a.m. EST)

    The shuttle is now 43 miles over New Mexico. Columbia is now reversing its bank to the left to further reduce speed.
  • by mrhartwig (61215) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @12:08PM (#5203952)
    There will never, ever be any radioactive material launched into space, for very good reason.

    Please. Get a clue -- gullible people might actually believe you know what you're talking about, which you obviously don't.

    NASA's been using plutonium as an energy source for decades. Voyager I & II, launched in 1977, used RTGs (radioisotope thermoelectic generators) for power. These use the heat generated by the decay of the plutonium to generate electricity. Now I don't recall off the top of my head if any probes before Voyager used RTGs, but I know other probes since have also used them. Given the low light intensity in the outer solar system, and the weight involved in fuel cells or (laugh) batteries, I suspect RTGs, or something similar, will continue to be used for power.

    And we'll have more idiots protesting the "nuclearization" of space, or something similar, when they think they've discovered something new. See the Cassini launch for an example.

    Now, AFAIK, I can agree with you about no radioactive material on Columbia. So today, anyone concerned with that kind of debris problem probably can go back to sleep.
  • by Effugas (2378) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @12:11PM (#5203967) Homepage
    OK:

    1) As has been mentioned, there was no missle fired that could hit 200,000 feet. Iraq may have built a "supergun" with the capability to launch objects into space, but a) its firing would have been pretty obvious and b) the odds of it hitting its target are about zero, while the chance of its discovery was absolute. So no -- this wasn't a surface-to-air attack.

    2) Neither was it some kind of EMP pulse. Ignoring the height, this is a ship that needs to be able to survive the extraordinarily hostile EMP environment of space -- that magnetic field that the sun's particles slam into, giving us those nice Auroras, don't exist where the shuttle goes. The ship was built to withstand EMP -- the odds of a remotely invoked meltdown in its electronics are effectively nil.

    3) No, they couldn't have known it was going to fail. Random crap happens all the time, even small tiles of foam coming off. The ships are built to be four-times redundant; you don't want your ship falling apart if a simple tile comes off. I'd be surprised if this had anything to do with the insulation stripping off.

    4) No, the space program is not going to be shut down. To be blunt, China ain't going anywhere but up, and with an entirely fresh, completely modern space program at that. This is a tragedy. This is horrifying. But there will be future missions.

    Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go mourn now.

    Yours Truly,

    Dan Kaminsky
    DoxPara Research
    http://www.doxpara.com
  • by danhoover (251583) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @12:11PM (#5203971)
    CBS is reporting that the Russians sent up an unmanned supply vehicle this morning, and also that there is an escape craft of sorts sufficient to return the ISS crew to Earth without a shuttle flight.
  • Re:Photos (Score:5, Informative)

    by gimpboy (34912) <[john.m.harrold] [at] [gmail.com]> on Saturday February 01, 2003 @12:22PM (#5204048) Homepage
    i'm working on it right now. it's slower than dirt :). i emailed the guy and asked for a tar ball. when it's done it will be here:
    http://sage.che.pitt.edu/~harrold/tmp/shuttle/www. pdrap.org/photo_albums/columbia_disaster/ [pitt.edu]

    it's going to be a while though.
  • by theBrownfury (570265) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @12:23PM (#5204054)
    I understand the tragedy, but it cannot be ignored that there was a seventh astronaut onboard Columbia.
    Her name is Kalpana Chawla. Times of India has the story here [indiatimes.com].
    Text as follows:

    Kalpana Chawla did India proud

    PTI[ SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 01, 2003 09:25:13 PM ]

    WASHINGTON: Kalpana Chawla, who is feared to have perished in the Columbia space shuttle mishap along with six others, had done India proud when she embarked on her first space mission on November 19, 1997.

    The Karnal-born Chawla, the first Indian American astronaut, began her career at the Ames Research Center at Nasa in 1988.

    A graduate in aeronautical engineering from the Punjab Engineering College she began work at the Ames in the area of fluid dynamics.

    Following her successful tenure at the Ames, Chawla in 1993 joined the Overset Methods Inc in California as vice president and a research scientist in charge of simulating various body functions for future space missions.

    Nasa selected Chawla as an astronaut candidate in 1994 and she joined the 15th group of astronauts in March 1995.

    After an year of training and evaluation, Chawla was assigned as a crew representative to work on technical issues for Nasa's Astronaut Office Extra Vehicular Activities, Robotics, dealing in space walks.

    She was instrumental in the testing space control software in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory.

    Chawla's received recognition here and was assigned as mission specialist and prime robotic arm operator on the STS-87 and was involved in the manual capture of an orbiting satellite.

    Born in Karnal in Punjab, Chawla did her schooling from the Tagore School in the city and took a degree in aeronautical engineering from the Punjab Engineering College.

    She went on to complete her Masters from the University of Texas in 1984 earned a doctorate from the University of Colorado.
  • by LinuxParanoid (64467) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @12:25PM (#5204064) Homepage Journal
    Jan 27, 1967: Apollo 1 fire [nasa.gov]
    Jan 28, 1986: Challenger explosion [fas.org]
    Feb 1, 2003 Columbia breakup [cnn.com]

    --LP
  • by pudknocker (516571) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @12:31PM (#5204093)
    Incorrect. All crew change missions are flown by the shuttle. Soyuz missions fly every 6 months to replace the Soyuz capsule with a fresh one. They fly a new one up and take the old one back. This is the type of mission that Dennis Tito and Mark Shuttleworth flew on. Both the Shuttle and Russian Progress capsules deliver supplies.
  • by Tenebrious1 (530949) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @12:33PM (#5204106) Homepage
    but, with a crew on the Space Station, a long delay will not be possible this time.

    Do you know anything about the ISS? The reason there's only three crew members? Because the Soyuz "lifeboat" attached to the ISS to be used in case of an emergency can only hold three people.

    So no, there is no rush to get the shuttle back in service to retrieve the ISS crew, the crew can easily return on the Soyuz capsule. However, once the lifeboat is used, they won't leave the station manned without a replacement.

    Considering the financial woes of the Russians, it's likely NASA will shut down the ISS until the shuttle program is back up and running.

  • by myrashka (452794) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @12:40PM (#5204135)
    I remember reading that the station has several options that should keep it safe:

    1) Supplies are often shipped via unmanned craft.
    2) A Soyez (sp?) reentry capsule is attached to the space station that's available for evacuation and recovery of all personnel aboard the station.

    The US currently has 3 people there. They were scheduled for replacement in March (along with the first female shuttle commander...another event that may be delayed)....I saw something on CNN saying they'd probably be okay until late spring before any drastic decisions even needed to be considered.

  • by SailorBob (146385) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @12:42PM (#5204146) Homepage Journal
    The Israeli Ilan Rimon, may his memory be blessed, carried a number of objects from Holocaust survivors into space with him. One was a Torah (bible) scroll and the other was a picture of the moon drawn by a 14 year old who was later murdered in the camp and burnt up in the crematorium.

    To have those things survive the fires of the Holocaust and make it into space, only to be burnt up along with our first astronaut...

    From the Wall Street Journal's [wsj.com] site:

    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP)--Israel's first astronaut held up a tiny Torah scroll aboard space shuttle Columbia on Tuesday, fulfilling a promise made by a Holocaust survivor 59 years ago.

    Astronaut Ilan Ramon showed the Torah to Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, during a televised conference.

    Watching with emotion from a NASA control center in Greenbelt, Md., was the Torah's owner, Joachim Joseph, a 71-year-old atmospheric physicist at Tel Aviv University who is overseeing an Israeli experiment aboard the shuttle.

    The scientist received the Torah from a rabbi while both were imprisoned at a Nazi concentration camp in Germany in 1944. Joseph had just turned 13, and the rabbi secretly arranged a 4 a.m. bar mitzvah ceremony in the prisoners' barracks.

    "After the ceremony, he said, `You take this, this scroll that you just read from, because I will not leave here alive. But you must promise me that if you get out, you'll tell the story,"' Joseph recalled.

    The rabbi was killed two months later.

    Joseph was freed from the Bergen-Belsen camp in a prisoner exchange in 1945, one month before it was liberated by the Americans and British.

    Ramon, whose mother and grandmother survived the Auschwitz death camp, visited the scientist's home two years ago and saw the Torah. "He was deeply affected. He almost cried," Joseph said. The astronaut asked if he could take the Torah with him into space.

    "This represents more than anything the ability of the Jewish people to survive despite everything from horrible periods, black days, to reach periods of hope and belief in the future," Ramon told Sharon and other Israeli government officials in Jerusalem.

    Joseph said: "I feel now that I finally was able to fulfill my promise to Rabbi Dasberg 50 years ago, more than 50 years ago, and then on a grand scale, and I'm very grateful to Ilan for making it possible."

    ^___=

    On the Net:

    Tel Aviv University: www.tau.ac.il/geophysics/MEIDEX.home.htm

  • Re:NOAA Radar (Score:4, Informative)

    by TotallyUseless (157895) <tot@@@mac...com> on Saturday February 01, 2003 @01:07PM (#5204253) Homepage Journal
    look at this still shot [noaa.gov] further along the trajectory..
  • Re:Very Bizarre (Score:3, Informative)

    by shayne321 (106803) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @01:10PM (#5204271) Homepage Journal

    Which means that either the thermal protection system failed or it hit the atmosphere at the wrong angle due to a malfunction causing the pilot to be unable to control the shuttle or (highly unlikely) pilot error.

    I think we can rule out pilot error.. As I understand it, the shuttle is under computer control until final approach, at which point control is handed over to the pilot for final and touchdown. So that leaves thermal protection malfunction (most likely), or if it was at an incorrect angle it would be due to the flight computers being programmed with incorrect data, or a problem with the flight computers and/or hydraulic control systems.

    Shayne

  • by jmauro (32523) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @01:19PM (#5204320)
    If need be the crew change missions could be flown using Soyez. The first crew went to ISS using Soyez and returned on the shuttle. The shuttle is still needed for constrution though. Especially since most pieces were designed to fly inside of the shuttle cargo bay.

  • by cybrthng (22291) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @01:20PM (#5204324) Journal
    http://www.broadcast.com/learning_and_education/sc ience/space/nasa/nasa_television/

    Supports 56k and broadband. Official meda channel for NasaTV if you don't have access to satelite.

    More links available on google.

    http://www.unitedspacealliance.com/live/nasatv.h tm
  • by TomServo (79922) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @01:25PM (#5204348)
    --BTW, I hope they launch an *extensive* investigation into NASA's current MO, and upgrade the whole shebang for more safety and efficiency. They need some kind of failsafe to preserve these people's lives if disaster strikes.

    I tend to think that any MO like this is due to budget constraints, and so far the reaction to anything like this has never been to increase funding for more safety & efficiency, it's been to cut funding to NASA because the risk is not seen to be on par with the return.

    We can expect bad things to happen to NASA now...
  • Re:This is terrible (Score:5, Informative)

    by bokmann (323771) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @01:37PM (#5204415) Homepage
    There is a Soyuz space cupsule on the ISS that can be used to return the astronauts currently there (2 Americans, 1 Russian). This is, in fact, why the ISS has been limited to 3 astronauts; it is all they had the room for on the escape capsule.

    I think this will actually help Russia's space program; unless we want to close up the ISS and come home, Nasa is going to throw some big bucks Russia's way... They now have the only vehicle that can get to and from the ISS, at least as long as the shuttle is grounded.
  • by constantnormal (512494) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @01:49PM (#5204499)
    ... there's simply no reason why we should continue using the ancient expensive dangerous shuttle technology, when there's been MUCH better stuff developed.

    Check out the milnet page on VentureStar, which is apparently being funded by black-budget ops (speculation -- but something is happening, the Air Force doesn't warehouse dead NASA projects out of the goodness of its heart). Link here [216.239.37.100]

    Had to pull the page from the Google cache, as much of the X-33/VentureStar info has disappeared from the web. But there's still plenty of stuff from non-governmental sites.

    One of the X-33 design goals was to reduce cost per pound of payload from $20,000 to $2000, but in my mind, the more efficient and reliable engines, lack of strap-on boosters, slower reentry, no ceramic "bricks" for heat protection make good enough reasons to move forward with such a replacement for the shuttle, even if it had zero cost advantage in lifting payload to orbit.

    There's no good reason to continue using the obsolete and dangerous shuttle technology forever.
  • by bigberk (547360) <bigberk@users.pc9.org> on Saturday February 01, 2003 @01:51PM (#5204512)

    This is a terrible disaster. Getting out of bed and switching on the CBC (radio) I couldn't believe my ears. Were the explorers themselves OK? Trail of debris? Oh no...

    As a young engineer, I can't help but think of the Challenger disaster. During my engineering education, the disaster was used for illustrative purposes in a number of ways -- it demonstrated pure engineering failure (design failure) certainly, but also demonstrated compromises made in engineering because of political/business pressure, a compromise that can not be tolerated when human safety is at stake. And we learned a lot from it.

    Today's event is truly a disaster. But we must make the most of it. We have to thoroughly investigate, to complete satisfaction, until we learn what caused the accident/failure. Then we fix the problem to the best of our abilities and make sure the same mistake isn't repeated.

    And then, most importantly, we try again. We must continue with scientific exploration of space. The benefits to humanity are many: development of new technologies; new solutions to problems here on earth; and most importantly... exploration and discovery.

    And that's why, in my eyes, the explorers on Columbia deserve our utmost respect and praise. They risked their lives exploring beyond earth for humanity's benefit. It would truly be an insult to these fine people to cut back on space exploration because of this accident.

    Accidents like this one should not make us halt exploration. They should renew our motivation to improve our designs, and then continue upon the original goals with improved technology!

  • by t (8386) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @02:00PM (#5204559) Homepage
    Yeah, we all know how sneaky terrorist are, like flying planes into buildings. It was not a terrorist because if it was it would be obvious. That is their goal, that is what puts the "terror" into terrorism. People don't go thourgh life being afraid of freakaccidentism.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 01, 2003 @02:02PM (#5204587)
    Beliskner,

    You are obviously not a parent, and given the contents of your post I pray you will not soon become one. The fear of not fitting in in a society so overindulged in the graphic represtation of violence and unmitigated gore is representative of a mind which is trapped in the very apathetic social environment which you disclaim. The fact that your nephew throws furniture in response to your attempts at instruction is not a comment on his personality, but on yours.

    Speak to your children; educate them. Tell them how brave those citizens are who volunteer to serve their country and the future of our world. These men and women are not the first we've lost in the advancement of freedom and human potential. It is guaranteed that they will not be the last.

    The value of rememberance is not in mourning the souls we've lost, but in the example of their lives and accomplishments.

    And if your nephew doesn't get it the first time, take a breath, give him a smile, and start over. Maybe in that perseverance you will learn the lesson you seem to have missed.
  • Reality check (Score:4, Informative)

    by DragonHawk (21256) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @02:07PM (#5204613) Homepage Journal

    I don't mean to offend, but you obviously don't know what you are talking about.

    The space shuttle is an amazing technology, but all the shuttles are going to fly until they can't.

    Of course. Why would they stop using them if they were still good? The orbiters were designed to be able to launched at least 100 times. The Columbia, while over twenty years old, was still well within its operational lifetime. There are commercial jetliners twice as old as Columbia still in active service today.

    Furthermore, it isn't like this was some beat-up automobile that someone was still trying to coax a few more miles out of. Each orbiter is subject to a complete inspection after every launch. Systems which can no longer do their job are upgraded or replaced. NASA's shuttle fleet is probably the best maintained equipment in human history.

    "...why does it have to re-enter so fast..."

    Because it is in orbit. An orbit is achieved by traveling fast enough that your rate of fall toward the center of gravity (Earth, in this case) is canceled out. I believe the orbiter travels at a relative ground speed of something like 17,000 miles per hour.

    In order to decelerate from that great velocity, they use the atmospheric breaking. Just as the breaks in your car use friction to slow the car, the orbiter uses atmospheric friction to slow the orbiter.

    It is an inherently dangerous situation (second only to launch in risk), but an unavoidable one.

    ...It should be able to fly itself anywhere after re-entry...

    How?

    It's a reasonable question. There is a good reason every spacecraft ever flown by man has used an unpowered re-entry: Fuel. You would need a lot of fuel to control that kind of velocity. That means added weight, and weight is everything when it comes to launching a vehicle from a gravity well. Every pound of weight on the space shuttle costs approximately five thousand dollars to launch.

    A powered landing would not only be impractically expensive, it would likely be technologically impossible. It makes no sense.

    ...crew ejection...

    Again: How? Velocities of thousands of miles per hour. Altitudes of hundreds of thousands of miles. Temperatures of hundreds of degrees Fahrenheit. It isn't like they can just jump out. To survive, you would basically need to build another spacecraft. See above about weight.

    ...tiles falling off...

    The heat shield is one of the weaker points in the design of most spacecraft. Keep in mind that building a realistic heat shield pushes our materials technology to the edge. While you might think that building a single surface with no seams would be better, but that is not so. It would in fact be considerably harder and more expensive to build. It would also be much harder to maintain. The shuttle's tiles can be easily replaced when they inevitably degrade. Not so with a single surface.

    ...lift off and land in poor weather...

    On one hand, you're suggesting infeasible or impossible improvements. Now you suggest they subject it to unnecessary risk? Why?

    ...more monitoring to know if something can go wrong...

    The space shuttle is already one of the most heavily monitored devices ever built by man. Huge amounts of data are constantly transmitted, recorded, and analyized by computers and people, both onboard the spacecraft and on the ground. What do you suggest they do differently?

  • Russians in 71 (Score:3, Informative)

    by hughk (248126) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @02:12PM (#5204658) Journal
    Apparently when the Russian capsule separated a ball valve did not close so the air drained out. The astronauts clearly attempted to correct the situation (a hand control had been changed), but they just died of hypoxia within a minute or so.

    This is why wearing space suits was made compulsory during landing (also for NASA, who were briefed on this). At least one of the flight crew would wer the suit in case of problems.

  • Unbelievable (Score:5, Informative)

    by NixterAg (198468) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @02:18PM (#5204703)
    I live in Nacogdoches, Texas, which is near where some of the debris fell. At around 8 this morning, I heard a low rumble, almost like an earthquake or something. Then the house starting shaking off and on for about 20-30 seconds. My first thought was to check the major appliances in the house (heat pump, hot water heater, etc.) simply because we don't get earthquakes in this neck of the woods. My wife also got up and said the house was shaking and it woke her up (and it is no small feat to wake her up early on a Saturday morning).

    I ruled out any problems with the house and went online hoping maybe to find seismic information or news about an explosion or something. Within a few minutes, I saw the alert on CNN.com suggesting they'd lost contact with Columbia. I instantly knew that's what the rumbling was and I started to fear the worst.

    It's not terribly uncommon to hear sonic booms when the shuttle goes over (we seem to be in the path when the shuttles land at Cape Canaveral) but it also isn't uncommon to have low flying B-52s and B-2s. Needless to say, this is a horrible tragedy. Personally though, it's one thing to see it on TV. It's quite another to have it take place in your back yard.
  • by nerdherder (71005) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @02:18PM (#5204706)
    CBS is reporting multiple sources in NASA are looking at a possible left wing failure. This is the same wing which was possibly damaged by the foam falling off the fuel tank on launch. CBS was earlier reporting that last communication from the shuttle was relating to a inordinate tire pressure change also (not specific on which wing), could explain heating up of the left wing because of a heat shield failure, leading to heating up of the tire, increase tire pressure, catastrophic wing failure, shuttle gets out of alignment on re-entry, and it tears apart.

    Again, this is only prelim reporting but would make sense in relation to visual reports of spiraling etc. Wing failure, goes into a spin, breaks up.

  • by dargaud (518470) <slashdot2@gdargau d . n et> on Saturday February 01, 2003 @02:24PM (#5204740) Homepage
    This morning when I heard the news, I was just getting started on the chapter "We're on fire!" of the book Flight, My life in mission control [amazon.com] by Chris Kraft. This book provides a very interesting alternative viewpoint to the manned spaced program than the usual journalistic lack of information or astronauts famed biographies.
    Here we get plenty of gritty details, in particular all the technical problems that they had during flights, and there were plenty. The well publicised Apolo 13 was only one of them, as virtually every mission was riddled with loss of control, loss of comunication, targetting error, or even worse, like rocket misfire on the pad with astronauts on top ! Just to show how close they were many times from major failure. Today was just one step over the limit.
    A very recommended read for all you engineering types. And the others.
  • by gunnk (463227) <[ude.cnu.gpf.liam] [ta] [knnug]> on Saturday February 01, 2003 @02:32PM (#5204801) Homepage

    Feynmann was very unhappy with the report on the Challenger disaster. As a member of the committee responsible for the report he refused to sign off on it unless he could include his views on shuttle safety as an appendix. As another /. reader pointed out previously, you can read Feynmann's appendix here [nasa.gov]:

    http://science.ksc.nasa.gov/shuttle/missions/51-l/ docs/rogers-commission/Appendix-F.txt

    Down near the end of the appendix Feynmann places the odds of catastrophic failure for a shuttle to be "on the order of 1%". This does NOT mean he said it was 1%: when a physicist says "on the order of" he means "the same order of magnitude" or (for the less mathematically rigorous) "about the same power of 10 as". He even went on to apologize for being unable to be more specific.

    So, Feynmann's estimate was really that the chance of failure is CLOSER TO 1 IN 100 than to 1 in a thousand or 1 in 10.

  • by rsatter (265340) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @02:34PM (#5204827)
    As potentially unpatriotic as it is to say, it makes me glad to know that the hope, energy and imagination of the billion people in China are there to step up, if we turn our backs on this important step in Humanity's future. It matters far more to me that we do this as a species then we do it as a nation. I hate the thought of what losing this would be a sign of for us as a country, though.

    This is exactly the worse thing to happen at least from a US prospective. The US military is the strongest in a battle because we control the sky. If China controls space guess who controls the war -- China. China Space program and dedication to that cause are more of a threat than Iraq or North Korea.

    Say all you want but if we do not get off our butts, dust ourselves off and get back into space in major way we will go the way of the Soviet Union, British Empire, Ottoman Empire, etc. There use to be a time when Astronuats died and yes it was tragic and the country morned but then we moved on and continued our quest.

    Whomever ends up controlling space will be the next Superpower. Right now the US is looking more and more like the British Empire at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century.
  • Re:I heard it (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 01, 2003 @02:43PM (#5204903)
    How many Muslims do you know, friend? I'm acquainted with quite a few, and damn if every one of them doesn't think terrorism is the basest evilest shit that someone can do. It's true that most Palestinians advocate suicide bombings, which is sad, but then they've all been raised in a damn war zone. Outside of the frying pan, most Muslims despise terrorism, if for no other reason than that it makes ignorant people like you lump them in with the Al-Qaeda psychos.
  • by ahaning (108463) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @03:09PM (#5205043) Homepage Journal
    28.8K - mms://63.250.199.211/nasa288
    56.6K - mms://63.250.199.213/nasa566
    100K - mms://63.250.208.26/nasa100
    300K - mms://wmevent9.adns.dal.yahoo.com/nasa300k
  • by NMerriam (15122) <NMerriam@artboy.org> on Saturday February 01, 2003 @03:50PM (#5205255) Homepage
    Many, many ceramic tiles come off during reentry -- they are completely replaced with every flight. Losing tiles is not a problem (unless you lost a huge number of tiles in the same area all before you start reentry, that is).
  • by Nova Express (100383) <lawrenceperson.gmail@com> on Saturday February 01, 2003 @04:11PM (#5205379) Homepage Journal
    In answer to your first question, Iraqis are already cheering. See: http://reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml;jsessionid=IB UFOPXYHAEJUCRBAE0CFEY?type=worldNews&storyID=21527 84 [reuters.com].

    "We are happy that it broke up," government employee Abdul Jabbar al-Quraishi said. "God wants to show that his might is greater than the Americans. They have encroached on our country. God is avenging us," he said."
  • by geoswan (316494) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @04:19PM (#5205433) Journal
    As others have pointed out "bailing out" at 200,000 feet is unprecedetned. There have been attempts to use high-altitude balloons to set records for free-fall. IIRC the record was from about 115,000 feet. Roberta Bondar, one of the senior Canadian astronauts, interviewed on Canadian TV this morning, pointed out that the bailout procedure was intended to be used at 40,000 feet, or below, and at subsonic speed. The oxygen tanks attached to those Orange pressure suits held 9 minutes of oxygen, when she had her training in 1992.

    She outlined the bailout procedure.

    [1] Explosive bolts blow out the hatch. The hatch blows out at, IIRC, sixty miles per hour. The shuttle has to be below a certain speed threshold, or the hatch will not clear the shuttles wing.

    [2] Then another explosive charge shoots a pole out the hatch. This pole is intended for the astronauts to hook up to, like a world war two paratrooper. The plan is that this pole may allow the astronauts to slide out of the shuttle's slipstream, and out of danger of striking the shuttle's wing. Note: this requires the shuttle to be flying in a stable orientation, at relatively slow speed.

    [3] The astronauts have to unhook their seatbelts, walk over to that pole, and hook their static lines to the escape pole, and then jump out.

    Bondar estimated it would take at least one minute to complete these steps.

    When you were a kid, did you ever roll down the window of the car, and stick a piece of paper out the window, while mom or dad were driving down the freeway? Did you notice how the turbulence whipped it around? I read a book about the Air-India bombing. The authors described how all the corpses had all their bones broken in multiple places. Even at speeds of only hundreds of miles per hour sticking one's limbs into the slip-stream causes the same kind of whipping motion.

  • by Aexia (517457) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @04:44PM (#5205572)
    Senators Challenge Shuttle Safety Spending [space.com]

    WASHINGTON -- Raising the specter of another shuttle tragedy, senators and others warned Thursday that NASA's growing budget woes are putting astronauts' lives at risk.

    Pressure to deal with a projected $4.8 billion cost overrun on the International Space Station project and other factors have caused National Aeronautics and Space Administration managers to treat space shuttle safety upgrades as optional, officials said Thursday. Numerous pending safety improvements to the orbiter vehicles and their ground-support infrastructure have been targeted for cancellation or deferral.

    "I fear that if we don't provide the space shuttle program with the resources it needs for safety upgrades, our country is going to pay a price we can't bear," said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

    [...]

    "We're starving NASA's shuttle budget and thus greatly increasing the chance of a catastrophic loss," Nelson said.

    The lone NASA official to testify, William Readdy, deputy associate administrator for the Office of Space Flight, did not dispute Nelson's assessment.
  • Re:Very sad... (Score:4, Informative)

    by loraksus (171574) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @04:59PM (#5205670) Homepage
    Well, your blood boils at 65,000 feet bec. of the pressure, small stuff like temperature doesn't really make much of a difference.
    There have been cases of people ejecting from military aircraft at over the speed of sound - nothing too pretty, but I know of 2 cases where the pilots returned to active duty within 2 years, I belive one was on /. a while back.
    There have been known cases of people falling up to 33,000 feet w/o a parachute and living. Terminal velocity definately helps. Interestingly enough the 3 record holders are female.

    http://www.greenharbor.com/fffolder/wreckage.htm l

    The longest delayed skydive was made by Capt. Joseph W. Kittinger, who dropped 25,820 m (84,700 ft) from a balloon at Tularosa, New Mexico, USA, on August 16, 1960. He fell for 4 min 37 sec before his parachute was deployed automatically.
    (GBOWW)
  • Radar Image link (Score:2, Informative)

    by runchbox (578541) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @05:26PM (#5205845) Homepage Journal
    That image has been updated. The image showing the debris is now on space.com: Radar Image [space.com].
  • Re:Space Shuttle (Score:2, Informative)

    by aschneid (145265) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @06:20PM (#5206288)
    Columbia was only on it's 28th mission. The design specs of the shuttle was for it to complete 100 missions. I don't think this makes it absurdly old, and more than matches the equipment they needed.

    Nobody knows yet what caused the shuttle to disintegrate, but this shuttle was completely overhauled in 1999, and was well below it's intended end of life.
  • by Gigantic1 (630697) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @06:27PM (#5206332)
    See: http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/2121/used_news. htm

    WORKING ON A TILE DAMAGE MYSTERY

    By Greg Katnik
    http://quest.arc.nasa.gov/shuttle/team/kat nik.html

    December 23, l997

    STS-87 rolled to a stop; the mission was complete! That statement is true for the flight of the Columbia, however, a new mission began when the wheels of the Columbia came to a stop: the post flight inspections. My division is responsible for the overall analysis of these inspections and we insure that all changes made, due to these inspections, do not affect other areas that may jeopardize the flight-worthiness of the shuttle. This division does not focus on one specific area, but analyzes all information and ensures that all aspects are kept in balance.

    Immediately after the Columbia rolled to a stop, the inspection crews began the process of the post flight inspection. As soon as the orbiter was approached, light spots in the tiles were observed indicating that there had been significant damage to the tiles. The tiles do a fantastic job of repelling heat, however they are very fragile and susceptible to impact damage. Damage numbering up to forty tiles is considered normal on each mission due to ice dropping off of the external tank (ET) and plume re-circulation causing this debris to impact with the tiles. But the extent of damage at the conclusion of this mission was not "normal". The pattern of hits did not follow aerodynamic expectations and the number, size and severity of hits were abnormal. Three hundred and eight hits were counted during the inspection, one-hundred and thirty two (132) were greater than one inch. Some of the hits measured fifteen (15) inches long with depths measuring up to one and one-half (1 1/2) inches. Considering that the depth of the tile is two (2) inches, a 75% penetration depth had been reached.Over one hundred (100) tiles have been removed from the Columbia because they were irreparable. The inspection revealed the damage, now the "detective process" began.

    During the STS-87 mission, there was a change made on the external tank. Because of NASA's goal to use environmentally friendly products, a new method of "foaming" the external tank had been used for this mission and the STS-86 mission. It is suspected that large amounts of foam separated from the external tank and impacted the orbiter. This caused significant damage to the protective tiles of the orbiter. Foam cause damage to a ceramic tile?! That seems unlikly, however, when that foam is combined with a flight velocity between speeds of MACH two to MACH four, it becomes a projectile with incredible damage potential. The big question? At what phase of the flight did it happen and what changes need to be made to correct this for future missions? I will explain the entire process.

  • by gilgongo (57446) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @06:27PM (#5206334) Homepage Journal
    Ironic doesn't mean coincidental, or strange, it means ironic.

    http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=ironic

    Why should you care? Because the concept of irony in English will die if people continue to ignore its meaning, and human expression will be the poorer for it.

  • by n1ywb (555767) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @06:54PM (#5206496) Homepage Journal
    http://www.rap.ucar.edu/cgi-bin/neilley/NIDS_archi ve?Radar=SHV&Composite=NONE&Start_date=20030201&St art_time=13&Duration=240&Frequency=0&Parameter =1 [ucar.edu]

    Here is a 4 hour sequence of high-res Shreveport imagery. Whats amazing is how long the debris trail lingered in the sky, and the way it disappears so suddenly I almost think they may have adjusted the radar's gain to hide it.

    I'd say this is totaly cool, but...
  • Hrm... (Score:3, Informative)

    by autopr0n (534291) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @07:14PM (#5206621) Homepage Journal
    Actualy, unlike what we know so far about this disaster, people did know that something might go wrong with the Challenger. One of the main reasons it was pushed for that day was because Regan wanted to have people up in space while he gave the state of the union address.

    Kind of ironic, I guess.

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