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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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  • by black_widow (41044) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @10:46AM (#5203265) Homepage
    God rest their souls...
    • 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.
    • by clarionhaze (641956) <hazin@satx.rr.com> on Saturday February 01, 2003 @02:29PM (#5204777) Homepage
      Some don't realize why their deaths in particular have such a great magnitude on society. Sure hundreds of others will die today and any other day. But those that lost their lives on that shuttle lead lives dedicated to knowledge and bettering humanity as a whole. So I guess you could say they died for their country, you could also say they died for their world. To think otherwise, as far as I've thought it through, would be plain ignorance.
    • by Dukeofshadows (607689) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @02:46PM (#5204927) Journal
      All 7 astronauts are now in a better place. Let us honor their memory by calling a halt to the 25-year-old shuttles currently in use and building 7-10 new shuttles, perhaps naming one for each of the fallen stronauts from today's accident. This would also help our ailing economy while preventing accidents like this in the future.
  • 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) <jimes@NosPAM.hiwaay.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.

    • 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.

      • by Skyshadow (508) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @11:36AM (#5203750) Homepage
        In a related note, I would venture a guess that this is the end of the Bush administration's attempt to revive nuclear tech in space with project prometheus.
        • by rkent (73434) <[rkent] [at] [post.harvard.edu]> on Saturday February 01, 2003 @12:19PM (#5204016)
          At the risk of running OT, I highly doubt this is the end of project prometheus, although it is an excellent argument against it: just doesn't seem safe to fire up rockets full of nukes anymore.

          As evidence that the project will continue, I refer to this PopSci article:

          "The New War in Space"
          http://www.popsci.com/popsci/aviation/arti cle/0,12 543,334743,00.html

          Not because PopSci is really the definitive source on such issues, but because it contains some quotes from Rumsfeld about his (hence, the administration's) intent to "weaponize" space, and some analysis thereof.

          The choice quote, which I can't track down at the moment, is something like "All media (land, sea, air) have been used for combat, and it's unrealistic to think space will be any different." Unfortunately, I doubt the administration will be dissuaded by the deaths of 7 astronauts, or the broader implications of this tragedy relative to the safety of sending *anything* into space.
    • by bourne (539955) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @11:12AM (#5203516)

      at an altitude of 200,000 feet (61km) and velocity of 12,000 miles per hour (19,000 km/h)

      That makes terrorism highly unlikely. That's too high and too fast for much of anything to hit it. It's more like a ballistic missile than an airplane at that point, and we all know how well the Star Wars project is faring [sky.com].

  • 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.
  • This is terrible (Score:5, Insightful)

    by march (215947) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @10:49AM (#5203301) Homepage
    This is terrible. Obviously, it is terrible for the team members on board and their families.

    But once we are done with the grief and morning for these great people, the space program will be severely hampered from further progress. We need this program to continue, and I'm afraid we've just killed it for twenty years.

    Very sad all around.
    • Re:This is terrible (Score:4, Interesting)

      by debrain (29228) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @11:09AM (#5203480) Journal
      But once we are done with the grief and morning for these great people, the space program will be severely hampered from further progress. We need this program to continue, and I'm afraid we've just killed it for twenty years.

      Maybe it is not so bad for the space program itself. It was the first failure of the Apollo mission that sparked NASA's motivation, and inherent success, thereafter, I believe. The results of this, although acutely tragic, could certainly bring about renewed motiviation. If that is the case, then at least this loss will not have been in vain.
      • by the gnat (153162) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @11:26AM (#5203644)
        I don't want to sound cynical, because this is a truly terrible accident (I hope). But the truth is that manned space flight has been one expensive disaster anyway for the past three decades. The space shuttle has been a fairly massive waste of money, used more for PR purposes like sending John Glenn or the occasional Saudi or Israeli pilot up than for real science. I don't mean to impugn the bravery of the astronauts, but this is not the future of space travel, and neither is the ISS. The future of space travel is unmanned probes exploring every corner of the solar system.

        If the money spent on the ISS and the shuttle was diverted to projects like the Pathfinder, we'd have robots sampling Europa's oceans within the decade. Why risk human lives and billions of dollars on lower orbit?
        • by torpor (458) <(ten.htnys) (ta) (vyaj)> on Saturday February 01, 2003 @02:08PM (#5204624) Homepage Journal
          Here's my standard argument to this question; would that I need not have mentioned it in the light of this utter tragedy:

          Why keep putting humans into space?

          If we can develop the technique of moving Life into Space, we can better manage the resources of this planet.

          Being able to keep a Human alive in space is kinda like trying to grow massive crops of useful resources - corn, weed, etc.

          If we can master this, we can stop raping Earth.

          Imagine if we moved all of our heavy, dangerous, high-pollutant based industry to a place in space where super-dangerous materials of Earth magnitude are puny compared to what's natively there ...

          Not to mention delivery is just a drop away.

          It's cheap to move shit in Space, once you get up there and work it out!

          A lot cheaper than here on Earth.

          Face it, Space won't happen until we make it valuable, and the intrinsic values are too numerous to imagine right now.

          We get more from looking at things directly, sometimes - or at least being close to the things we're looking at - than the devices we use to look in our place.

          A good way to get the tech we need to actually put Life into Space, is simply to accept the challenge - and defeat it - of putting Human Beings happily in Space, able to survive.

        • by Aanallein (556209) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @03:34PM (#5205151)
          Why risk human lives and billions of dollars on lower orbit?
          Because humans are not coldly analytical beings. We need to keep dreaming. We need to have projects that capture our interest and imagination, projects that make us want to give everything we have, to strive just that tad harder.
          Not because this in itself is a goal, but because it is an essential ingredient for a future with a world we might actually someday be proud of.
        • by blair1q (305137) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @04:38PM (#5205546) Journal
          Then the disaster is one of information, not rocketry. The space program is not all about politics, but ocasionally needs to play politics to retain its funding. And it is the farthest thing from a disaster. It is has been utterly invaluable in inciting the development of technology, and the procedures for maintaining relatively excruciating safety for extremely dangerous operations involving hypercomplex devices.

          Astronautical research created the way our world works, and saves lives in the air and on the ground daily.
  • 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]

  • Don't Panic (Score:4, Insightful)

    by doggo (34827) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @10:52AM (#5203334) Homepage

    Sorry to lose the crew and shuttle. But I hope we don't suddenly halt the manned space program like we did after Challenger.

    Space exploration is a dangerous undertaking, and every astronaut is taking a huge risk every time they go up. We have to expect casualties, we've been very lucky throughout the history of the US space program. Not to minimize the loss of the crew, they're heroes, but we can't stop the program because of this. Surely investigation, but not a halt.

    Say a prayer for the crew, if you believe in such stuff.

  • by black_widow (41044) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @10:53AM (#5203346) Homepage
    Remember how long it took to reinstate the STS program after the Challenger Incident?

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

    Will they use the soyuz emergency capsule to return earthside?
    • 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.

  • 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: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
  • Freaky (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hoagieslapper (593527) <hoagieslapper@gmail.com> on Saturday February 01, 2003 @10:58AM (#5203378)
    The freaky part is this week was the 17th aniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

  • 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.
  • by perfects (598301) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @11:05AM (#5203443)
    I don't know about anybody else, but if even one post about this gets modded Funny, I will walk away from SlashDot for good.

    If the posts so far are any indication of the number of Genuine Assholes who frequent this site, it's a lost cause anyway.

    This is not funny in any way.

    • by wildchild07770 (571383) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @01:25PM (#5204343)
      It's called levity, in the face of horrible tragedy people need to laugh. This may be one of the worst disasters in space exploration ever. It's going to set space reaserch and exploration back YEARS when we're already decades behind where we should be. It's tragic that this happened, i'm sorry for the families and NASA who has tried so hard to maintain despite budget cuts and 30 year old technology. Now we're going to blame them and their lack of foresight. In short this was a tragic day, but people still need to laugh, there's no reason not to make a joke from time to time to lighten the mood when something this bad has happened.
  • by jpatokal (96361) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @11:12AM (#5203517) Homepage
    Before y'all start foaming at the mouth about terrorism and Osama bin Laden's dastardly plots (now just how is al-Qaeda going to hit something moving at twice the speed of sound at an altitude of 200,000 ft, and if they've planted nasty things on board why not blow them up during ascent?), consider this bit from Spaceflight Now [spaceflightnow.com]:

    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."

    Make of that what you will. Odds are we are looking at an all-too-natural catastrophic failure though; shuttles are insanely complex beasts, and rapidly aging ones at that.

    But the damage has been done: the astronauts are dead, and the U.S. space program -- which never recovered from Challenger's loss -- may soon be dead as well.

    -j.

  • by farrellj (563) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @11:14AM (#5203533) Homepage Journal
    Maybe now, the Government will give NASA the money to build a new earth to orbit reusable spacecraft. Why do people have to die to convince the American Government to do something?!?!?!?!

    They are/were brave people who have created and flown in the Shuttle, but it is time to replace and retire the bird. Please presure your elected representatives to fund a new spacecraft so that we can have a safer vehicle to take us into space.

    ttyl
    Farrell

  • 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 tgd (2822) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @11:25AM (#5203642)
    I know a lot of you on Slashdot aren't old enough to remember when Challanger exploded at takeoff, and don't remember the uphoria and excitement that we all used to have when the Space Shuttle was new, or the excitement that a honest to God civilian was getting to go into space. In this era of any rich playboy with $20mil can get into space with enough effort, its hard to imagine what that was like for us, especially those of us who were young at the time.

    You also may not remember the emptiness when it became clear that NASA with public and short-sighted government pressure was shying away from manned space flight, and there was so much fear that it may never recover. This was a tragedy of epic proportions -- the possibility that we in the US (and as one of the major players in manned space flight) might shy away from exploration and adventure because it was dangerous.

    Things truely never recovered. The idiocy that is the Interational Space Station is a direct descendant of those events 17 years ago (almost to the day). The loss of our looking outward at greater feats, better manned spacecraft and the like are all descendant from that instant.

    Now we stand at the cusp of it happening again. This depresses me. People today just don't understand that taking risks is important to advancement, and death is part of taking risks... something explorers have understood for centuries, and a lot of people have seemed to have forgotten today.

    While part of me thinks NASA getting out of the manned space business, and dumping this massive waste of energy going into the ISS would be a good thing, because it may open up that exploration and adventure to those goverments or business who still have that sense of longing. I'm scared, though, that no one else will step up and take the reigns.

    I hope we as a nation can recognize this for what it was -- an unfortunate event, but an outcome that can be expected when pushing the boundaries. We should feel pride in the people who lost their lives here, and rise up, and continue to do what they gave their lives for. I hope we as Americans don't shrink away even more in fear.

    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.
  • High Flight (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Necron69 (35644) <jscott.farrow@gmai l . com> on Saturday February 01, 2003 @11:27AM (#5203656)
    Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
    And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
    Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
    Of sun-split clouds...and done a hundred things
    You have not dreamed of...wheeled and soared and swung
    High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
    I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
    My eager craft through footless halls of air.
    Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
    I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
    Where never lark, or even eagle flew.
    And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
    The high untrespassed sanctity of space
    Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

    'High Flight' by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

    I wept in 1986 as a child, now I do it again as a man. Goodbye and Godspeed...

    - Necron69

    • by Some Bitch (645438) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @01:30PM (#5204364)
      The Green Hills of Earth

      Let the sweet fresh breezes heal me
      As they rove around the girth
      Of our lovely mother planet
      Of the cool, green hills of Earth.

      We rot in the moulds of Venus,
      We retch at her tainted breath.
      Foul are her flooded jungles,
      Crawling with unclean death.

      [ --- the harsh bright soil of Luna ---
      --- Saturn's rainbow rings ---
      --- the frozen night of Titan --- ]

      We've tried each spinning space mote
      And reckoned its true worth:
      Take us back again to the homes of men
      On the cool, green hills of Earth.

      The arching sky is calling
      Spacemen back to their trade.
      ALL HANDS! STAND BY! FREE FALLING!
      And the lights below us fade.

      Out ride the sons of Terra,
      Far drives the thundering jet,
      Up leaps a race of Earthmen,
      Out, far, and onward yet ---

      We pray for one last landing
      On the globe that gave us birth;
      Let us rest our eyes on the friendly skies
      And the cool, green hills of Earth.

      -- Robert A. Heinlein


      The seven astronauts were explorers and would have understood, even though there was always a chance they wouldn't get their 'last landing' they did what they had to do. Others will take their place, the 'arching sky' will always be calling us, there's too much still unknown to give up now.
  • by Snowhare (263311) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @11:34AM (#5203725) Homepage
    Following the Challenger disaster 17 years ago, Richard Feynmann came to the conclusion that catastrophic shuttle disaster had odds off approximately 1 in 100 (See RISKS Digest 18.09 [ncl.ac.uk]) based on the fact that 4% of unmanned space shots go bad - and presumably manned flight gets that 'extra' attention that would reduce their rate a bit.

    Challenger was flight STS-51L - this was flight STS-107. I'd say even Feynmann may have been somewhat optimistic (although 2 failures is a thin data set - anyone want to figure a chi-square on it?).
    • by gunnk (463227) <gunnkNO@SPAMmail.fpg.unc.edu> 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.

  • NOAA Radar (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dorko (89725) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @11:47AM (#5203841) Homepage
    NOAA weather radar / short range reflectivity for Mid-Texas [noaa.gov] shows a line of high return paralleling and just south of a line between Dallas and Tyler. It's time lapse. Quite a remarkable radar image.
  • 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 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 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 LinuxParanoid (64467) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @12:41PM (#5204145) Homepage Journal
    [Taken from here [thisnation.com]. Emphasis mine... --LP]

    President Reagan's Speech on The Challenger Disaster
    Oval Office of the White House
    January 28, 1986

    Ladies and Gentlemen, I'd planned to speak to you tonight to report on the state of the Union, but the events of earlier today have led me to change those plans. Today is a day for mourning and remembering. Nancy and I are pained to the core by the tragedy of the shuttle Challenger. We know we share this pain with all of the people of our country. This is truly a national loss.

    Nineteen years ago, almost to the day, we lost three astronauts in a terrible accident on the ground. But, we've never lost an astronaut in flight; we've never had a tragedy like this. And perhaps we've forgotten the courage it took for the crew of the shuttle; but they, the Challenger Seven, were aware of the dangers, but overcame them and did their jobs brilliantly. We mourn seven heroes: Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe. We mourn their loss as a nation together.

    For the families of the seven, we cannot bear, as you do, the full impact of this tragedy. But we feel the loss, and we're thinking about you so very much. Your loved ones were daring and brave, and they had that special grace, that special spirit that says, 'Give me a challenge and I'll meet it with joy.' They had a hunger to explore the universe and discover its truths. They wished to serve, and they did. They served all of us.

    We've grown used to wonders in this century. It's hard to dazzle us. But for twenty-five years the United States space program has been doing just that. We've grown used to the idea of space, and perhaps we forget that we've only just begun. We're still pioneers. They, the members of the Challenger crew, were pioneers.

    And I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle's takeoff. I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It's all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It's all part of taking a chance and expanding man's horizons. The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow them...

    I've always had great faith in and respect for our space program, and what happened today does nothing to diminish it. We don't hide our space program. We don't keep secrets and cover things up. We do it all up front and in public. That's the way freedom is, and we wouldn't change it for a minute. We'll continue our quest in space. There will be more shuttle flights and more shuttle crews and, yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space. Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue. I want to add that I wish I could talk to every man and woman who works for NASA or who worked on this mission and tell them: "Your dedication and professionalism have moved and impressed us for decades. And we know of your anguish. We share it."

    There's a coincidence today. On this day 390 years ago, the great explorer Sir Francis Drake died aboard ship off the coast of Panama. In his lifetime the great frontiers were the oceans, and a historian later said, 'He lived by the sea, died on it, and was buried in it.' Well, today we can say of the Challenger crew: Their dedication was, like Drake's, complete.

    The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honoured us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of earth' to 'touch the face of God.'

  • by Embedded Geek (532893) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @01:36PM (#5204411) Homepage
    Data point [mariner.org]: Of the 270 men (some sites on the 'net say 237) who set out with Magellan, only 15 made it home. Magellan didn't.

    What would have happened if exploration had been written off as "too risky" after that? I guess those of us here in the New World (at least, those of us of European descent) are lucky that our ancestors were greedy enough to continue onwards despite those risks.

  • Politics... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by aardvarkjoe (156801) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @01:47PM (#5204481)
    Well, at 900 comments, probably nobody's going to see this, but if you do: this has the potential to destroy the space program. We live in a time when nobody considers space flight to be particularly important. The loss of the shuttle would be a perfect excuse to put NASA more on the back burner than it was before.

    So talk to your friends, tell them why space flight is important, and even more importantly, tell your congressmen what you think. They are the ones that control the money going into the space program. If nobody lets them know that we want space flight to continue, we might lose it entirely.
  • 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 automandc (196618) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @02:03PM (#5204588)
    ...that this was Columbia's first flight after being returned to service following extensive upgrades. NASA has been upgrading the avionics and other systems aboard the Shuttle fleet for the last several years, and Columbia was the most recent upgrade. Thus, even though everyone is harping about Columbia being "the oldest" shuttle, it is actually the oldest airframe, many parts of it (including engines and flight control) were actually the newest in the fleet.

    Interesting facts aside, this is a terrible tragedy. After an appropriate period of introspection and mourning, I hope that our government has the foresight to use this as the impetus to rethink the space program from the ground up, and reinvest in the types of endeavors that made the U.S. recognized leaders in the advancement of science and human exploration in the 1960s. It is time for NASA to be completely redesigned, and a new human space initiative begun with the bold, risk-taking nature that Americans have always been known for.

    Unfortunately, our current governemnt is led by what is most likely the most short-sighted administration of the past 100 years. The chances of this President using this tragedy constructively as a catalyst for postive change are about the same as one of the Shuttle astronauts phoning in from a payphone in East Texas.

  • Silver lining? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Fly766 (634059) <.moc.liamtoh. .ta. .edohcbob.> on Saturday February 01, 2003 @02:14PM (#5204668)
    I just had a thought that runs counter to pretty much everything I've read on here today. As horrible as it might be to say, this catastrophe might be actually end up being a good thing for the future of the space program. The general populus has forgotten about the space program for years now. This disaster puts them back in the news, along with the portrayal of astronauts as the brave adventurous scientists that seek to bring new advances to the people of their country and of the world. The folks who lost their lives today will be shown as heroes to Joe Sixpack once again, and might serve to rekindle a sense of adventure and pride in them. Also, it shows that this program has been forced to use old technology and scrape by on minimal budgets for far too long; and that with proper funding, this tragedy could have been avoided. Perhaps this will serve as a wake up call to Congress that we need to properly support this vital piece of the scientific advances that this country and this world needs. I just don't see us abandoning manned space flight, and more funding is the only viable alternative.

    Fly
  • 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@gdar g a u 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 Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 01, 2003 @02:42PM (#5204896)
    "If we die, we want people to accept it. We're in a risky business, and we hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life."
    - Gus Grissom, responding to a reporter, at a press conference for the first manned Apollo mission.
  • by Kaz Riprock (590115) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @03:15PM (#5205067)

    Space.com has a series of pictures [space.com] put together with captions that were taken during the past 2 weeks on board the shuttle.

    You can also find a copy of the mission patch and an explanation at spaceflight.nasa.gov (don't remember the direct link, sorry).
  • by Synn (6288) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @03:23PM (#5205094)
    In skydiving it's not uncommon for someone to get killed. Typically when that happens the people at the dropzone continue to skydive on that day, not out of any disrespect of the person that died, but because dying is just another part of life and it should not interrupt what people do.

    Similairly when a person in skydiving has a near death event, it's also typical that they immediately go back up and do another skydive as soon as they're able to. It's kind of a cliche, but "getting back on the horse" is an important part of life. When people don't go back up, it's not uncommon for them to leave the sport entirely, ie. give in to their fears.

    Space travel is dangerous, and shit's gonna happen. No matter what decisions are made, how safe you play the game, eventually somewhere somehow something bad will go wrong and with the dangers and forces involved with space travel that will usually mean people will die.

    But that should not cause any interruptions in the space program. Just because a shuttle went down doesn't make them unsafe. In fact considering how often they go up, I'd say 1 shuttle down every 18 years is pretty damn good. NASA needs to get another shuttle up and get back on the horse ASAP.

    Unfortunately what will probably happen is that the space program will be suspended while everyone plays the blame game. Fingers will be pointed, a lot of If's will be thrown around: If they hadn't dismissed the damage done to the wing at launch - If they had rehauled the shuttle more carefully in '99 - If more money was spent on the program - If we weren't using 20 year old technology - If, if, if...

    If you skydive long enough, you'll see people die. The forces are extreme enough in the sport, that small mistakes can become lethal. Space travel involves forces even more extreme: here we had a craft screaming through re-entry into earth at 12,000 miles per hour. I can't begin to imagine the kind of stresses those forces put on a space craft.

    Eventually the odds are going to catch up with those involved, something nobody thought of will happen and with such extreme forces involved, people will die.

    But death doesn't mean you put all life on hold.

    When you push the limits of human experience, the price is risk. But life without risk is meaningless.
  • by Vadim Makarov (529622) <makarov@vad1.com> on Saturday February 01, 2003 @03:56PM (#5205282) Homepage
    I'm not a space expert, but the most sensible thing for my country (I'm Russian) would be to fully support ISS operation with its Progress and Soyuz spacecrafts, until the things are sorted out with the Shuttles. Perhaps cough up some extra cash on the Russian side, yes. That would also be a politically correct thing to do.

    This would mean the construction activity is halted (Shuttles were to deliver most/all new modules), but at least the station can be operated in its current configurations for the time being.

    I view the dual delivery systems (STS + Russian crafts) as a partial redundancy built into the ISS program. Don't we now have the exact case when this redundancy should be used?

    Any knowledgeable person to comment?
  • by Alomex (148003) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @07:11PM (#5206605) Homepage
    In today's press conference a NASA official dismissed the importance of the debri that hit the left wing on launch. After all it happened in two of the previous three shuttle missions, and nothing happened.

    This brought back memories of a paragraph from the Feynman report after the challenger disaster which warns precisely about this:

    We have also found that certification criteria used in Flight Readiness Reviews often develop a gradually decreasing strictness. The argument that the same risk was flown before without failure is often accepted as an argument for the safety of accepting it again. Because of this, obvious weaknesses are accepted again and again, sometimes without a sufficiently serious attempt to remedy them, or to delay a flight because of their continued presence.

Do not simplify the design of a program if a way can be found to make it complex and wonderful.

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