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Space Science

Columbia's Final Minutes in Detail 494

Posted by michael
from the riding-the-rocket dept.
grub writes "This article on Newsday has an excerpt from 'Comm Check... The Final Flight of Shuttle Columbia,' by Michael Cabbage and William Harwood describing the last minutes of Columbia's final flight in detail."
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Columbia's Final Minutes in Detail

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  • Hot Gas != Plasma (Score:5, Informative)

    by RobertB-DC (622190) * on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @02:23PM (#8102906) Homepage Journal
    From the article: ...and that a plume of super-heated plasma entering through that breach had destroyed the wing and triggered the destruction of the orbiter.

    While original reports used the term "plasma", there's a good explanation at space.com's Columbia FAQ [space.com] that explains that the hot gas that entered the shuttle's wing was *not* "plasma", as defined by science:
    PLASMA: What is it?


    [IMPORTANT NOTE: Officials now say that the hot gas that surrounded Columbia and appeared to breach the craft had probably not yet reached the plasma state.]

    Plasma is sometimes called a fourth state of matter (in addition to solid, liquid, gas). It's created when gas is superheated and electrons are stripped out, leaving electrically charged particles.
    Not to be a science nazi, but there's an important distinction between sci-fi-sounding "plasma" and the mundane -- but still deadly -- "very hot gas".
    • Re:Hot Gas != Plasma (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Sheetrock (152993)
      Actually, there is a good possibility that plasma is not a new state of matter per se, but rather a transference state between gas and Bose-Einstienian condensate... much as water at boiling point. Although as we push to further thermal extremes, it's possible that we'll discover more energy states or methods of creating different forms of matter without relying solely on temperature.

      Practically speaking, I don't think it makes a great deal of difference to the story. But it's the tangents that make sci

      • Re:Hot Gas != Plasma (Score:5, Informative)

        by RobertB-DC (622190) * on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @02:47PM (#8103173) Homepage Journal
        [Plasma may be] but rather a transference state between gas and Bose-Einstienian condensate

        We're trending off-topic, but I'm curious. As I understand (imperfectly), a gas becomes a plasma by becoming completely ionized at high temperature. But a Bose-Einstein condensate [wikipedia.org] requires a temperature very close to absolute zero, so that the particles' velocity approaches zero and the atoms superimpose (Wiki make um smarter! Ugh!). How would plasma fit into that phase transition?
        • by Dr. Zowie (109983) * <slashdot@@@deforest...org> on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @03:49PM (#8103924)
          A gas doesn't have to be fully ionized to be plasma. The transition comes gradually as more and more of the gas is ionized. The crucial parameter is the ratio of the average spacing of the molecules, and something called the "Debye radius", that measures the distance over which charge neutrality holds (that is to say, plasmas are charge-neutral mixes of positively and negatively charged particles; so if you add, say, some extra positive charges to a small region you will attract a cloud of negative charges to cancel it out. The Debye radius tells you the size of the cloud).

          To be a plasma, the gas should have many free electrons (or ions) in each Debye length. There could be many more neutrals, just along for the ride, in the same space.

          Most molecular gases become more or less fully ionized at around 10,000 degrees Kelvin (give or take a factor of four or so, depending on composition) since that's the temperature at which the collision energy becomes significant compared to valence electron binding energies, so most collisions can make new ions. So anything hotter than that is definitely plasma.

          But even a fraction of a percent ionization is often enough to give you the nice bulk behavior of a plasma, because the ionized particles do their thing and drag along the neutral ones by collision. Depending on the density, it's probably reasonable to call the 8,000F (3800K) gases "plasma".

        • The term ``plasma'' is often stretched and abused by the low-temperature community. It is sometimes used to refer to a gas that consists only of ions, or only of electrons, even though the term was originally meant to describe charge-neutral clouds. Some Bose-Einstein condensates consist mainly of ions, since the electromagnetic field can then be used to confine them (so they don't hit the floor of the vacuum chamber that holds them). Colloquially, these clouds of cool ions are often referred to as plasm
      • Re:Hot Gas != Plasma (Score:3, Informative)

        by jstott (212041)

        Actually, there is a good possibility that plasma is not a new state of matter per se, but rather a transference state between gas and Bose-Einstienian condensate... much as water at boiling point. Although as we push to further thermal extremes, it's possible that we'll discover more energy states or methods of creating different forms of matter without relying solely on temperature.

        Well, no.

        First, Bose-Einstein condensates only occur at low temperatures when a significant fraction of the atoms sit in

    • Not to be a science nazi, but there's an important distinction between sci-fi-sounding "plasma" and the mundane -- but still deadly -- "very hot gas".

      Yeah, it's the difference between White Castle and Taco Bell.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    To kindred spirits and absent friends.
    • by Ateryx (682778) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @03:22PM (#8103615)
      Reading this was way more intense than seeing the footage... I was left in tears.
    • Indeed. Reading the article was far more moving than watching the footage. I suppose it's because the footage was from considerable distance, while this explanation has an erie firstperson-ness to it.
      • by rpresser (610529)
        Another reason it felt more real to me is that it took me several minutes to read the article, while the footage shown to me lasted only a few seconds.

        The thought that they were still alive 26 miles up ... maybe aware that their shuttle was destroyed ... and then the end came ... I want to cry.
      • I experienced the same thing, mostly, I think, because I could finally *visualize* what was going on during the footage I've seen.

        That said, I'd say it seems pretty likely that at least some of the crew were alive (possibly even conscious, depending on the g-forces in the crew cabin) up to the moment the cabin itself disintegrated.

        *shudder*

        In any case, I don't think there's any doubt that they knew what was happening to them...

        We will never forget you.

        SB
  • The complexity... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by alexatrit (689331) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @02:30PM (#8102991) Homepage
    ...of the shuttle is just fascinating. Call me naive, but it truly is amazing that aeronautical/space engineering has progressed as far as it has. Not to revel in Columbia's destruction, but I'm suprised that we haven't had more accidents since Challenger.
    • by jfengel (409917) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @03:05PM (#8103385) Homepage Journal
      There was only going to be one accident after Challenger. It was just a question of how long it was going to take.

      From here until the end of the lifespan, there will be only a few trips. The odds of a problem are low enough that we'll probably get through those with no more accidents.

      At this point it's like software: it's too complex to fix, so you start from scratch. I feel bad about that, just like I do throwing away mostly-functioning software, but it's got to go.
    • by Kombat (93720) <kombat@kombat.org> on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @04:29PM (#8104495) Homepage
      Keep in mind that the shuttle designs are pushing 30 years old.

      The thing that amazes me is the 1969 moon mission. Ever see the kind of equipment those guys had back then? Think about what kinds of computing power they had with them. Your car has more computing power than the Apollo mission modules.

      Ask yourself this: Would you volunteer for a moon mission using the same equipment as they did in '69? From today's perspective, it'd be suicide! And yet, back then, that was the state of the art, and people did it. Amazing.
      • Actually your car probably has 100 to 1000 times more computing power than an Apollo module. I can't think of anything which has about the same computing power, most things are eitehr much less or much more nowadays.

        The fact is that a moon mission today is impossible despite the rantings of the non-elected, intellectually challenged, presidential impostor, because the software and other complexity issues would make it cost far too much, take far too long, and probably suffer a BSOD.....

        Another factor to con

  • Atlantic Monthly (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sean80 (567340) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @02:34PM (#8103031)
    Above and beyond this article, if you can get your hands on the article on the Colombia tragedy which was published in Atlantic Monthly, do it. As always for Atlantic Monthly, easily the most intelligent commentary I've seen about the event, and a couple of closing sentences that will stay with me forever.
    • Re:Atlantic Monthly (Score:5, Informative)

      by jhsiao (525216) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @02:40PM (#8103096)
      The Atlantic Monthly article was in the November 2003 issue. It's available online here [theatlantic.com].
      • Re:Atlantic Monthly (Score:2, Informative)

        by alexatrit (689331)
        If you use the "printer friendly" link on this page, the text is 42 pages worth. If you print the web page itself, it's about 8. Just a head's up, if you're low on toner/paper.
      • Re:Atlantic Monthly (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Basehart (633304)
        Such an illustrative read reminds me of the way in which NASA has been adding the real-life commentary to the CG trailers of the Mars Rover takeoff and landing sequences.

        It would be very informative if they could add all the existing amateur and telemetric film footage to what was being said in Mission Control during Columbias re-entry. Maybe even show the wreckage that had already reached the ground while flight engineers in Florida are still discussing what may be going on.
  • by odyrithm (461343) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @02:36PM (#8103060)
    But this is a classic lack of communication problem, people voiced there concerns but they where shooshed away because of the "nah that won't happen" syndrom.. lets hope we all learn from this lesson.
    • They didn't after Challenger exploded in 1986.
  • by garcia (6573) * on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @02:37PM (#8103066) Homepage
    One of the crew members came to rest beside a country road near Hemphill. The remains were found by a 59-year-old chemical engineer and Vietnam veteran named Roger Coday, who called the sheriff and then watched from the porch of his mobile home as a funeral director drove by to collect them.

    IIRC (if I read correctly) they were about 19 miles up when the fuselage broke apart... So this astronaut had about that far to fall before coming to rest on the ground.

    I saw it over and over again on TV and thought, well, at least it was instant and there's nothing left... I was wrong and I now have deep sorrow for these individuals.
  • Definitely RTFA... (Score:5, Informative)

    by bc90021 (43730) * <<ten.12009cb> <ta> <12009cb>> on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @02:39PM (#8103092) Homepage
    ...it's an incredible piece, and very well written. One never understands such things until it is succinctly written out, and these authors did an amazing job.
  • Survivability? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by G4from128k (686170) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @02:41PM (#8103115)
    From the article: The survivability study concluded relatively modest design changes might enable future crews to survive long enough to bail out.

    I'm not sure how the crew can survive by "bailing out" of a doomed orbiter during re-entry (take-off is another matter entirely). Once the orbiter drops below a certain speed, a return to orbit is impossible anda very hot descent is inevitable. This "bail out" logic sounds like surviving an elevator crash by stepping out at the first floor to me.

    Unless the crew module can gracefully decelerate to less than hypersonic speeds, exiting the compartment is instant death.
    • Re:Survivability? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by evilad (87480) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @02:45PM (#8103155)
      That's probably the whole point: that the crew compartment could be designed to decelerate to a sane velocity just like a splashdown capsule. At that point a bailout would be possible.
      • Re:Survivability? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by multi io (640409)
        That's probably the whole point: that the crew compartment could be designed to decelerate to a sane velocity

        That is, equip the compartment with its own heatshield. And while you're at it, get rid of all the useless and dangerous surrounding stuff like wings etc. That is, build a conventional capsule like Soyuz or Apollo. Which is what they're planning to do, right?

    • Re:Survivability? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      It is not entirely unfeasible. Engineered breakaway points for the crew capsule and hypersonic drag chutes for orientation in order to keep any insulating barriers between the crew and the encroaching atmosphere.

      Humans have free fallen from as high as 19 miles with nothing more than a pressure suite and a hypersonic drag/parachute system.
    • Re:Survivability? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by obirt (713598)
      Quite right.

      However, the forward RCS rockets, RCS fuel tanks [nasa.gov], GPCs, and avionics bays are located in the nose. That makes the nose the heaviest portion of that part of the orbiter, ensuring a nose down descent. If the thermal insulation was changed to let the crew compartment survive heating, and if the RCS rockets were powerful enough, and had enough fuel to retro fire the module to a sane speed where parachutes were usable, It might be possible. Though none of the shuttles systems were designed with som

    • I'm not sure how the crew can survive by "bailing out" of a doomed orbiter during re-entry (take-off is another matter entirely). Once the orbiter drops below a certain speed, a return to orbit is impossible anda very hot descent is inevitable. This "bail out" logic sounds like surviving an elevator crash by stepping out at the first floor to me.

      For a system designed with virtually no abort capability it is interesting that that the crew compartment survived intact immediately after both shuttle disasters

  • Interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jchawk (127686) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @02:44PM (#8103148) Homepage Journal
    This article is kind of an intense read... I think it's important to remember these fallen heros, who gave their lives for the purpose of furthering our understanding of science.

    Hats off to those brave souls.
  • by mcmonkey (96054) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @02:50PM (#8103210) Homepage
    "The most complicated machine ever built got knocked out of the sky by a pound and a half of foam. I don't know how any of us could have seen that coming. The message that sends me is, we are walking the razor's edge. This is a dangerous business and it does not take much to knock you off." -- Flight director Paul Hill

    There are none so blind as those who refuse to see. The folks at NASA could have seen this coming by listening to the engineers who wanted to get a closer look at the spots hit by the foam. The folks at NASA should have been watching for this type of situation if any attention had been paid to the follow up of the Challenger explosion.

    It is simply not true that this tragedy was unavoidable and that there was no way to see this coming. The most complicated machine ever built was not knocked out of the sky by a pound and a half of foam. This was murder by management.

    • by goldspider (445116) <ardrake79 AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @02:58PM (#8103309) Homepage
      "The most complicated machine ever built was not knocked out of the sky by a pound and a half of foam. This was murder by management."

      So every fatal car accident caused by untimely mechanical failure is "murder by manufacturer"?

      Every precaution SHOULD be taken to prevent tragedies like this, but calling it "murder by management" is far too harsh a term that unjustly impunes the motives of NASA administrators.

      Sometimes you just have to accept the fact that shit happens.

      • by phr1 (211689) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @03:27PM (#8103680)
        So every fatal car accident caused by untimely mechanical failure is "murder by manufacturer"?

        It's murder by management if the engineers tell management "hey, this part isn't strong enough, we have to use a stronger part or some cars are going to blow up" and management says "nah, that'll cost too much, forget it". Ford Motor Company was in fact indicted for second-degree murder over the notorious exploding Pinto gas tank, after it came out that basically the above engineer-management exchange had taken place.

        Similar exchanges took place before the Challenger explosion (engineers didn't want to launch until the O-ring erosion had been fixed, and management overruled them) and the Columbia crash (engineers wanted photos of the insulation damage so if necessary they could make a contingency plan, and management spiked the request). So those also fit the pattern of murder by management.

      • by ChuckDivine (221595) * <charles.j.divine@gmail.com> on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @03:28PM (#8103699) Homepage

        Do check out the Columbia Accident Investigation Board report at http://www.caib.us/ [www.caib.us]. Or, after February 1st, go to the main NASA site [nasa.gov] and look for the links to the CAIB report.

        Management and political leadership did kill.

      • "The most complicated machine ever built was not knocked out of the sky by a pound and a half of foam. This was murder by management."

        So every fatal car accident caused by untimely mechanical failure is "murder by manufacturer"?

        There's a decent-sized step from "In this case NASA didn't exercise the proper degree of caution, and its culture seems to have quashed the concerns of engineers who were worried about this happening" and "Every untimely mechanical failure resulting in death is murder."

        Early

    • by Baron_Yam (643147) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @02:58PM (#8103311)

      I'm not so sure. If you create an atmosphere of 'everything must be 100% safe', no engineer would ever approve anything, no astronaut would ever don a spacesuit.

      It was human error, and a regrettable one... probably rooted in the difficulty of comprehending physics so far beyond our everyday experience.

  • Only 38% found... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by feidaykin (158035) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @02:51PM (#8103227) Journal
    From the article:

    More than 25,000 searchers, who scoured a debris "footprint" that was 645 miles long, found 84,900 individual pieces, about 38 percent of the space shuttle.

    Does this not make one wonder how much of the shuttle might still be "out there" waiting to be found, or perhaps sitting on display in someone's house? Granted, much of it would have been literally vaporized, however I think that would amount to far less than the remaining 62% of Columbia.

    I heard on CNN that pages of Ilan Ramon's journal were found recently in Texas. A quick google news turned up this article on the Post. [nypost.com]

    It has also been stated that remains from all seven astronauts were recovered, and that some of the organisms on the shuttle actually survived.

    This all points to the possibility that there is still more shuttle out there, and that perhaps we could be finding Columbia piece by precious piece for years to come...

  • I'm a budgeteer ... (Score:3, Informative)

    by plawsy (174981) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @02:53PM (#8103255) Homepage
    ... not a rocketeer. - Sean O'Keefe, NASA Adminstrator
  • by happyfrogcow (708359) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @02:54PM (#8103265)
    How can a hole being ripped in the wing, or any other part of the shuttle not be picked up by some sensor?

    though, what could be done 81 seconds after beginning re-entry? anything besides acknowledge that you're going to die? if you level your course, instead of going down into the atmosphere will you just gradually burn up? I'm thinking, skim the outter atmosphere, since the air is thin it isn't having a drastic effect on the structure (compared with a few minutes later the change in atmosphere rips into the shuttle a lot more). skip out of the atmosphere and resume some sort of drift through space. try to control the drift so you're not hurtling into nothingness, although if your travelling at 1,568 mph maybe that is a little far fetched. then, assess the damage, and deal with it somehow (emergency rescue mission, repairs if at all possible?).

    i am not a rocket scientist. but at what point of re-entry is it too late to do any sort of constructive abort?
    • How can a hole being ripped in the wing, or any other part of the shuttle not be picked up by some sensor?

      The leading edge of the shuttle's wing is flat. Over that goes a series of reinforced carbon-carbon (RCC) panels which form a smooth, aerodynamically-friendly shape. These RCC panels are shaped something like a V rotated 90 degrees. This creates a small cavity between the RCC panels and the leading edge spar of the wing, which is where the RCC panels are bolted on.

      The bolts that hold the RCC panels t
    • How can a hole being ripped in the wing, or any other part of the shuttle not be picked up by some sensor?

      For the same reason they don't make entire planes out of the material they use to make the "Black Boxes:" weight and cost. If you put sensors all over everything, your ship suddenly weighs much, much more, thus takes more fuel to launch, thus increasing the cost considerably. Besides, it's not very often that you experience catastrophic structural failure, and when it does happen (such as in the cas
  • by talexb (223672) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @02:56PM (#8103288) Homepage Journal
    The shuttle astronauts are true heroes -- think of the bravery it takes to fly one of those things. And let's not forget the Challenger mission which failed on January 28, 1986, seventeen years ago tomorrow.

    I'll be outside at about 1130am tomorrow, looking up at the skies as I do every year, thanking that shuttle crew for their sacrifice.
  • by danwiz (538108) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @02:58PM (#8103305)
    From the article ...
    Like Challenger's crew, the Columbia astronauts met their fates alone and the details will never be known.

    The initial government line is always that that people die instantly. After the Challenger crew compartment was recovered, it surfaced that some of crew's PEAPs (Personal Egress Air Packs) had been activated. This lead to the debate on whether anyone was conscious prior to impact with the ocean, and if there was any improvements that could be made to escape such a fate.

    It may seem morbid as first but spacecraft, unlike automobiles, aren't as easy to crash-test. This promotes learning as much as you can from the mistakes.

    Unfortunately, its unlikely more meaningful debris will be recovered from the Columbia.

  • by The I Shing (700142) * on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @02:58PM (#8103318) Journal
    I remember when the Space Shuttle Challenger was destroyed, and I really never imagined that another space shuttle would be destroyed in my lifetime.

    I've heard complaints about feeding starving people instead of exploring space, and that does sound compelling in light of the fact that there is so much human suffering, but I believe (as do many) that space exploration represents a greater destiny for mankind.

    Maybe that destiny could be put off a few decades while we solve all the world's problems, but I don't want that long.

    It's like that t-shirt my one trekkie buddy used to wear, "The meek shall inherit the Earth... the rest of us shall go to the stars."
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'm getting the same feeling in the pit of gut when I was reading final accounts of the World Trade Center collapse. If this was some unmanned satellite the same detailed account would have no impact. In the end, our fascination with the shuttle was not about the technology, but the fact that humans were involved.

    We all die alone and nothing can change this fact. How our own lives will end is the ultimate question. Why wouldn't we all be interested in the minutia of how other lives ended. I put myself into
  • by savagedome (742194) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @03:05PM (#8103383)
    For me, this was definitely a "Do you remember where you were when this happened?" moment. It comes as a punch in stomach.

    May God rest their brave souls in peace.
  • by Performer Guy (69820) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @03:19PM (#8103562)
    The openning quote really infuriates me.

    It takes s special breed of bureaucratic self serving bozo to describe this accident in the most bizzarre terms possible then say something like "I don't know how anyone could have seen that coming" when the truth is people DID see it coming and tried their darndest to stop it happening and long before this NASA had been running foam inmapct studies due to earlier strikes.
  • It's odd (Score:4, Insightful)

    by edremy (36408) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @03:24PM (#8103640) Journal
    Whenever I read these sorts of narratives about Columbia, I'm always sitting there unconsiously thinking "Come on, a few more minutes. Hold together just a bit longer." Even when I know the exact times of breakup, it doesn't matter, I still think it.
  • by geekoid (135745) <`moc.oohay' `ta' `dnaltropnidad'> on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @03:30PM (#8103726) Homepage Journal
    "For the astronauts, the final sequence was mercifully brief, but no doubt terrifying."

    IT was 2 minutes from the time all hell broke loos until the died! 2 freaking minutes!

    Ever hold your breath for two minutes? While somebody you don't know is forceably holding your head under water?

    Most roller coster last about 40 seconds.

    • Also:

      "Challenger's crew module had also broken away in one piece when the shuttle disintegrated during launch 17 years earlier. As with Challenger, the forces acting on Columbia's crew during this period were not violent enough to cause injury, and investigators believe the astronauts probably survived the initial breakup of the orbiter."

      So basically after the shuttle disintegrated they most likely were intact and were able to observe themselves falling to their fate? I, too, find this hardly a "merc
  • The real tragedy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by spikeham (324079) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @03:57PM (#8104029)
    It's true, exploring space is dangerous and lives will be lost.

    The real tragedy is using this as an excuse to keep flying the shuttle and killing more astronauts. The US needs to develop a new vehicle ASAP. NASA needs to step up to the plate, admit that the shuttle is too unsafe to fly as is and too old to reengineer, and get the money to develop its replacement on a fast track. A number of opportunities to develop a replacement and retire the shuttle were wasted before the loss of Columbia. NASA is unwilling to risk ending the shuttle program, their most prominent icon, and their fixation on it blinds them to other possibilities. There are ways to keep the ISS operating and astronauts flying without ever launching another shuttle. NASA just doesn't have the political will to pursue them.

    The "studies" of in-flight repair are hideous examples of a cheap hack gone too far. It should be a joke. Who would ever voluntarily go through re-entry in a shuttle with a hand-patched wing?

    Why won't NASA just admit that the shuttle is a first-generation vehicle and cannot be "fixed"? Why doesn't NASA recognize that Soyuz, and Apollo for that matter, prove that space flight can be much safer than the shuttle? When was the American way ever to throw people's lives away when there was an alternative?

    The shuttle is just a piece of hardware. It has killed fourteen people. Walk away from it. Put the remaining three orbiters in museums. Move on.
  • by crisco (4669) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @04:42PM (#8104639) Homepage
    Has anyone put together an archive of video, photographs and other media related to this event? Or even a collection of links?

    I know much of it is copyrighted by various parties but an event like this deserves to be properly documented online.

  • The CAIB Report (Score:3, Informative)

    by jafuser (112236) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @05:27PM (#8105224)
    I spent a few hours pouring over the CAIB report [www.caib.us] which contains a lot of very clear and sound details about how they found out what went wrong.

    It's worth taking a look at, as it gave a lot of insight into how they used the recovered parts to determine exactly what happened. The graphs that show where each tile fell on the ground makes it very clear where the problem started. The sensor timelines also give clues about how the fire spread inside the wing. Internal emails are included to show how the problem was acknowledged but played down, and how many missed opportunities there were to have discovered the problem while still in space.

    It's definitely worth downloading and at browsing through if you have any interest at all in the space program.
  • by payndz (589033) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @06:55PM (#8106336)
    People dying every day because of poverty, starvation, drought, natural disaster... that's part (ironically) of life. None of these things will *ever* go away. It happens every day, and as much as my liberal guilt would like, there's no way to stop it. It may not be PC to say to, but it's how the world is.

    (You may argue against that, but have *you* worked out a way to end hunger, to end want, to wave back the forces of nature? No, you haven't. And nor has anyone else. But people *have* worked out how to send people into space - to other worlds, even - and bring them back safely. But yet...)

    People dying in the most complex piece of technology ever created, exploring the most dangerous environment known, when they have the backing of the greatest concentration of human brainpower on the planet, and it *could* have been prevented if the bureaucrats hadn't ignored the engineers and scientists... that depresses me. That tells me everything I don't want to hear about humanity. That tells me the Dream - of accomplishing the impossible, of pushing the boundaries, of going beyond mundane everyday existance and achieving what conventional wisdom believes cannot be done - is dead. After reading the Atlantic article, to find that fucking PowerPoint slides helped contribute to the destruction of the Columbia and the death of the astonauts when there was a chance they could have been saved... Jesus Christ!

    It's not like I don't feel sorry if I hear that people have died somewhere. It's just that I feel more sorry if they die in space. I can't explain it, but the idea of space travel has always stirred powerful feelings in me... and to have them shattered by what after investigation turn out to be the most stupid of reasons (metric/imperial confusion, slightly too low temperatures at launch, a piece of foam I could hold in my hands) really hits me hard.

    Hell, I was depressed all Christmas Day after learning that Beagle 2 had basically cratered. Maybe you might think my priorities are wrong if I care about the fate of a machine, but it's not just the hardware - it's the hopes of all the people who worked to create it, and hoped to discover something new about the universe, being shattered.

    (Plus I want to get on good terms early on with our new robot overlords...)

  • by TinkersDamn (647700) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @08:33PM (#8107560)
    First off I have to say that my heart goes out to those astronauts, that last few minutes must have been sheer terror. I'd hoped that their going was quick and painless, sadly it was not.

    I'm acquainted with plasma, the ionized(electrically conductive) gas, and I've always wondered why they don't use magnetic fields to help steer the plasma away from the critical areas, ie. leading edge of the wings and nose. What would it take to generate such a field?

    I can understand if there is a lot of power required, but couldn't some of it be taken from the supersonic plasma/airstream in some way, perhaps through MHD(MagnetoHydroDynamically)? In this way you would have a self balancing system, as the ship goes deeper into the atmosphere, where it's hotter, more power would be generated, and thus the field strength could increase?

    I'm not a plasma physicist, but there would seem to be some merit in such an idea for re-entry craft such as the shuttle. Anybody of the appropriate technical persuasion have any comments about such an idea?

    In memorium.

As in certain cults it is possible to kill a process if you know its true name. -- Ken Thompson and Dennis M. Ritchie

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