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NASA Space

The Rescue Plan That Could Have Saved Space Shuttle Columbia 247

Posted by Soulskill
from the if-only dept.
An anonymous reader writes "In February, 2003, space shuttle Columbia was lost upon atmospheric re-entry. Afterward, NASA commissioned an exhaustive investigation to figure out what happened, and how it could be prevented in the future. However, they also figured out exactly what would have been required for a repair and rescue mission using Atlantis. Lee Hutchinson at Ars Technica went through the report and wrote a lengthy article explaining what such a mission would look like. In short: risky and terribly complex — but possible. 'In order to push Atlantis through processing in time, a number of standard checks would have to be abandoned. The expedited OPF processing would get Atlantis into the Vehicle Assembly Building in just six days, and the 24/7 prep work would then shave an additional day off the amount of time it takes to get Atlantis mated to its external tank and boosters. After only four days in the Vehicle Assembly Building, one of the two Crawler-Transporters would haul Atlantis out to Launch Complex 39, where it would stage on either Pad A or Pad B on Flight Day 15—January 30. ... Once on the pad, the final push to launch would begin. There would be no practice countdown for the astronauts chosen to fly the mission, nor would there be extra fuel leak tests. Prior to this launch, the shortest time a shuttle had spent on the launch pad was 14 days; the pad crews closing out Atlantis would have only 11 days to get it ready to fly.'"
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The Rescue Plan That Could Have Saved Space Shuttle Columbia

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  • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportlandNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @07:10PM (#46351857) Homepage Journal

    If not when, and so what? Seriously, its worth the risk to try and save people.

    You're question could be asked by anyone wanting to rescue anyone anywhere.

  • Re:However.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cyn1c77 (928549) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @01:58AM (#46354683)

    And here is where IMHO, the wrong decision was made. They elected to not take images to see the damage. If they did, and saw the damage, instead of trying to rush Atlantis back into orbit, could they not have...

    The wrong decision was made decades earlier when the US chose to rest on their laurels and not improve the shuttle design by increasing the safety margin or the turnaround time:

    -The turnaround time between shuttle launches should not exceed the crew's air supply.

    -The cockpit should have been contained in a module that could be ejected during reentry.

    There are no technical hurdles to meeting either of those goals... NASA did not design the original shuttles to accommodate these factors due to cost. They could have redesigned the shuttles to be safer after 20 years of technology development and flight experience, but that also was deemed to cost too much.

    This is the reason the astronauts died. Their lives were not worth the cost of incorporating full redundancy into the shuttle systems.

  • Re:However.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 27, 2014 @08:19AM (#46355889)

    This is the reason the astronauts died. Their lives were not worth the cost of incorporating full redundancy into the shuttle systems.

    Yes, that's correct. And the astronauts knew that before they took off. These aren't fee-paying train passengers we're talking about, these are trained scientists with full engineering knowledge of all the shuttle's systems. And they understood that their lives were not infinitely valuable, which is a fact a lot of liberals still need to get to grips with ... bottom line is you don't spend infinite money to make things infinitely safe, ever, in any walk of life, and it's stupid to suggest you should.

    -The cockpit should have been contained in a module that could be ejected during reentry.

    This is just crazy talk, though. If the heatshield on the orbiter can fail, so can the heat shield on the ejectable cockpit. Except now you need to carry the weight of two heatshields instead of one. Also you seem to be under some illusion that ejection is some benign safe option. Ejection is fucking dangerous and the ejection mechanism can misfire meaning your system is probably more dangerous than the system they had.

    Whatever NASA's faults, at least they don't design critical systems according to the armchair pontifications of laymen ...

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