Feeds

Columbia disaster 'not survivable', NASA concludes

Cabin depressurisation killed space shuttle crew

High performance access to file storage

NASA's comprehensive final Columbia Crew Survival Investigation Report (pdf) has concluded that the 1 February 2003 space shuttle disaster was "not survivable by any currently existing capability".

Columbia distintegrated on re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, having suffered launch damage to its left wing caused by a piece of foam which detached from the external fuel tank. Hot gas entering the breach provoked a catastrophic meltdown of the shuttle's structure, although the report reveals the crew were killed not by fire but rather by a "depressurization event" which "occurred so rapidly that the crew members were incapacitated within seconds".

The 400-page report notes that some crew members were not wearing their protective gloves at the time of the "Crew Module Catastrophic Event (CMCE)", one was not wearing a helmet and the six who were had their visors open.

Accordingly, although NASA says the crew was aware of the initial "LOC [loss of control] and was taking actions that were consistent with an attempt to recover hydraulic pressure", the cabin depressurisation proved "lethal".

Had the crew survived the loss of pressure, they would have been killed anyway by injuries caused by "inadequate upper body restraint and protection during rotational motion", possible exposure to "thermal events" and, finally, "ground impact".

Specifically regarding these three factors, NASA explains that "seat inertial reel mechanisms on the crews’ shoulder harnesses did not lock", the "ascent and entry suit had no performance requirements for occupant protection from thermal events" and the suit "provides protection from ground impact with a parachute system" which had to be manually operated.

Its recommendations are that "future spacecraft seats and suits should be integrated to ensure proper restraint of the crew in offnominal situations while not affecting operational performance", and that "spacecraft crew survival systems should not rely on manual activation to protect the crew".

Regarding a "thermal event", NASA soberly concludes that "the only known complete protection from this ... would be to prevent its occurrence".

Nasa deputy associate administrator Wayne Hale summarised: "This report confirms that although the valiant Columbia crew tried every possible way to maintain control of their vehicle, the accident was not ultimately survivable." ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Fancy joining Reg hack on quid-a-day challenge?
Recruiting now for charity starvation diet
Red-faced LOHAN team 'fesses up in blown SPEARS fuse fiasco
Standing in the corner, big pointy 'D' hats
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
Opportunity selfie: Martian winds have given the spunky ol' rover a spring cleaning
Power levels up 70 per cent as the rover keeps on truckin'
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
New FEMTO-MOON sighted BIRTHING from Saturn's RING
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.