I just wanted to say that Mark and I are extremely sad about this and send prayers to the families of these special people. We are both huge supporters of the space program and the hope and vision it brings to humanity. We find this tragedy truly devastating. The spirit of these heroes and their visions and goals will always be remembered.
Just heard some words regarding this that really hit home. 'We can't move forward if we hide the mistakes.'
Investigators pinpoint likely cause of shuttle disaster
WASHINGTON - A piece of foam that hit Columbia's left wing after liftoff is "the most probable cause" of the accident, investigators said Tuesday.
The Columbia Accident Investigation Board made its strongest statement to date on the cause of the shuttle's disintegration, which killed seven astronauts.
The board's theory is that a suitcase-sized chunk of insulation from the external fuel tank may have damaged a heat shield, allowing hot gases to penetrate the spacecraft during re-entry.
The board has always called the foam impact a "candidate" cause.
How Foam Doomed Columbia Is Clarified
NASA Also Faults Past Assumptions
Saturday, February 21, 2004
CAPE CANAVERAL, Feb. 20 -- A year after the Columbia tragedy, NASA has determined how and why the large piece of foam insulation that doomed the spacecraft broke off from the fuel tank at liftoff.
NASA's top spaceflight official, William F. Readdy, said Friday that air liquefied by the super-cold fuel in the tank almost certainly seeped into a crack or void in the foam, or collected around bolts and nuts beneath the foam. The trapped air expanded as the shuttle rose, and it blew off a chunk of foam the size of a suitcase.
Rather than peeling off, as NASA had assumed from past experience, the foam was pushed off with explosive force, Readdy said. The space agency also had assumed the foam would fall down along the tank and miss the shuttle, but the falling foam shot toward Columbia and the left wing rammed into it, resulting in a large gash.
"That is really the root cause that we've been able to discover here," Readdy said.
In all likelihood, faulty application of the foam created air pockets, Readdy said.
A tank redesign and improved techniques for applying and double-checking the foam should solve the problem, NASA said. Because of the time needed to accomplish this, space shuttles will not fly again until next year.
By the time Columbia broke apart over Texas during reentry on Feb. 1, 2003, NASA had run 400 computer models involving flyaway foam and other launch debris. Since then, millions of models have been run, and the space agency has a much better understanding of what went wrong and how to fix it, Readdy said.
A newer problem involves the rudder speed brake, a tail assembly that is used to guide and slow the spaceship as it comes in for a landing. In recent months, corrosion and microcracks were found in the machinery that operates Discovery's rudder speed brake.
NASA has decided to remove and X-ray the same pieces of machinery in its two other shuttles. The work is progressing fastest on Discovery, which is scheduled to launch as early as March 2005, Readdy said.
The seven Discovery astronauts could seek refuge at the international space station, where they are headed anyway, for as long as three months. A rescue mission by Atlantis could be launched as early as 35 days from now, Readdy said.
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