HomeLatest ThreadsGreatest ThreadsForums & GroupsMy SubscriptionsMy Posts
DU Home » Latest Threads » Forums & Groups » Main » General Discussion (Forum) » NASA knew Columbia crew w...
Introducing Discussionist: A new forum by the creators of DU

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 12:27 PM

NASA knew Columbia crew would die but chose not to tell them



in 2003 that the Space Shuttle Columbia would not survive re-entry, but chose not to inform the vessel’s crew. According to an ABC News report from Thursday, when faced with the choice of letting the astronauts die trying to come home or leaving them to orbit until their air ran out, high-ranking NASA officials chose to let the Columbia crew die in ignorance of what was to befall them.

Wayne Hale, who became a Space Shuttle program manager in the years after the Columbia disaster, wrote on his blog Thursday about the meeting among ground personnel at Johnson Space Center as they grappled with the decision. Video of Columbia’s takeoff showed a briefcase-sized chunk of foam breaking off an engine and colliding with the shuttle’s wing, gouging a hole in the shield designed to protect the craft from the furious heat generated as it crossed from the vacuum of space into the atmosphere.

When it became clear that the orbiter was seriously damaged and likely wouldn’t survive re-entry, Flight Director Jon Harpold said to Hale and others at the meeting, “You know, there is nothing we can do about damage to the TPS (Thermal Protection System). If it has been damaged it’s probably better not to know. I think the crew would rather not know. Don’t you think it would be better for them to have a happy successful flight and die unexpectedly during entry than to stay on orbit, knowing that there was nothing to be done, until the air ran out?”


On Feb. 3, 2003, engineers and managers watched helplessly as the vehicle broke up into a trail of fireballs in the upper atmosphere, killing all 7 astronauts on board. The crew was made up of five men and two women, David Brown, Rick Husband, Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson, William McCool and Ilan Ramon.

The surviving children of the astronauts will take part in a commemorative ceremony to be held on the 10th anniversary of the accident on Friday.


http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/02/01/nasa-knew-columbia-crew-would-die-but-chose-not-to-tell-them/

41 replies, 4513 views

Reply to this thread

Back to top Alert abuse

Always highlight: 10 newest replies | Replies posted after I mark a forum
Replies to this discussion thread
Arrow 41 replies Author Time Post
Reply NASA knew Columbia crew would die but chose not to tell them (Original post)
AgingAmerican Feb 2013 OP
greytdemocrat Feb 2013 #1
Tagish_Charlie Feb 2013 #14
liberal_at_heart Feb 2013 #24
Chemisse Feb 2013 #2
Drale Feb 2013 #3
stopbush Feb 2013 #35
SQUEE Feb 2013 #4
AgingAmerican Feb 2013 #17
KT2000 Feb 2013 #37
RKP5637 Feb 2013 #5
demwing Feb 2013 #6
stopbush Feb 2013 #10
exboyfil Feb 2013 #13
stopbush Feb 2013 #18
Junkdrawer Feb 2013 #23
stopbush Feb 2013 #36
beaglelover Feb 2013 #39
stopbush Feb 2013 #41
Recursion Feb 2013 #7
cthulu2016 Feb 2013 #26
Recursion Feb 2013 #27
zbdent Feb 2013 #8
stopbush Feb 2013 #9
Sheldon Cooper Feb 2013 #11
exboyfil Feb 2013 #12
OmahaBlueDog Feb 2013 #16
stopbush Feb 2013 #20
OmahaBlueDog Feb 2013 #15
stopbush Feb 2013 #22
leveymg Feb 2013 #28
stopbush Feb 2013 #38
cthulu2016 Feb 2013 #19
Logical Feb 2013 #21
kaiden Feb 2013 #25
pnwest Feb 2013 #29
Lone_Star_Dem Feb 2013 #30
Buzz Clik Feb 2013 #31
liberal N proud Feb 2013 #32
madrchsod Feb 2013 #33
Baitball Blogger Feb 2013 #34
demokatgurrl Feb 2013 #40

Response to AgingAmerican (Original post)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 12:33 PM

1. That would be a tough call. n/t

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to greytdemocrat (Reply #1)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 01:00 PM

14. It's called triage,

 

as a Paramedic for 28 years, I have made that call more than once. Nothing sucks more than writing off a 14 year old kid in a multi-casualty vehicle crash or a 6 year old in a multiple shooting. I have no idea how many people I was forced to write off at the Hyatt collapse, but it had to be done. You save the ones you can and let the others go.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to greytdemocrat (Reply #1)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 02:30 PM

24. that is a tough call

Is is better to die in ignorant bliss or is it better to know and maybe have a chance to say good-bye to family? Tough call either way.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to AgingAmerican (Original post)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 12:34 PM

2. I think the worst thing you can do is take away all hope.

So they did the best they could do in an awful situation. But it can't have been easy to make that choice and then to pretend that hope was justified while the astronauts approached certain death.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to AgingAmerican (Original post)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 12:37 PM

3. It doesn't sound like they didn't really try to come up with an innovated solution

Look what they did with Apollo 13, built a carbon dioxide filter out of random parts laying around the cabin. But this does go back to the old question would you rather know you had terminal cancer or live your last days in bliss?

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to Drale (Reply #3)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 03:35 PM

35. Entirely different situation.

Had the heat shield on the Apollo 13 capsule been damaged the way Columbia's was damaged, Apollo 13 would have burned up as well.

It's one thing to fix a problem inside the cabin (CO2) with stuff lying around inside the cabin. It's another thing to fix something on the exterior of a space vehicle.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to AgingAmerican (Original post)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 12:38 PM

4. All of those astronauts knew the danger of the job, and volunteered anyway.

To treat trained, and professional adults like children to me is deplorable.
They and their families could have been given a chance to say things, that now will never be spoken. They should have been given the respect they had earned as the top tier of scientists, aviators and engineers to face their chances with full awareness. It would not have changed the outcome, but for the families and friends things could have been different.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to SQUEE (Reply #4)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 01:06 PM

17. True this

They all knew well what happened with Challenger and Apollo 13. I am sure they all received ample warning of what could happen.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to SQUEE (Reply #4)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 03:42 PM

37. In such a high risk operation

the things that needed to be said were very likely said before they left earth. Astronauts are not unaware of the risks involved.
If it was my realtive I would have wanted them to live their last time without the dread of impending death. That much at least they did not suffer.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to AgingAmerican (Original post)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 12:40 PM

5. I would have preferred not to know, to die happy. Why tell them, there was nothing

they could have done than to have spent their last moments in torture in anticipation of death.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to AgingAmerican (Original post)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 12:40 PM

6. Don't know the details, maybe someone else does

but was there another Shuttle available at that time that could have ferried the crew back after a brief space walk? Discovery, Endeavor, and Atlantis were all in operation at that time. What about the space station? Surely there were other options that die quick or die slow...

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to demwing (Reply #6)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 12:51 PM

10. Last night's NOVA episode was all about this tragedy.

Atlantis was in operation, but it hadn't been fully refitted from its last flight (Atlantis flew the mission that preceded the Columbia disaster). It may not have been available before the air ran out on Columbia.

Had NASA been more convinced that they were heading for a disaster, they could have powered down Columbia, launched Atlantis ASAP and attempted to ferry the astronauts off Columbia and into Atlantis. That's a contingency that had never been planned for or practiced. There's every chance that such an attempt could have made things worse.

As far as the damage to Columbia, NASA ignored requests from some of their staff to use military telescopes to look at the underside of Columbia. They knew two days after launch that foam had hit the shuttle, confirmed by watching video tapes. Unfortunately, the culture at NASA was that they had gotten used to dodging bullets when it came to damage to the tiles on the shuttle fleet. Even though they considered it to be a problem, they were lulled into a sense of security because nothing bad had happened in previous flights.

As far as the International Space Station, it was still being constructed during this time. Modules were being flown to the ISS via the shuttle fleet. However, STS 107 (Columbia's final mission #) did not go to the ISS. Rather, it was sent up into a lower orbit to run a hodgepodge of tests and experiments that had been scrubbed from other missions. The shuttle did not have the propulsion capability on its own to achieve the higher orbit of the ISS. That higher orbit needed to be reach on initial liftoff. Ergo, there was no option available to get to the ISS.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to stopbush (Reply #10)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 12:57 PM

13. Heads should have rolled

I remember the denied request to retask telescopes. I also think not telling the astronauts is immoral. Could Russian launch facilities have been used to ferry up supplies until Atlantis was ready to go? We were supplying the ISS (I don't know when the Russians started doing it). Do you know if Columbia was equipped for a spacewalk? If so then the damage should have been assessed in that fashion as well.

To let trained and skilled professionals go to their death without all the knowledge available is completely unacceptable.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to exboyfil (Reply #13)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 01:08 PM

18. IIRC, Columbia was not equipped for a spacewalk.

One of the changes in protocols post-disaster was that future shuttles were equipped for space walks so the crews could get out and take a look at possible damage.

I think some heads did roll. If nothing else, the disaster led to the shuttle program being retired earlier than had been planned.

The problem was that there really were no contingencies available to save the crew, mainly due to their air supply. Such a contingency might have had a chance had NASA deemed the problem a major problem the day of the launch. Bu they didn't see the foam coming off until two days into the flight when they reviewed tapes of the lift off. That meant valuable time went out the window.

We need to remember that this is space travel we're talking about here. We send a very limited number of things into space, none of which are built and intended primarily for rescue missions. Shuttle missions had become so frequent and uneventful that people can be lulled into believing a disaster in space is like a traffic accident in space. Any rescue mission sent to Columbia would have to have been reconfigured from some other purpose, which would have been a MAJOR undertaking. There just wasn't time to do such a thing.

Once the decision was made for Columbia to return to Earth, the die was cast. The hole in the shuttle wasn't a problem until Columbia hit the atmosphere, at which point it was too late to turn back. The shuttle didn't have the propulsion available to lift it out of the atmosphere. It's basically falling like a boulder once it leaves orbit.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to stopbush (Reply #10)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 02:28 PM

23. Never did believe "NASA ignored requests from some of their staff to use military telescopes"...

*someone* had detailed photos and made the "don't tell them" decision.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to Junkdrawer (Reply #23)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 03:38 PM

36. I disagree. Incompetence bred by the corporate mindset is much more deadly, insidious & real

thank any malice aforethought conjured up by some evil or heartless "them."

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to stopbush (Reply #10)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 03:46 PM

39. I thought last night's NOVA episode

said that they were informed of the potential damage to the shuttle but it was nothing to worry about. I'm quite sure I heard that. So they were informed just not of the extent of the damage which no one really knew. Very sad though.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to beaglelover (Reply #39)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 05:15 PM

41. You are correct. But the fact remains that they could have gotten a better idea

at ground control had they availed themselves of military telescopes and more closely examined the underside of the shuttle.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to AgingAmerican (Original post)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 12:41 PM

7. No, Ground Control didn't *know* they would die, they knew the risk was higher

But the risk is pretty high the second you step in an STS. They knew there was a risk, they couldn't quantify that risk, and they knew there was no way to get them down.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to Recursion (Reply #7)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 02:46 PM

26. I like Raw Story's lies better than your petty truth

By willfully distorting the facts Raw Story has done a valuable public service, making me upset about the REAL story that the corporate media won't tell me.

That REAL story is a willful lie, of course.

But it is a lie that reinforces my bizarre prejudices, and that is worth way more than any amount of your "truth."

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to cthulu2016 (Reply #26)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 02:48 PM

27. Facts, schmacts

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to AgingAmerican (Original post)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 12:42 PM

8. How the hell do you word that???

"Um, I've got some good news and some bad news ..."????

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to AgingAmerican (Original post)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 12:43 PM

9. Raw Story has updated the story with a headline saying "they COULD die," not would.

As in, "NASA knew Columbia crew could die but chose not to tell them."

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to AgingAmerican (Original post)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 12:51 PM

11. If it were truly hopeless, I would not want to know.

I dont' see it as treating me like a child, either. I think it's more merciful. I'd prefer to die unexpectedly and hopefully quickly, rather than to agonize over it for days and days. I would have been aware of the dangers beforehand and presumably would have had those heart-to-heart talks with my loved ones before I went up, just as a precaution.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to AgingAmerican (Original post)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 12:52 PM

12. I want to know if every avenue was explored

Could ISS supply shots be retasked for supplies and off loading of at least some personnel (all but the command crew perhaps).? Satellites and ground telescopes should have been retasked to explore the damage, and, if equipped for spacewalk, such a spacewalk should have occurred to assess damage.

To not share this information with the crew is immoral. We should have known the exact condition of the shuttle as soon as a problem was observed. Could reentry have been adjusted to improve odds of survival? If I was an astronaut I would be extremely upset to not know there was a problem. It is back to not putting a window in the spacecraft (watch The Right Stuff). Have we dropped so low from the days of Apollo 13?


Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to exboyfil (Reply #12)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 01:03 PM

16. Agree (nt)

.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to exboyfil (Reply #12)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 01:34 PM

20. It's all dependent on the air supply in the shuttle.

Nothing was standing by to serve as a rescue option. That meant that any rescue attempt would need to be reconfigured from some existing space-worthy vehicle that happened to be sitting around. Such reconfigurations are extremely complicated and would not be doable before the air ran out.

The only shot was a long shot - send up Atlantis ASAP to rendezvous with Columbia, attempt to transfer Columbia's crew over (never even practiced) to Atlantis and return to Earth. Atlantis had flown the previous shuttle flight and was still in the process of being refitted. Other shuttles were in even less-ready shape. Cutting corners on the refit would probably have a high probability of adding another disaster to the list.

The options were to tell the crew and let them have a say in their fate: stay in space, shut down all non-essential functions, hope the air supply lasts a bit longer and hope big time that a rescue mission can somehow be configured and sent up in time. Or, take your chances on reentry, knowing that no shuttle had ever been lost on reentry, even those that showed considerable damage to heat tiles on the underside.

My guess is that the crew would have rolled the dice and opted to try for reentry.

Let's remember that all of these astronauts signed on knowing that death was always a possibility. That always had to be in the back of their minds, the same way plane crashes are in the back of peoples minds when they land and take off in airplanes. Just the way combat troops know that they could get killed at any moment. NASA brass could have reasoned that the crew knew the dangers, but that the ground crew knew that doom was almost a certainty. Would it make sense to inform them they were about to die when the crew already knew that was always a possibility? I don't know. But it might have been a better decision to not tell them so the crew would all stay on task and work the reentry. It would have given a slim chance of survival a better chance than it would have if some members of the crew freaked out about their impending doom.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to AgingAmerican (Original post)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 01:02 PM

15. One key weakness of the system -- there should have been an orbiting or ground based "lifeboat"

Basically, a launchable or orbiting Apollo style re-entry capsule that they could have gotten in and re-entered to earth.

Also - did NASA make that call, or the President?

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to OmahaBlueDog (Reply #15)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 01:57 PM

22. Congress made that call by cutting NASA's funding to the bone.

After the Challenger disaster, NASA lost almost all of the military and commercial payloads it had counted on to help fund the shuttle program. That left purely scientific missions, like assembling the ISS.

At the time of the Columbia disaster, NASA was being criticized for wasting the money they did have, and not being run like a business. The bean counters were sent in. Redundancies in programs that were there for safety and fail-safe reasons were cut in the name of "efficiency." Hey, if we can squeeze a extra dime out of every bag of groceries by firing check-out people, why not save money by cutting "unnecessary" people and programs at NASA?

NASA barely had the money to keep flying the shuttles. Proposing an orbiting lifeboat with all the expenses such a project would entail would have been career suicide. And what's the point of risking career suicide if there's no chance you'll get what you're asking for?

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to OmahaBlueDog (Reply #15)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 02:54 PM

28. There was: it's called the International Space Station. The question is, did Columbia have fuel

for a change in orbit so there could be a link-up, or if not, would it be possible to launch enough fuel, oxygen, basic supplies and a patch kit to try and replace or cover over the damaged heat tile?

Obviously, the answer to all these questions is no.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to leveymg (Reply #28)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 03:43 PM

38. Correct. The answer to all is "no."

The only way to get a shuttle to the ISS was to put it in a high orbit that was fueled by the lift-off rockets.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to AgingAmerican (Original post)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 01:18 PM

19. The headline is a lie, of course. (Par for the course for Raw Story)


Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to AgingAmerican (Original post)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 01:38 PM

21. Wow, no thought of warning ground personnel in Texas??

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to AgingAmerican (Original post)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 02:40 PM

25. Felix Baumgardner's Fall from Space is a Direct Result of the Columbia Disaster.

http://www.esquire.com/felix-baumgartner-skydive-0810

One of the most powerful stories I've read in Esquire.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to AgingAmerican (Original post)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 02:59 PM

29. the armchair quarterbacking in this thread is hi-fucking-larious. As if these brilliant, degreed

engineers and scientists and NASA specialists didn't try to think of every freaking possible option that might be available to save their lives. Whatevs.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to AgingAmerican (Original post)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 03:02 PM

30. Not true, but it's one hell of a headline.

I'm guessing they got their premise from this:

"You know there is nothing we can do about damage to the (thermal protection system)," Hale quotes Harpold a decade later. "If it has been damaged, it's probably better not to know. I think the crew would rather not know. Don't you think it would be better for them to have a happy successful flight and die unexpectedly during entry than to stay on orbit, knowing that there was nothing to be done until the air ran out."
When Harpold raised the question with Hale in 2003, managers had already concluded that Columbia's heat shield was fine. They told astronauts they weren't worried about damage from foam insulation coming off the massive shuttle fuel tank during launch, hitting a wing that allowed superheated gases in when the shuttle re-entered the atmosphere. No one was aware of the seriousness of the damage at the time.
This was a what-if type question that conveyed a fatalistic attitude about the heat shield system being unfixable, which was "a wrong-headed cultural norm that we had all bought into," Hale said in a Thursday telephone interview.
"There was never any debate about what to tell the crew," he said.


Read more: http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/texas/article/If-space-shuttle-is-doomed-do-you-tell-the-crew-4241053.php#ixzz2JgBgvN2G


What's sad is some folks have read the headline thought it true, and are now spreading it as fact. Even though it appears RS has changed it now.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to AgingAmerican (Original post)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 03:09 PM

31. DU is just full of fun stories about shuttle disasters!

First, that Reagan caused the problem with Challenger and that NASA the seals would fail.

Now this.

Um .... not buying.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to AgingAmerican (Original post)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 03:17 PM

32. In other words, they threw "Failure is Not an Option" out the window

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to AgingAmerican (Original post)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 03:23 PM

33. the day fox news stole cnn`s news feed....

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to AgingAmerican (Original post)


Response to AgingAmerican (Original post)

Reply to this thread