Columbia Investigation  

Columbia Investigation Journal - Part 3

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Pic of Columbia taken from the ground during STS-107. Image: NASA/USAF
Latest updates here.

LEFT: Pic of Columbia taken from the ground during STS-107. Image: NASA/USAF.

RIGHT: STS-107 mission patch.

NASA image of STS-107 crew patch.
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  • 28 February 2003 - Friday - NASA has released the fragment of cockpit video, shot minutes before Columbia broke up. It is sad and eerie to watch - they were so close to home! At least the tape shows them happy and doing what they loved. The recording is introduced by astronaut Scott Altman (the last man to land Columbia), and ends before there was any sign of trouble. Watch it here, here, here, here, or hereNASA reports:

    NASA Releases STS-107 Flight Deck Video
    STS-107 Commander Rick Husband (left) and Pilot Willie McCool (right) see plasma flashes typical to re-entry out the windows of Columbia. NASA image.NASA released a video that was filmed by STS-107 crewmembers during re-entry on Feb. 1. The video is about 13 minutes long, beginning about [8:35AM EST/1335 GMT] and ending about 11 minutes before the Mission Control Center in Houston lost contact with Space Shuttle Columbia.
    The video, which was filmed on the flight deck, contains footage of crewmembers conversing and going through the re-entry checklist. The video was recovered Feb. 6 near Palestine, Texas.
    Statement by Astronaut Scott Altman about the content of the flight deck video released Friday
    The tape that follows is flight deck video recorded by the crew of Columbia during their preparations for a planned landing at the Kennedy Space Center. Flight deck video and audio is routinely recorded during shuttle reentry and is used for crew post flight presentations and also as a debriefing and training aid.
    This video begins at 7:35 am Central Time, 17 minutes after the deorbit burn, with the shuttle over the South Pacific at an altitude of over 500,000-ft. It continues for 13 minutes to 7:48 Central Time, as the shuttle passed north east of Hawaii at approximately 250,000-ft.
    The tape shows the crew going through nominal entry activities - donning their gloves, checking suit integrity and fluid loading - as well as documenting plasma effects observed out the windows. All of the flashes and plasma events seen on the tape are typical of a normal nighttime entry, with no unusual effects or failure signatures noted.
    The tape ends approximately 5 minutes prior to the orbiter crossing the coast of California, 4 minutes before the first failure signature is picked up by ground controllers and 10 minutes before the first failure is annunciated to the crew.
    On a nominal mission, video and audio would have been recorded through landing. However, the rest of this tape was apparently destroyed in the accident with only the first part of the tape, wound on the take up reel and without the tape case, being recovered. Of over 250 nearly identical tapes carried on Columbia during this mission, this is the only one discovered to date containing video recording.
    So far, NASA has received 6,187 images and 34 videos from the public related to the Columbia accident. Click here to see the STS-107 launch and re-entry seating assignments.
    No events are scheduled for the weekend. However, previous events have been archived for your convenience and are available through the link [here]. NASA TV Schedule

    NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe rejected the idea that nothing could have been done if the extent of damage was known during Columbia's flight. Meanwhile, the CAIB is closing in on a cause of the disaster.

  • 27 February 2003 - Thursday - NASA has announced their plans for the ISS. While the Shuttle fleet is grounded, the current crew will return aboard the Soyuz TMA spacecraft currently docked to the Station, and a two-man Expedition 7 crew will launch aboard the new Soyuz lifeboat in early May (instead of the regularly scheduled taxi flight). A reduced crew will use less water - the consumable for which the Shuttle is needed most. Also, the Columbia investigation continues, with controversy about the emails going back and forth about tile damage during Columbia's flight. Who knew what, and when?   NASA reports:

    Weather Improves for Debris Search
    Kirstie McCool Chadwick, the sister of Columbia astronaut William "Willie" J. McCool, places flowers at the Astronaut Memorial to honor the fallen crew of Space Shuttle Columbia. NASA photo.Improving weather in the Lufkin, Texas, area enabled 155 20-person crews to continue their search Thursday for shuttle debris from the Feb. 1 Columbia accident. The improved conditions also allowed eight dive teams to resume their search of the Toledo Bend Reservoir, with three boats continuing to scan the bottom for Columbia debris.
    As of Thursday afternoon, the westernmost piece of debris found so far, a piece of heat-resistant tile believed to be from the left wing, was found about 64 kilometers (40 miles) northwest of Lubbock, Texas near the town of Littlefield.
    In Washington, D.C., NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe testified before the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Science on Thursday. He discussed the proposed budget, the Columbia accident and various activities at NASA.
    Wednesday, NASA released e-mails of conversations between engineers, which took place in the days before Columbia's planned landing on Feb. 1. Engineers were asked to give their worst case "What if?" scenarios regarding problems that could occur should the wheel well be damaged during re-entry.
    None of the engineers believed there was a problem with the underside of the orbiter that would cause an accident such as occurred on Feb. 1. [E-mail links listed here].
    During a briefing Tuesday at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, ... Board Chairman retired Adm. Harold "Hal" Gehman displayed photos of a piece of heat-resistant tile that was found southeast of Dallas near Powell, Texas. He said that the board was investigating the extreme-heat damage that the tile received, and said it was not damage due to re-entry heating.
    [ISS] Crew Performs Spacesuit Test; To Return Home in May
    Early in the week aboard the International Space Station, Expedition Six crewmembers successfully conducted a spacewalk preparation test. Commander Ken Bowersox and NASA ISS Science Officer Don Pettit demonstrated the ability of two crewmembers to get into U.S. spacesuits without the assistance of a third shipmate.
    Thursday, the International Space Station Program announced that Expedition Six will return to Earth in May in the Soyuz TMA-1 spacecraft following the arrival of its replacement on the Soyuz TMA-2 ship. Until the space shuttle fleet returns to flight, two-member crews, starting with Expedition Seven in May, will staff the station, and Progress cargo ships will be the source of fresh supplies for the orbital outpost.
    Though no crew has been formally named for the upcoming Soyuz crew rotation flight, two U.S. astronauts and two Russian cosmonauts are in training at the Yuri A. Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia. They are NASA Astronauts Ed Lu and Michael Foale and Russian Cosmonauts Yuri Malenchenko (Col., Russian Air Force) and Alexander Kaleri. The Expedition Seven crewmembers will be announced in mid-March.

    It's kind of a bummer that they have to reduce the size of the ISS crew - they had a hard enough time getting any science done with three people, never mind two - but at least they are not dimming the lights and evacuating the Station. Before the Columbia accident, the ISS crew transfer was scheduled for mission STS-114. Atlantis was to have launched this Saturday, March 1st - but there's no telling when we'll see another Shuttle launch.

  • 20 February 2003 - Thursday - Sean O'Keefe was at NASA's center in Mississippi today to discuss the Columbia accident. NASA reports:

    Advanced Sightings Team Looking to Pinpoint Debris
    Columbia Reconstruction Project Team members examine pieces of debris from Space Shuttle Columbia in Kennedy Space Center's Reusable Launch Vehicle Hangar. NASA photo.The Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) Advanced Sightings Team is working to pinpoint the location of hardware that may have separated from the Space Shuttle Columbia early in its final path over the western United States.
    The team is bringing together data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the public, Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Energy (DOE), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the United States Geologic Survey (USGS) and all other sources of valuable information that become available. The collaboration of all these organizations has been outstanding. The team is piecing together the information from these sources to learn as much as possible about anomalous conditions during the re-entry of Columbia.
    Meanwhile, NASA is consolidating two of the primary search coordination field offices and establishing four incident command posts and base camps. The search is intensifying based on initial success with grid-search techniques, and because spring vegetation growth is expected to make recovery efforts more difficult.
    Immediately after the accident, NASA established several different local command and coordination field offices at Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, La., the Lufkin Emergency Operations Center in Lufkin, Texas, and Naval Air Station, Joint Reserve Base (Carswell Field), Fort Worth, Texas. The Lufkin, Barksdale and Carswell operations will be consolidated at Lufkin this week.
    Four interagency command posts and base camps are being established in Corsicana, Hemphill, Nacogdoches and Palestine, Texas, to direct intensified ground searches. Interagency management teams are being deployed to the camps to conduct searches.
    Wednesday, NASA asked citizens and officials in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah for help in finding material from Columbia. The material would have fallen from the shuttle as it was re-entering Earth's atmosphere along a line stretching generally from San Francisco, Calif., to Lafayette, La. Everyone is asked to be on the lookout for possible shuttle material 97 kilometers (60 miles) north or south of the reentry track.

    Meanwhile, the ISS crew continues their mission, but doubts remain over the future of the station. No one wants to abandon it, so the question is, how to do the crew transfer? Russia needs funds to build more Soyuz and Progress ships. Expedition Six has enough supplies to last until July or August.

  • 19 February 2003 - Wednesday - Columbia's nose gear has been found in Texas. Also: Is the foam insulation theory back on the table? Hal Gehman stated at yesterday's news conference that they impounded the External Tank which came off the production line right after the one that went up with ColumbiaNASA reports:

    Independent Board Impounds External Tank
    Happier days: STS-107 Commander Rick Husband, left, and Mission Specialist Laurel Clark work on Space Shuttle Columbia's middeck. NASA photo.Members of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board announced during a briefing Tuesday that an External Tank has been impounded. It is identical to the one that launched with Space Shuttle Columbia in January. The tank will be examined as part of the investigation into the loss of Space Shuttle Columbia and the STS-107 crew.
    The board members also said that it appears that debris began to fall off of the orbiter as it passed over California during its re-entry for landing.
    Board chairman, retired Adm. Harold W. Gehman, announced that the panel is opening an office in Washington, D.C., which can be reached at 703 416-3461 (voice) and 703 416-3282 (fax) effective Wednesday, and that Thomas L. Carter has been appointed the board’s assistant for government relations. Carter will be the board's independent representation in Washington and will maintain contact with both Congress and Executive Branch organizations.

    Sean O'Keefe will be at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi for a media briefing at 2PM EST Thursday. Also: What happened to all the science data from STS-107?

  • 18 February 2003 - Tuesday - At today's CAIB briefing, we saw some of the board members and heard more information about the accident. It turns out that four yaw jets (not two) fired in the last minutes of Columbia's descent, meaning that the computer-controlled system was trying to save the ship till the very end. Did parts start falling off of Columbia over California? NASA reports:

    Investigation Board Opens D.C. Office, Names Government Relations Officer
    In a briefing Tuesday, the chairman of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, retired Adm. Harold W. Gehman, and three board members gave an update on the inquiry on the loss of Space Shuttle Columbia and the STS-107 crew. Gehman announced that the panel is opening an office in Washington, DC, which can be reached at 703 416-3461 (voice) and 703 416-3282 (fax) effective Wednesday.
    Gehman also announced the appointment of Thomas L. Carter as board assistant for government relations. Carter will be the board's independent representation in Washington and will maintain contact with both Congress and Executive Branch organizations.
    Meanwhile, the search for debris continues. Monday, NASA asked for help from the public in the investigation. Farmers and ranchers in the western United States were asked to keep an eye out for shuttle debris, in particular in an area that stretches 97 kilometers (60 miles) north and south of a line that extends from San Francisco, Calif., to Lafayette, La.
    Also on Monday, the agency renewed its call to the public for video and photos of Columbia during its re-entry on Feb. 1. Imagery and video might help in determining the cause of the mishap. As of Tuesday, 5,025 photos and videos had been submitted to investigators.
    02.18.03 Columbia Accident Investigation Board Charter Amended
    The changes allow additional flexibility with support staff and expertise outside of NASA.
    + Read more
    + Board documents
    For more information see the Mishap Status Reports and Press ReleasesNASA TV Schedule

    The Board is seeking new members, based on their expertise. Admiral Gehman also expressed gratitude to the many volunteers, law enforcement, and others who have worked on the search for Columbia's wreckage. He estimated that of the 4000 pieces at KSC, 2600 have been identified and cataloged, and that 10000 more are in the pipeline from collection points.

  • 17 February 2003 - Monday - Here's more about the wing breach theory. Also, NASA is asking western landowners for help in the search for debris. Less wreckage is being located now. NASA reports:

    NASA Asks Farmers for Help Finding Columbia Material
    Space Shuttle Columbia debris tagged for analysis. NASA photo.NASA is asking farmers and ranchers in the western United States to stay alert for material from the Space Shuttle Columbia on their property. With spring plowing already under way or beginning, it is possible for some of these items – which may still be hazardous – to be covered up or damaged through normal agricultural activities.

    CAIB Briefing tomorrow at 3PM EST - Watch live on NASA TV.

  • 16 February 2003 - Sunday - Not much new today. This week, we heard from the ISS crew for the first time since the accident. Will the next ISS astronauts be a two-person "caretaker crew"? NASA reports:

    Columbia Accident Investigation Board Press Conference
    NASA image of CAIB Chairman Harold GehmanThe Columbia Accident Investigation Board, or CAIB, will conduct a press conference on Tuesday, Feb. 18, at [3PM EST/2000 GMT]. The press briefing will be conducted at the Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas. Watch it live on NASA TV.
    NASA TV Schedule
    Another Productive Week Aboard the Station
    Expedition Six Commander Ken Bowersox works in the Unity Node. NASA image.Nearing the three-month mark aboard the International Space Station, the Expedition Six crew stayed busy maintaining the outpost, conducting science experiments, stowing gear and talking with the media. For the first time since the Columbia accident, Bowersox, Pettit and Flight Engineer Nikolai Budarin talked with reporters. Most questions focused on the crew’s reaction and thoughts on Columbia’s astronauts and how the accident might affect their mission.
    NASA image of the STS-114 mission patch.Expedition Six was originally scheduled to return to Earth in March aboard STS-114. However, the schedule for all future space shuttle missions is now under review, pending the results of an investigation into the Columbia accident. Bowersox and Pettit have told Mission Control they are willing to stay in orbit for a year or more if necessary, and they would consider the extra time a bonus, not a hardship.

    You can see replays of press events like Flight Director Leroy Cain's, and Admiral Gehman's, at the KSC Columbia site. Here are the reports from Friday and Saturday.

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