updated 6-1-04



Columbia Board Hearing: 'Clues, Critical Events' Destroyed on Reentry

By Leonard David

Senior Space Writer

18 March 2003

HOUSTON – Those investigating Columbia’s lethal dive to Earth continue to sort through recovered wreckage, baffling sensor data, and invaluable video trying to decipher why the space plane broke up at high altitude.

The Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) held its second public hearing here, asking expert witnesses to focus on the February 1 reentry of the shuttle.

A chilling and precise step-by-step time line of events of space plane troubles was highlighted, also dramatically portrayed by a collection of video film taken from the ground of the space plane’s high-speed disintegration.

Clues destroyed

William Ailor, Director, Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies at The Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, California, advised the CAIB that deciphering exactly what caused Columbia’s breakup will be challenging.

Ailor said little has been done over past years to reconstruct spacecraft breakups. Furthermore, there has been no systematic effort to retrieve debris that survives a fiery fall to Earth’s surface.

"A breakup and subsequent disintegration can and does destroy clues of critical events," Ailor said. He detailed the reentry process whereby an object can slowly start to heat, followed by small things cascading off, then reach some point where aerodynamic loads tear apart the central, incoming object.

Challenge ahead

"The challenge here [with Columbia] is that the heating itself is going to have the potential of masking the heating and loads during the breakup process," Ailor said. The space plane’s aluminum skeleton when exposed to extremely elevated temperatures can melt, vaporize into droplets, even burn through other structure, he said.

Furthermore, as pieces shed off Columbia, the aerodynamic properties of the vehicle changed, Ailor said. That makes it very difficult to fully understand all the events that led to the craft’s ultimate demise and loss of its crew.

Ailor said the search underway for debris cast off during the beginning phases of Columbia’s atmospheric plunge is "critical to the investigation."

Because of the amount of debris already recovered, Ailor added, lab analysis of wreckage must be tightly focused on top candidate causes of the mishap – specifically, comparative looks at left wing debris contrasted to right wing fragments.

Troubled trajectory

A dramatic portrayal of Columbia’s troubled trajectory from orbit was spelled out by Douglas White, Director for Operations Requirements, Orbiter Element Department for United Space Alliance (USA).

USA is the prime contractor for NASA’s Space Shuttle Program and is responsible for the day-to-day operation and management of the space shuttle fleet.

White highlighted Columbia’s aileron behavior during entry through the atmosphere – a first indication that something odd was happening to the space plane. In addition, a series of communication dropouts with the shuttle before first signs of heating continues to puzzle study teams.

The unexpected aileron actions occur while Columbia remains controllable and responding to computer flight commands. "But the rates and the amount of muscle needed to continue flying the vehicle…something definitely happened at that point to cause the flight control system to need more muscle…to fight harder to control the vehicle," White said.

As some sensors began showing rising temperatures in various spots within Columbia, other sensors remained normal, White said. "Whether the change that caused the temperatures to rise is related to what ultimately caused our tragedy we don’t know. They may be connected, they may not," he said.

Efforts are still underway to better characterize what was taking place in Columbia’s left wheel well. Within 40 seconds, wiring bundles leading to some sensors appear to have been melted or shorted out, perhaps blasted by a moving blowtorch-like wave of intrusive heat.

Public videos

Paul Hill, Space Shuttle and International Space Station Flight Director at the NASA Johnson Space Center, has been leading a space agency "tiger team" piecing together still and video imagery of Columbia’s final minutes.

Thanks largely to the public who provided video recordings of the space plane’s reentry across multiple states, Columbia’s debris-shedding events, flashes, and other phenomenon are being intensely reviewed by photo image analysts.

From California to Texas – there was a relatively steady stream of objects coming off Columbia, Hill said. "The public video we have is probably the best thing we have to try and find some debris out west," he said.

Snow covered areas of Nevada and Utah have prevented air and ground searches from locating debris considered highly important to the investigation, Hill said. California also remains a critical search zone for pieces that fell off the shuttle early in its pathway across the United States.

Columbia gravy train

There have been individuals who have turned in imagery that has been falsified, Hill said.

"We did get hoaxes. Cars driving down the road with headlights on…it was relatively clear to us it wasn’t something in space," Hill said. There have also been people holding onto photographic evidence in the hopes of gaining some kind of fame and a little money, apparently thinking they could ride "the Columbia gravy train," he said.

Hill said, however, that the overwhelming majority of public support has been fantastic. "These people are definitely our heroes," he concluded.

Columbia's Destruction May Be Tied to Mystery Object

By Leonard David

Senior Space Writer

19 March 2003

HOUSTON – A data processing foul up by the U.S. Air Force prevented early flagging of a mystery object falling off Columbia in orbit – an object that may be tied to why the space plane disintegrated en route to Earth.

During Columbia’s second day in Earth orbit, Air Force Space Command ground radar observed a large piece of structure floating free of the space plane. It remained in orbit for a little over two days before nose-diving into Earth’s atmosphere.

But no one in the Department of Defense or NASA knew about the discovery of the fairly large object until days after the loss of Columbia and its seven-person crew. has learned that a data processing issue meant that analysts did not recognize the object for what it was – a piece drifting away from Columbia. Meanwhile, the shuttle crew continued onward in its science-gathering mission, apparently unaware of the incident.

The object was released from the space plane at very low velocity. Some experts now speculate that it could have been a left wing panel of heat protecting reinforced carbon-carbon (RCC), or associated reentry hardware.

Whether or not the shuttle-related object might have been the product of a meteoroid striking Columbia is yet to be determined. Others speculate that external tank foam hitting the underside of Columbia’s left wing during ascent, impacting RCC panels, remains a likely culprit.

Apollo 13-style action plan

If NASA had known that the piece was cast off early in Columbia’s 16-day mission, a campaign to better characterize the object would have swung into high gear – including use of ground and space-based assets of military and intelligence agencies.

Proper identification of the mystery object might have also spurred a judgment that Columbia was unfit for return to Earth. That knowledge, sources here say, would surely have kicked off an Apollo 13-style action plan to rescue the space plane’s crew.

The Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) is attempting to identify the mystery object.

The object in question could be a RCC panel that came loose, said James Hallock, a CAIB member and Chief of the Aviation Safety Division for the Department of Transportation at the Volpe Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Loose parts

Hallock said at a CAIB press gathering March 18 that a shuttle’s rumble into orbit "is a wild ride."

"I’m surprised a lot of things don’t come loose," Hallock said. Once a shuttle settles into orbit, the environment is much milder, he added.

But given that mildness, would unfastened parts of the shuttle’s heat-thwarting hardware just fall off?

Hallock said that spinning around Earth, Columbia went through cycles of heat and cold that could contribute to some part of the space plane’s thermal protection system finally being set free.

CAIB chairman, Admiral Harold Gehman, added that just prior to the object being picked up by radar, Columbia performed a side-to-side maneuver. That motion could have set adrift the shuttle piece, he said.

Radar signatures

Brigadier General Duane Deal, Commander of the Air Force 21st Space Wing told that tests are underway using 28 sample pieces of shuttle hardware to help determine what separated from Columbia and pinpoint the true nature of the object.

Radar signatures of the test specimens, Deal said, are to be contrasted to Air Force Space Command radar reflections of the mystery space object.

Deal said that the piece from Columbia was discovered after the accident versus while the shuttle was in orbit. "This [object] was not something being tracked while it was on orbit," he said, although several thousand radar observations were made to keep track of Columbia’s whereabouts while circling Earth.

Gehman told that the CAIB isn’t specifically looking into NASA and contractor readiness in rescuing stranded astronauts. "That’s too narrow a hypothetical for me. I would look at that and look at ten other things too," he said.

On-orbit repair and inspection, even taking a lap around the International Space Station so its crew can survey a shuttle are worthy of consideration, Gehman said.

Date: 2/3/2003 3:37:11 PM

From: ncbuckallew@XXX

We live on Toledo Bend Lake, the piece that fell in is about 20 miles north of our location. Because of this debris one town had to close their water processing plant because the small car sized piece came into what is called La Nan bay. My husband saw them after another piece about 15 miles south of us this evening on his way home from work, the shuttle went directly over our house on it's way down. A little after 8 am, we heard the first explosion then about 6 as it crossed over heading south east. It was terrible. The rumbling seemed to last about 5 minutes amid the terrible explosions we knew no one could survived. We pray for them and their families to comfort and uphold them in their time of grief.


Shuttle Probe To Focus On Wing

03/02/2003 07:29 AM



Shaken NASA officials have vowed to find out what caused the space shuttle Columbia to break up over Texas, saying they will look closely at the impact of a piece of foam insulation that struck the orbiter's left wing at takeoff. They said the shuttle was just 16 minutes from landing at Kennedy Space Centre in Florida and gliding along smoothly when sensors began failing, signalling that something was wrong. "We lost data and that's when we clearly began to know that we had a bad day," Ron Dittemore, the agency's space shuttle program manager, told reporters as he fought back tears. "We're devastated." Columbia, the oldest shuttle in the US fleet, disintegrated 65 km above northeastern Texas, showering the region with debris and killing the seven astronauts on board.

Dittemore said a piece of foam insulation came off the shuttle fuel tanks at liftoff on January 16 and banged into the spacecraft's left wing, but was judged by ground controllers not to have damaged the orbiter's critical heat shield. But on Saturday, after the Columbia had re-entered the earth's atmosphere to head home from its 16-day scientific mission, sensors in the left wing began to fail in a possible indication that excessive heat was seeping into the shuttle structure, he said. At the time that Columbia came apart, its wings were heated to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,650 C), but the heatshield should have prevented damage to the shuttle, Dittemore said.

"Now, in hindsight, that impact (of insulation) was on the left wing. All the indicators (of trouble) were on the left wing. We can't discount that there might be a connection, but we can't rush to judgment on this," he said. He pointed to a critical vulnerability of the shuttles, saying that if they do suffer heatshield damage at launch, nothing can be done about it. Astronauts cannot make repairs and there are no flight manoeuvres that can reduce the heat of reentry, caused by friction with the earth's atmosphere. "There was zero we could do about it," Dittemore said. He said flying insulation was seen on a shuttle launch last year, but did not affect the flight.

The shuttle program's other disaster, the explosion of Challenger shortly after launch in January 1986, was linked to fuel tank problems. In that case, a gasket failed, causing the fuel to ignite in a blast that killed the seven astronauts on board. Dittemore said NASA was sending experts to northeast Texas to help in the search for shuttle parts. They would be rounded up for investigators to study for clues to the disaster.

Included on the flight was Israel's first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, which raised fears that the shuttle may have attacked or sabotaged, but NASA officials said there was no indication of that. Dittemore said NASA would ground the three remaining shuttles until it figured out what happened and fixed the problem.

That could affect three astronauts currently on the International Space Station, who are ferried home by the shuttle. He said they would have enough food to stay on the space station until June, but a NASA spokesman said they could be brought back by a Russian Soyuz spacecraft if necessary.


NASA Shuttles Soon Back In Orbit

03/02/2003 11:56 AM

Broward Liston

Just one day after the worst U.S. space disaster in 17 years, space officials and lawmakers have voiced confidence that NASA's three remaining shuttles will fly again far sooner than the 32 months it took after the Challenger accident. Within hours of the shuttle Columbia's fiery end and the deaths of its seven astronauts on Saturday, President George W. Bush and NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe discussed a standard for launching again, NASA sources said. "We're going to find out what happened here, we're going to correct it and get back to flight," O'Keefe said on Sunday, a summary that has quickly become a mantra for the agency.

No such guarantees were forthcoming after the 1986 Challenger explosion, when doubt was cast on the very future of U.S. space flight. It was nearly three years before the shuttle Discovery returned Americans to space, the longest delay ever between launches. But the Challenger disaster was more than a hardware problem. Institutional problems inside NASA, the so-called "go fever" seen driving too many decisions, had to be addressed.

At this point in its history, NASA may benefit from having a Republican with solid political credentials in charge. O'Keefe raised eyebrows last years when he stepped outside the traditional non-partisan role played by NASA chiefs to campaign for Republican congressional candidates. Washington insiders say Bush seems to trust him and that if O'Keefe trusts the agency's decision-makers, the chances are good Bush will too. There is much more than politics driving a return to space. Unlike in 1986, NASA and its partners now have a 200-tonne space station in orbit.

Space Station Creates Pressure To Fly Again

Not only must the International Space Station be finished to achieve its promised scientific potential, it cannot remain in orbit without being serviced by space shuttles. The thinnest wisps of air at 250 miles in space are enough to drag the station back to Earth over time, so it needs an occasional rocket boost to remain in orbit. The Russians can deliver fuel for the station's own thrusters, but officials with their cash-strapped space programme have already said they cannot increase production of their Progress cargo ships.

"The space station and its needs create a certain pressure to fly again, certainly sooner than we did after Challenger," said U.S. Representative Dave Weldon, a Florida Republican whose district includes much of Florida's space community. Just how long that would take depends on the crash investigation under way in Texas. Some NASA officials have spoken in terms of six to 12 months, but acknowledge that is speculative.

There has been some discussion of having the shuttles return to duty on a very limited basis. Before the Columbia accident, NASA already had a contingency plan for temporarily mothballing the station, bringing home its crew and making limited shuttle flights that could be used to boost its orbit.

An early return to a complete flight schedule of four to six missions a year could be held up by more general questions of shuttle safety. Safety upgrades mean longer down times.

The U.S. General Accounting Office, the Aerospace Safety Advisory Council and others have repeatedly raised questions about the fitness of the shuttle fleet and concerns that with budgets shrinking year by year, NASA has chosen to skimp on safety. NASA's many protests to the contrary may ring hollow now, even if, in the end, Columbia's crash has little to do with the specific safety questions being raised. "Sadly, I think the money for these safety updates will be forthcoming now," said Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who flew into space aboard Columbia in 1986.



The left wing of the Columbia shuttle from a picture taken out of the  shuttle's window. The picture was taken from the news program "Erev Hadash"  from Israeli television.

02-03-03 On the fifth day of his journey into space, Ilan Ramon spoke with  Prime Minister Ariel Sharon through a video link. He presented the prime  minister his view out of the windows of the Columbia shuttle and right there on the surface of the wing on the left side you could see a long crack and a  dent. Eleven days after, it was that very same wing that broke off the shuttle and finally brought it to its destruction. Even if NASA knew about the damage from the moment it happened, they could have done nothing except pray.

According to Aharon Lapidot, a well respected aviation expert in Israel, the left wing theory is the most plausible explanation for the shuttle disaster.

What is this crack in the Shuttle's wing?

Has this photo been examined?

Subj: Re: [MorpheusDreams] shuttle problem predicted

Date: 2/4/2003 4:14:27 PM wrote:

Hi all: I hate to say this, but I had this dream on 12/31/02

12-31-2002 - DREAM - I was looking at a sheet of paper or a computer screen - that had 11 lines on it. The first 10 lines each had two Barbie Doll dresses on it. No two were the same - each dress was of a different color.

Then I saw the 11th line, and instantly had a vision of two astronauts close up - from the eyebrows up - and their heads were full of smeared dirt. One of the men had light sandy-brown hair.


I thought this would happen in November - so my counting was off....

This is sooo sad.



Hi: Here is another dream. If you take the waves on the shore of Texas to represent 'waves of emotion' - this dream tells the story of what just happened:

1-24-2003 - DREAM - I was working with some people and seeing what they were going through, yet looking at it from afar like I was hovering above it.

I was looking down on a large area of the U.S. like it was a 3D map. My perspective was such that I was like in the Seattle area, looking southeast.

There were pegs/posts embedded on this map, equally spaced over the entire U.S.

Each peg/post had a number similar to a zip code.

At the number 8090, which looked like it was on the Gulf coast of Texas, the wind was so strong, it was whipping up the waves of the ocean so that they were coming half way up the sides of the buildings that lined the shore.

My sight zoomed in so I was with the people. The wind was so strong, they could barely stand up against it. The people tried to put up long tunnel-like barricades against the wind, but it was impossible to work in such conditions.

Again, I was looking at the map from afar and I saw the peg/post number 4090, which again was by the ocean shore in the area of Louisiana, Alabama and Northern Florida where it stretches along the coast.

Here I saw the white Dove of Peace come flying in to land amongst the people.


Subj: Re: [earthchanges] An Important Dream 1-24-2003

Date: 1/24/2003 8:33:55 AM Pacific Standard Time

From: newagesister@xxx


I do dream interpretations for people and I must tell you that this dream sounds more like a vision to me. A prophetic one. Here is a possible meaning of 4090: The earth, unity and beginnings, the end of one cyle and the beginning of another, followed by unity and beginnings again.

And if my numerology isn't wrong 4090 breaks down in the number 4 meaning Earth. Which is almost like this is a meaning within a meaning.

8090 could mean Death, resurrection, beginnings, end of one cycle and the beginning of another, followed by new beginnings again. The numerology break down of this one would be 8 which is a number of death in dream interpretations.

Don't forget this dream, Dee. I think it is prophetic. Note how your mind picked numbers that seemed to fit with the events that you were seeing.

In peace,

NewAgeSister (Cami)

From: Jordan@XXX

I too had a dream my took place on the 31 of january, it involved a plane or a ship of some sort and i was either switching out of bodies or was looking in at a aerial view but anyway there was a object of some importance and a women wanted it very badly. there were 3 people in the craft by the way, well anyway there was two men and they began to fight over it trying to give it to the women but one man destroyed it or was trying to keep it for himself. i did get the feeling though that it was a fight between good and evil. well anyway because they were fighting the craft began to fall to the earth and it crashed and the object was destroyed.


ps i have been dreaming like crazy lately all have been affecting my life and others. i have not remembered a dream in like a month and a couple of weeks.

Shuttle - White House Was Warned

04/02/2003 12:55 PM


A former NASA safety official wrote to US President George W Bush last year to warn of "another catastrophic space shuttle accident," but Bush did not see the letter and the writer's plea was rejected, the White House says. Columbia broke up as it began to reenter the atmosphere over Texas, shortly before it was to land. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush had not seen the letter written to him on August 25, 2002, by former NASA safety engineer Don Nelson expressing concerns over shuttle safety.

"Your intervention is required to prevent another catastrophic space shuttle accident," he said. He cited specific safety incidents including a 2000 inspection of Columbia which found 3,500 wiring defects, as well as charges such as a July 2002 inspector general's report that the shuttle safety program was not properly managed. "The lives of our astronauts and the future of our space program must not be ignored," he said. He urged Bush to limit the size of the shuttle's crew to four until an escape pod was built. Such a pod would not have saved Columbia's astronauts, experts have said.

White House science adviser John Marburger wrote back to Nelson on December 4, saying his office had discussed the concerns with NASA officials. "NASA places a high priority on safety and has instituted a program of developing and implementing safety upgrades to reduce the risk to space shuttle crews," he said. "Based on these discussions I do not think that it is appropriate for the president to issue a moratorium on space shuttle launches at this time."

Bush, who is to attend a memorial for the astronauts at the Johnson Space Flight Centre in Houston, has received a briefing from NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe on the investigation into the Columbia disaster and the two spoke of their determination to return to space. "While we grieve for these astronauts, the cause for which they died will continue. America's journey into space will go on," Bush said in a speech to employees at the National Institutes of Health. As he briefed the president O'Keefe said he intended "to get back into space as soon as possible with all safety issues having been fully, fully explored," Fleischer said.

Bush asked about the well-being of the astronauts' families and NASA morale, and looked ahead to an eventual resumption of flights, Fleischer said. "The president talked about the status of the next crews and the morale of the next crew and how they are ready to go as soon as they are able to go back into space." He said, however, Bush did not suggest a timetable for the investigation. Shuttle flights have been grounded following the accident.

Bush proposed a 22 percent increase in funding for the space shuttle program in his fiscal 2004 federal budget request to Congress, which was prepared before the Columbia disaster. He asked for the equivalent of NZ$7.5 billion for the program, compared with the equivalent of $6.5 billion in 2003. Administration officials left the door open to further increases if sought by Congress. They said it was too early to consider whether to replace the lost shuttle - one of four in the program, or to tackle other issues such as developing a successor spacecraft.

Columbia's loss has prompted calls for more spending to upgrade the aging shuttle fleet and develop a new space plane. In addition to the space shuttle funding increase, the proposed total budget for NASA was slated for a smaller increase, rising roughly NZ$850 million to about $30 billion, reflecting one-time expenses in 2003 that would not be repeated, Fleischer said.


NASA: Shuttle parts reported in Southwest

Debris so far west could offer valuable clues, official says

Tuesday, February 4, 2003

FBI hazardous materials specialists pick up debris believed to be from the shuttle Columbia on Monday in Phoenix, Arizona.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- NASA is investigating what it called "credible reports" that debris from space shuttle Columbia has been found in California, New Mexico and Arizona.

NASA assistant Administrator Michael Kostelnik said in a briefing Tuesday afternoon that teams were being dispatched to those states to investigate the reported findings.

"It's not clear what the material is ... potentially it could be wing material," he said.

The discovery of debris so far west could provide invaluable clues as to what caused the shuttle to break up as it re-entered the Earth's atmosphere Saturday, killing all seven crew members.

"Early debris, early in the flight path, would be critical because that material would obviously be near the start of the events," Kostelnik said. "It would clearly be very important to see the material earliest in the sequence."

Most of the debris rained down over a 28,000-square-mile section of eastern Texas and western Louisiana. Heavy pieces of Columbia's engines were found in Louisiana on Tuesday, Kostelnik said. (Map)

And in Sabine County, Texas, near Hemphill, searchers found pieces of the shuttle's fuselage, a circuit board and landing gear, all of which could also be central to the investigation. (List of debris)

Forty-six agencies and 600 people took part in the search Tuesday.

The shuttle's nose cone, found in Sabine County on Monday, has been removed from its 20-foot hole and wrapped, ready to be taken to a central location for debris. The Environmental Protection Agency is in charge of removing debris.

As the recovery effort continues over an expanding swath of the United States, Kostelnik said crews had cleared shuttle debris from schoolyards in 17 Texas counties, allowing children at those sites to go back to school Wednesday. (Why debris might be toxic)

"That was a yeoman's work over the evening to get debris cleared out of that area," he said.

For the first time Tuesday, the eight-member board charged with investigating the Columbia disaster visited Nacogdoches, Texas. Mangled electrical components were found at one of the two sites they visited.

"Looking at the debris and being out here on site makes this accident more personal to us," said retired Navy Adm. Harold W. Gehman Jr., who heads the independent panel. "It brings it home, more real for us. It prevents it from becoming an abstract event."

Nacogdoches is the federal staging area for the military aircraft that will carry away the debris.

At the Hemphill Command Center, emergency coordinator Billy Ted Smith and Sabine County Sheriff Tommy Maddox told reporters that more human remains were discovered by searchers working through the night.

The men didn't say where or at how many sites the remains were found.

The sheriff of Nacogdoches County to the west said Monday that body parts had been found in at least 15 sites.

Meanwhile, divers used sonar to search a reservoir on the Texas-Louisiana state line for possible debris, including a piece the size of a compact car that witnesses said splashed into the water. Smith said it wasn't clear if divers would go underwater Tuesday.

The reservoir, which washes past Shelby, Sabine and Newton counties on the Texas side, covers 185,000 acres and is 110 feet at its deepest point, according to a Texas Parks and Wildlife Web site.

It supplies drinking water to surrounding areas. State officials have run tests and assured residents that the drinking water is safe.

Three hundred National Guard members, 100 local volunteers and about 200 firefighters joined the search Tuesday. Airplanes and helicopters, including two military Apache helicopters, aided the teams.

Their primary target was the Sabine National Forest north of Hemphill, Maddox said.


Meteorite 'may have hit shuttle'

Nasa says a small meteorite or piece of man-made space junk may have struck the Columbia shuttle causing it to crash.

Even a tiny scrap of debris grazing the shuttle could have damaged thermal tiles just enough to start a chain reaction.

The comments by Milt Heflin, the space agency's flight director, cast doubt on the lead theory that a piece of foam insulation damaged the craft during blast off.

"Did we take some hit? That's a possibility. Something was breached," he has told the Los Angeles Times.

William Ailor, president of Aerospace Corporation, said Nasa has had to adjust the flight path of shuttles at least eight times to avoid large pieces of debris.

A speck of paint once chipped the windshield of the Challenger during a mission completed before it exploded in 1986.

There are believed to be more than a million objects within 1,200 miles of the Earth's surface.

Story filed: 16:04 Wednesday 5th February 2003


NASA Considering Space Hit

Investigators say Columbia may have been struck by a meteorite or man-made debris while in orbit.

Tracking space debris

February 5, 2003

HOUSTON -- NASA investigators remain unconvinced that the chunk of foam insulation that struck Columbia's heat-resistant tiles on takeoff led to its destruction, and also are now considering the possibility the craft was struck by space debris while in orbit, the agency's chief flight director said Tuesday.

"Did we take some hit?" Milt Heflin, the flight director, said in an interview Tuesday at Johnson Space Center. "That's a possibility. Something was breached."

NASA investigators have developed what has become known inside Johnson Space Center as a "fault tree" {mdash} a list of potential mishaps and flaws that might have caused Columbia to break apart Saturday morning over East and central Texas.

The list, aimed at finding the cause of what NASA terms the "thermal event" that destroyed the shuttle, includes several theories. Although the current investigation focuses on several scenarios related to tile damage, some analysts also have questioned whether faulty wiring or corrosion could have played a role.

Nonetheless, the prime suspect remains the piece of foam insulation that fell off the external tank during the Jan. 16 liftoff, possibly damaging the protective tiles.

Tile vulnerability has been an object of warnings for years. One study prepared for NASA nearly a decade ago warned that insulation and ice debris could result in enough damage to doom the orbiter during reentry.

"We estimated that [the loss of a shuttle] was a possibility," said Paul Fischbeck of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, one of the authors.

Despite warnings that the shuttle could be endangered if debris struck its underbelly during liftoff, some engineers do not believe that any scenario would have been destructive enough to cause Columbia to crash.

NASA's computers have calculated the potential damage caused by the foam insulation. Under two worst-case scenarios, NASA investigators say, the insulation either would have destroyed a single heat-resistant tile near the landing gear door or caused damage to a 32-by-7-inch patch of tiles along the shuttle fuselage.

That means the spacecraft's tiles -- 24,000 ceramic pieces that have been problematic from the beginning of the shuttle program -- could have been damaged some other way, Heflin said, possibly by space junk or a tiny meteorite. NASA engineers say they are considering the possibility that a small piece of space debris could have grazed the shuttle, damaging or loosening tiles just enough to start a chain reaction once the craft started roaring through the atmosphere.

The ceramic tiles act as a protective armor around the body of the space shuttle, protecting it against the intense heat of reentry through the atmosphere. Although many tiles are damaged or knocked off during missions, missing tiles in a particularly vulnerable portion of the spacecraft, such as at the leading edge of its wings, could imperil its ability to fly.

The skepticism of some engineers and attempts to broaden the list of suspects failed to shift attention from insulation debris Tuesday as more reports documenting past warnings emerged.

"The foam insulation falling off the external tank could certainly damage tiles," Fischbeck said in a telephone interview.

The 1994 report he co-authored with Elisabeth Pate-Cornell of Stanford University specifically cited concerns about Columbia, noting that tiles "were put in place under severe schedule constraints, which may have affected the quality of the work."

Columbia was the first orbiter built, and the report found problems with tile adhesion and trapped water. Fischbeck and Pate-Cornell advised that the tiles be waterproofed. The report did not indicate whether those recommendations were followed, but Fischbeck said the agency took the recommendations seriously and made improvements.

NASA officials have said in news briefings that a 20-inch chunk of foam, weighing about 2.67 pounds, was videotaped falling off the external tank and striking the underside of Columbia's left wing about 80 seconds after liftoff. That represented the largest piece of debris ever known to have fallen off the tank. At 80 seconds into flight, the orbiter was nearing a speed of 2,000 mph, meaning the foam carried substantial energy into the impact and could have caused serious tile damage, according to Fischbeck.

The 1994 report warned NASA of several scenarios that could cause catastrophic safety problems, including the potential for a "zipper effect" where the loss of a single tile would, in turn, cause adjacent tile losses until opening a large unprotected gap. Such exposure could make vital areas of the shuttle -- such as critical hydraulic lines, computers or fuel tanks -- vulnerable to destructive heat, the report said.

After the report was issued, Fischbeck said NASA took steps to sharply reduce foam debris. The experts also urged NASA to find ways to improve tile safety, despite budget cuts.

"NASA must find ways of being cost-effective, because it simply cannot afford financially or politically to lose another orbiter," the report cautioned.

Heflin said his engineers have no hard evidence Columbia was struck by a piece of space junk or a space pebble, known as a micrometeor. What's more, NASA takes great care during missions to avoid the man-made objects, from ejected payload shrouds to tools left behind by astronauts after spacewalks, that are in constant orbit. By some estimates, there are more than a million objects within 1,200 miles of the Earth's surface.

Heflin also pointed out that the space debris theory has not supplanted the foam insulation theory, but has been placed alongside it on the "fault tree."

Analysts inside and outside the space program are torn over the possibility that space debris is to blame. There are several problems with the theory.

First, the Air Force and NASA together perform a comprehensive analysis of a shuttle's projected path before each mission to ensure that it is not struck by debris, said Howard Sands, a former NASA official who worked as a contracting officer for space shuttle logistics before he retired in 1986. The Air Force has the ability to pinpoint the location of space debris that is just centimeters in diameter, and would have warned NASA about the dangers of debris large enough to damage it.

Second, there are "clean" and "dirty" levels of orbit above Earth. The space shuttle typically coasts along at 15,000 mph in one of the relatively clean levels, close to the atmosphere. At that level, much of the debris left behind by earlier space flights or defunct satellites falls into the atmosphere and burns up before it can do damage.

"Up higher, things can stay around for hundreds, maybe thousands of years," said a Boeing engineer who works on the international space station, which orbits in a higher and much "dirtier" path. The engineer spoke on the condition of anonymity. "Down where the shuttle is, things are kind of getting sucked into the Earth's orbit like there's a big vacuum cleaner," he said.

Finally, if something struck the shuttle with enough force to ultimately bring it down, many analysts say NASA, its crew and the craft's computers would have known instantly. NASA's test facility in White Sands, N.M., recently conducted a study of the potential impact of space debris. The conclusion: A piece of plastic the size of a walnut could tear a 5-inch-wide hole through aluminum as thick as the Los Angeles telephone book. In other words, one analyst said Tuesday, if the shuttle struck something, "everybody would know. It would be loud."

"That stuff moves so fast relative to the shuttle," said the analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity.

On the other hand, "there is a lot of debris up there," said William Ailor, president of Aerospace Corp., a nonprofit group in El Segundo that provides technical support to the Air Force and studies orbital matter. After all, Ailor said, "we've been in space for 40 years."

There are enough pieces of debris in space that some scientists have proposed a variety of remedies. Some hope to install robotic arms on spacecraft that can grab old satellites and pull them into orbits where they can't do any damage.

NASA has had to adjust the flight path of space shuttles at least eight times to avoid large pieces of debris, Ailor said. Most of the debris is found at extremely high levels of orbit, where satellites are kept -- more than 250 miles higher than the space shuttle typically flies. Studies show that all but 9,000 of the pieces are smaller than a tennis ball, including thousands of tiny particles left behind by solid rocket motors.

In addition, there are countless micrometeorites, some of them smaller than the diameter of a strand of hair, Ailor said. Most of them are so tiny that they can do no damage to a spacecraft as large as a commercial airplane. One study showed that a craft that had been in space for more than five years was struck by these particles more than 30,000 times, with no ill effect.

Still, NASA has discovered pockmarks on at least two shuttle windshields after the crafts returned safely, Sands said, possibly because of collisions with that matter in space. A speck of paint once chipped the windshield of the space shuttle Challenger during a mission completed before it exploded in 1986. Some have estimated that the speck was traveling 20 times faster than a bullet travels on Earth.

That sort of matter could weigh just enough to damage a thermal tile, Ailor said. And, Sands added, it's possible that a piece of space debris could have broken off a satellite or a larger piece of space trash during Columbia's 16-day mission, and didn't show up on engineers' maps until it was too late. "It could happen," Sands said. "It is a possibility."

Meanwhile, NASA expanded its search Tuesday for Columbia's wreckage by several states.

After scouring the ground for clues in Texas and Louisiana -- and discounting reports that the shuttle may have begun breaking up farther west -- NASA sent investigators to California and Arizona when credible reports surfaced that pieces of Columbia may have landed there. If the debris proves to be from the shuttle, it may offer an early glimpse of what was happening before Columbia broke up over Texas.

Michael Kostelnik, the high-ranking NASA official responsible for the shuttle and space station programs, said what may prove to be the wreckage of the shuttle's main engines has been located in Louisiana. Heavy pieces, like the engines, would travel farther after the spaceship broke up.

Kostelnik said he did not know the location of the reported debris in California and Arizona.

"It's not clear what the material is," Kostelnik added. "We have had some e-mail correspondence that potentially looks like it could be either [tiles] or potentially wing material. If it is wing material, obviously that would be very important to the investigation.

"Certainly something that early in the event is most important," Kostelnik said.

NASA's main priority for now is to recover the remains of the astronauts' bodies, and thereafter to hunt for the most important pieces of wreckage. The crew compartment has not been recovered in any identifiable form, Kostelnik said, though pieces of it may be in official custody.

Times staff writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington and Eric Malnic in Houston and Nona Yates in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Foam insulation's role:

Some questions and answers about foam insulation, suspected of being a factor in the space shuttle Columbia tragedy:

Question: What does this insulation on the external fuel tank normally do, and how large was the chunk that broke off?

Answer: The polyurethane material's job is to keep liquid hydrogen and the liquid oxygen, stored separately in the shuttle's huge fuel tank, very cold. It is lightweight, somewhat like Styrofoam, but is applied in liquid form and dries to a firm surface. During Columbia's liftoff Jan. 16, NASA says, a fragment measuring about 20 inches by 16 inches by 6 inches, and weighing 2.67 pounds, broke off. It may have damaged heat tiles that keep the shuttle from burning up during reentry into the atmosphere.

Q: How could tile damage doom the shuttle?

A: After initial damage, the fast flow of air in the damaged area could have peeled more tiles off. Without protection against the intense heat of reentry, which can reach 3,000 degrees, vulnerable areas of the shuttle's structure and electronics could have been damaged, eventually leading to the breakup.

Q: Has foam insulation come off in previous shuttle flights?

A: Yes. But the damage from those incidents wasn't serious enough to trigger catastrophe.

Q: Why wasn't damage to the Columbia tiles on Jan. 16 fixed before reentry?

A: NASA says there was no way for the crew to repair tiles in orbit. The space agency also had concluded that the incident posed no danger.

Source: Associated Press

NASA Casts Doubt On Foam Theory

06/02/2003 02:20 PM - Reuters

NASA says a piece of debris that broke loose from the fuel tank shortly after the launch of space shuttle Columbia is unlikely to be the cause of the shuttle's loss and the death of its crew. The foam debris, about the size of a small suitcase, was captured on video breaking away from the shuttle's external fuel tank shortly after lift-off from Florida. The foam was seen vaporising after it hit the underside of the orbiter.

NASA shuttle program manager Ron Dittemore, casting doubt on one of the leading theories on the cause of the shuttle's disintegration on Saturday over Texas, said the foam simply was not heavy enough or travelling fast enough to damage the shuttle's heat resistant tiles. "We're focusing our attention on what we didn't see. We believe there was something else ... there's got to be another reason," Dittemore said on Wednesday during a briefing at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Dittemore also said the shuttle's management team did not believe there was any ice under the foam that might have contributed to damage, another theory that had been offered as the root cause of the destruction of NASA's oldest space shuttle and the deaths of the seven astronauts as they returned from a 16-day science mission in space.


Subject: Air Force camera reveals serious damage to Columbia's wing

Date: Fri, 7 Feb 2003

From: NewsAlert <>

NEWSALERT: Friday, February 7, 2003 @ 0556 GMT

The latest news from Astronomy Now and Spaceflight Now


High-resolution images taken from a ground-based Air Force tracking  camera in southwestern U.S. show serious structural damage to the  inboard leading edge of Columbia's left wing, as the crippled orbiter  flew overhead about 60 seconds before the vehicle broke up over Texas  killing the seven astronauts on board February 1.


Amid congressional concern about NASA's objectivity in the wake of  the Columbia disaster Saturday, the quasi-independent Accident  Investigation Board, beefed up with non-NASA staff and board members, will assume the mantle of sole authority in determining what caused the crash that claimed the lives of seven astronauts.

Lawmakers call for presidential commission:


International space station planners are debating the possibility of launching a two- or three-man caretaker crew in late April or early May aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to replace the lab's current crew and to keep the outpost occupied until space shuttle flights resume.


A fresh load of supplies has arrived at the International Space Station Tuesday, enabling the three-man Expedition 6 crew to remain aboard the complex through late-June or early-July, if necessary.

September 12, 2003

The Modesto Bee
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The investigation and cleanup of the space shuttle Columbia accident has cost the government almost $400 million, NASA officials said Thursday.

The space agency spent 418.7 million on direct costs of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, the 13 member panel of outside experts that analyzed the Feb. 1 tragedy. That spending included transportation, the hiring of consultants and administrative costs such as printing the 248-page report.

The National aeronautics and Space Administration spent $112.6 million in supporting the board's investigation. That included elaborate foam-shooting experiments at the Southwest Research Center in San Antonio. the tests involved firing chunks of light-weight insulation at a high rate of speed from a gas cannon at a mock-up of the shuttle wing and heat shield.

The experiments showed that even flimsy insulation, if traveling fast enough and hitting just the right spot, can break the reinforced carbon panels on the shuttle wing. One investigator said the experiment was the "smoking gun" of the board's search for the cause of the Columbia accident.

NASA spent $21.1 million to help in the collection and assembly of about 84,000 pieces of eastern Texas and Louisiana. The Federal Emergency Management Administration spent at least an additional $235 million, NASA Administration Sean o'Keefe said Thursday.

The combined costs for the two federal agencies are at least $387 million.

Columbia broke apart while returning to Earth. Killing the seven astronauts on board. Pieces were scattered across hundreds of miles of Texas and Louisiana.

Columbia Debris Loaned to The Aerospace Corporation for Research

NASA News      
National Aeronautics and
Space Administration

John F. Kennedy Space Center
Kennedy Space Center, Florida 32899
AC 321 867-2468
Jessica Rye
Kennedy Space Center, Fla.                                             
(Phone: 321/867-2468)

RELEASE: No. 31-04                                                              May 20, 2004


The first pieces of Space Shuttle Columbia debris, loaned to a non-governmental agency for testing and research, are on their way from NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Fla., to The Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, Calif.

The Aerospace Corporation requested and will receive graphite/epoxy honeycomb skins from an Orbital Maneuvering System pod, Main Propulsion System Helium tanks, a Reaction Control System Helium tank and a Power Reactant Storage Distribution system tank. The company will use the parts to study re-entry effects on composite materials. NASA notified the Columbia crew's families about the loan before releasing the items for study.

Earlier this year, Dr. Gary Steckel, senior scientist in the Materials Science Department in the Space Materials Laboratory at The Aerospace Corporation, viewed the items. "We believe these items are representative of the structural composite materials flown on Columbia. They will enable us to successfully meet our objective of calibrating analytical models for predicting reentry behavior of composite structures," Steckel said.

Researchers believe the testing will show how materials are expected to respond to various heating and loads' environments. The findings will help calibrate tools and models used to predict hazards to people and property from reentering hardware. The Aerospace Corporation will have the debris for one year to perform analyses to estimate maximum temperatures during reentry based upon the geometry and mass of the recovered composite.

"NASA's mission includes the development of technologies that improve the safety and reliability of access to space," said NASA's Deputy Administrator Fred Gregory. "By allowing the scientific community to study Columbia debris, researchers will have the opportunity to gain unprecedented knowledge about the effects of reentry."

The request from The Aerospace Corporation was one of several "Request for Information" applications NASA received to study Columbia debris. The eight pieces of hardware were inventoried inside the KSC Vehicle Assembly Building, where Columbia's debris is stored and prepared for shipment.

"The idea of studying pieces of Columbia came to me in the debris hangar soon after the accident," said Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach. "It was clear to me we could learn a lot from it, and that we shouldn't bury the debris as we did with Challenger's."

"To see the plan come together is personally rewarding," Leinbach said. "I hope the technical community will learn as much as possible and put that knowledge to use to improve spacecraft and flight crew system designs in the future," he said.

For information about NASA and return to flight efforts on the Internet, visit:

For information about The Aerospace Corporation on the Internet, visit:

Below is the latest information from NASA concerning the Return to Flight Plan.

Allard Beutel
Headquarters, Washington            May 17, 2004
(Phone: 202/358-4769)

Dave Drachlis
Stafford-Covey Task Group, Houston
(Phone 256/651-4713)



     The Stafford-Covey Return to Flight Task Group is issuing their second interim report Wednesday, May 19. The group is making an independent assessment of NASA's implementation of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board Space Shuttle Return to flight recommendations.

The document will be available Wednesday at 8 a.m. EDT on the Internet at:

Co-Chairman Richard Covey will be available to answer news media questions by teleconference Wednesday at noon EDT.
Media interested in participating in the teleconference must contact Shannon Bach at: 281/792-7523 by 11 a.m. EDT May 19.

Media who do not want to ask questions may listen to the teleconference by calling: 321/867-1220/1240/1260.

The 28-member task group is co-chaired by Covey, a former Space Shuttle Commander and retired USAF Lt. Gen.; and former Apollo Mission Commander Thomas Stafford. The Task Group will report results to NASA at appropriate intervals and will provide a final report to the agency approximately one month before the Space Shuttle returns to flight.

For information about NASA's efforts to return flight on the Internet, visit:


                            * * *

NASA press releases and other information are available automatically by sending an Internet electronic mail message to
In the body of the message (not the subject line) users should type the words "subscribe press-release" (no quotes).  The system will reply with a confirmation via E-mail of each subscription.  A second automatic message will include additional information on the service.
NASA releases also are available via CompuServe using the command GO NASA.  To unsubscribe from this mailing list, address an E-mail
message to, leave the subject blank, and type only "unsubscribe press-release" (no quotes) in the body of the message.



SHUTTLE TRAGEDY OF FEBRUARY 1, 2003. STS-107. INCLUDES DREAM PROPHECY. updated 2-11-2003. . ... Space Shuttle Apparently Disintegrates. ...

... Tether as it Breaks away from the Space Shuttle Due to an overload of producing free energy in the 12-mile long Tether, it shorted out and broke away from the ...

... as Space Shuttle Astronaut, Claude Nicollier, took video footage (using a hand-held black & white video camera designed ......

... 1991. Leaked external camera video from US / shuttle mission (STS-48) shows electro-gravitic war games in low-earth orbit. NASA announces ...

... module. Each 84,500-pound, 3600-square-foot module fits into the cargo bay of NASA's proposed reusable Earth-orbital space shuttle. ...

... FROM: ... giant water balls made it impossible for them to avoid collisions with satellites and the space shuttle if they ...

... three United Nations agencies in Geneva were among the 229 dead in the crash of a Swissair jet off Canada on a flight known as ``the UN shuttle,'' UN officials ...

... [Editor's note: Here is the space shuttle schedule. The first one is scheduled for March 5, 2005. ... ... - 72k - Cached - Similar pages

The Symbolism and Spiritual Significance of the Number 11
... The space shuttle went up on its 11th mission, weighing 11 tons and fixed an errant sattelite on the 11th day
... Whilst the fact that a 2 man shuttle could well have been built (The Russians were testing one in the late 70s early 80s assigned the name "BOR" ) it would ...

... In the space program, hydrogen and oxygen are combined to make a rocket propellant, such as in the main engines of the space shuttle. ...

John Lear - UFOs and Aliens
... - Ron Madley, a 'Cadcam' (computer design) administrator for a Houston, TX., engineering company, refers to 'events 1-6' of NASA shuttle films taken aboard ...

... 4-27-00 - THE ASTRONAUTS - 4-25-00 - following the news of the Shuttle Atlantis Terraforming Mars. 4/11/00 - The Martian Domes.... ...

... THE SOLAR AND HELIOSPHERIC OBSERVATORY. Stockholm Observatory NASA Television on CUSEEME NASA Shuttle Web Live Images from NASA TV. ...

A NEW LOOK AT 2012......2039?
... start to irradiate the enlightened." Those powerful influences were obviously brought in by the comet, with the explosion of the Space Shuttle and Glasnost ...

... being found." -- "In 1986, NASA had the Navy scour everything north of Cuba to north of North Carolina looking for pieces of the exploded Challenger shuttle. ...

... Hawkins, chairman of the Greater San Diego Chamber of Commerce and president and CEO of Cloud 9 Shuttle, which primairly ... ...
... It appears that the bird, was the Columbia, the space shuttle, which just crashed. Columbia represents the US and is a feminine symbol. ...
... .. See Lion Power - A page about psychic power and Astronaut Edgar Mitchell. Another Astronaut Dream ...

... Clarke and Kubrick were optimists) In their vision there is a very advanced donut shaped space station, bases on the moon, regular moon shuttle services and ...

David Adair - Visitor Unwilling at Area 51
... I built. It flew onboard one of the 1993 Space Shuttle missions. It was part of the GAS (Get Away Special) program.  ...

... handling. Bums Flat has the third largest runway in the nation and serves as an alternate landing location for Space Shuttle operations. ...

... There were two comets that passed but with on problem. But a couple days later, the Columbia shuttle crashed but that came from the west. ...

The Changing of the Guard: Part III: Illuminati Life and ...
... joking" suggestion at the beginning that technology brought up on Space Shuttle is used to create earthquakes, among other tidbits; ...

... If so, that requires advanced technology and space vehicles capable of high speed travel to be used as shuttle and transportation craft. ...

... It receives petroleum products, ammunition and stores from shuttle ships and ... reading my life story "Terrorized", then saw a connection to ... ...

... 25, and Jan. 29, 2003. It is possible that debris from one of them could have hit the Columbia Shuttle and caused it to crash. This ...