Ten years ago today, seven astronauts lost their lives when the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas during its re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere — six Americans and one Israeli:
Rick D. Husband, mission commander
Kalpana Chawla, mission specialist
William C. McCool, pilot
David M. Brown, mission specialist
Laurel B. Clark, mission specialist
Michael P. Anderson, mission specialist
Ilan Ramon, Israeli payload specialist
An investigation later determined that damage to the shuttle’s wing during liftoff caused the incident.
Former NASA scientist Wayne Hale now claims that agency experts became aware of possible damage to the wing about one week into the mission, but kept the crew in the dark about the possible dangers:
Hale, who retired from NASA after more than three decades with the agency, says he has spent 10 years wondering what could have been done differently. But he admits that the chances of being able to repair the hole in Columbia’s wing or safely send another space shuttle to rescue the crew were both slim and risky. The crew was also too far from the International Space Station to dock there.
“During the accident investigation there were several efforts to determine what might have been done to save Columbia and her crew. None of the concepts to plug the hole in the wing would have worked; most would have caused even earlier failure of the structure as the incredible heat of reentry vaporized the plug. The only possible scenario — and it was a slim one — was to immediately discover the hole by a never previously attempted complex spacewalk, immediately power down Columbia to survival levels to stretch the life support consumables, and scramble Atlantis, already stacked for launch in the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building), with an incredibly complex formation flying and crew vacuum transfer,” he wrote.
In the end, the seven-member crew, David Brown, Rich Husband, Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson, William McCool and IIan Ramon, died as the shuttle broke apart in the clear skies over East Texas.
Hale contends in his blog he has come forward because “It is imperative that we learn the proper lessons from history.”