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Things We Found Out About NASA and the Shuttle Program

Dave Aiello wrote, "Saturday morning, Kathleen and I were sitting in our office reading email on our computers when my Handspring Treo SMS tone sounded, and the following message appeared:"

2/1/03 9:59

NASA loses contact with space shuttle Columbia just before landing in Florida, 7 on board./REUTERS

"As I reached for the 'on' button on the radio across the room, I thought to myself, 'This is either another Apollo 13 or they're already dead.' Of course, the latter turned out to be right."

"I'm still trying to make up my mind about what this all means. But, I spent some time looking at the web and found a number of interesting articles about NASA and the Shuttle program. Read on if you're interested in what I've found...."

Dave Aiello continued:

So much of the initial news was almost content free, except for the long range video of the breakup of the orbiter. One of the more interesting was a mailing list posting from someone who claims to be a former shuttle flight controller:

...The video shows a large object separating, then a flash and puff in the contrail and then the breakup. I believe the large object {coming off the Shuttle} was the left wing and it was probably during a roll reversal. The left wing was struck by External Tank debris during Ascent. The wing leading edge temperature is {approximately} 3000 deg during Entry."

The Sacramento Bee ran an Associated Press article on Saturday that indicated that an astronomer who works at the Caltech Owens Valley Radio Observatory believes that he saw the breakup of Columbia actually begin over California:

As it tracked from west to east over the Owens Valley it was leaving a bright trail. As it actually moved over the valley there were a couple of flashes. ... Then we could see there were things clearly trailing the orbiter subsequent to that.

Some guy named Gregg Easterbrook has been critical of the Space Shuttle program for a long time. He wrote about it in The Washington Monthly back in April 1980, in an article called Beam Me Out of this Death Trap, Scotty. And he's still at it, with The Space Shuttle Must Be Stopped in the Time Magazine to be published on February 10.

Over on Space.com, an article from July 12, 2001 is called NASA Considers Mothballing Shuttle Columbia:

NASA's oldest shuttle orbiter might be mothballed as part of an agency bid to deal with a projected budget shortfall of about $800 million over the next six years, officials said Thursday....Placing Columbia in storage is one option being considered as a countermeasure to the anticipated cost growth, officials said. Others include scaling back, delaying or canceling planned shuttle upgrades, such as the development of advanced auxiliary power units for the agency's $8 billion shuttle fleet, which also includes shuttles Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour. The closure of NASA shuttle test facilities is yet another option.

In The Times of London, the notion is floated that NASA ignored a shuttle safety alert. Perhaps more troubling is the photo of an astronaut's helmet that is placed in that story, below the headline.

The Independent, also a British newspaper, suggests that the space shuttle and the International Space Station may be mothballed for two or three years as a result of the disaster.

The New York Times says that NASA has indications of unexpected temperature rises on the exterior left side of the craft near the wheel well. It further says that the guidance system detected a drag on the left side four minutes later, and may have attempted to compensate. Two minutes later Columbia broke up.

Finally, OpinionJournal.com published an essay by Peggy Noonan called The Days of Miracle and Wonder. Noonan is known to have contributed to Reagan's speech after the Challenger disaster. So, it's important to read her sense of this tragedy as well.

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