Former Astronaut Imagined Shuttle Breakup Scenario in "Liftoff!, An Astronaut's Dream"
Dave Aiello wrote, "Many of you know that CTDATA sells used books as part of our experiments in e-commerce. Yesterday, we sold a copy of a book called
Lift Off!: An Astronaut's Dream, a 96 page book for school children, and the customer asked us to ship it out in an expedited manner."
"As I was packing the book, I glanced through it, and realized that it discusses a situation where the shuttle Atlantis was damaged by debris that fell off the right-side rocket booster at launch. This occurred on flight STS-27, December 2-6, 1988."
"Chapter 8 of the book, written by retired astronaut R. Mike Mullane, discusses his effort to check the shuttle for tile damage. Mullane writes:"
"Atlantis? Houston. We were wondering if you saw anything break off the top of the right booster during ascent.... In a review of the ground films of your launch, engineers thought they saw something come off the tip of the booster."
"Atlantis, we want Mike to use the robot arm to look at the belly...."
I shiver with fear as I imagine what would happen to Atlantis if there is major damage. On reentry, fire would melt a hole in the belly and then start buringing through wires and equipment....
Meanwhile, the commander and the pilot would be doing everything possible to keep the shuttle flying straight. But, in the end, atmospheric friction would win the battle. The shuttle would start groaning and vibrating as pieces of the wings burned off... and the shuttle would slowly spin out of control. From the ground it would look like a giant shooting star, scattering flaming pieces of aluminum across the sky. I would be dead.... That's what I'm thinking as I carefully twist the robot arm underneath the fusilage.
Finally, the belly heat tiles come into view on the television screen. We gasp. Hundreds of tiles are scraped and gouged! At least one tile is completely missing. What's going to happen to us on reentry?
Dave Aiello continued, "Of course, Atlantis and its crew survived and successfully landed at Andrews Air Force Base. But, more than 700 tiles on the bottom of the shuttle had been damaged beyond repair."
"The breakup scenario that Mullane describes may be very close to what actually happened to shuttle Columbia. The biggest difference between Mullane's story and the Columbia disaster may be that Columbia did not carry a robot arm on its last mission."
"This is a wonderful book that tells a lot of shuttle flight details that I did not know. I'll have to get another copy and read it cover-to-cover."