NASA publishes Columbia Report
Date: Wednesday, January 07 @ 04:23:35 PST
There was no chance of survival
NASA has released a 400 page report on the issues surrounding crew survivability in the Columbia shuttle disaster 5 years ago. The thorough, graphic report details the timeline from just before the deorbit burn to the retrieval of the debris and the ballistic analysis of the debris trajectories.
It is a remarkable read. Using various sources of data, including onboard video, ground and air based video, telemetry, recovered data from the wreckage, and quite a few other sources, the last moments of the shuttle's re-entry have been reconstructed to a high degree of probability as to what happened.
As the left wing progressively deteriorated due to hot plasma incursion, only the barest hints were being made both to the crew and to the mission control specialists monitoring the sensors in the left wing. The shuttle itself was reacting to the changing aerodynamics by repeatedly firing it's reaction control system jets, increasingly until it exhausted its fuel supply. Ultimately the tipping point was the loss of hydraulic control, which the crew was aware of, but could do nothing about. About 40 seconds elapsed between the loss of control and the "catastrophic event" of the breakup of the shuttle. Despite finding many procedural problems related to survivability of the crew, the report concludes that even if the crew had suits on and visors down, they still would not have survived being exposed to Mach 10 at 165,000 feet.
The depressurization of the Crew Module happened very quickly and it was estimated that the crew had at most 12 seconds to react before being incapacitated. Extensive analysis of the breakup of the shuttle, comparisons to the Challenger shuttle disaster, and references to Soyuz 11 (another fatal decompression accident) show the dedication of the analysis team, all of whom were part time investigators and none of who were formally trained in investigative techniques when given the job.
Good article on CNN here.