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Tue, Dec 30, 2008

NASA Issues Report On Loss Of Shuttle Columbia Crew

Details Final, Critical Moments Of STS-107

Continuing what's become a maddening agency tradition of issuing controversial reports near the very end of the year -- and the news cycle -- on Tuesday NASA quietly released a 400-page report detailing the circumstances that led to the February 2003 loss of the crew of the space shuttle Columbia.

The cause of the accident itself, of course, had been determined well before Tuesday. As ANN reported, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board quickly determined in that a chunk of insulating foam separated from the shuttle's external fuel tank during its January 16 launch, and struck the leading edge of the shuttle's left wing... resulting in a small but critical hole in the shuttle's fragile carbon-carbon heat shield tiles, that allowed superheated plasma formed during reentry to penetrate the shuttle's internal structure.

The report released Tuesday -- titled "Columbia Crew Survival Investigation Report" -- details the final moments of Columbia's seven-member crew.

"The members of this team have done an outstanding job under difficult and personal circumstances," said Johnson Space Center Director Michael L. Coats. "Their work will ensure that the legacy of Columbia and her heroic crew continues to be the improved safety of future human spaceflights worldwide."

The team's final report includes 30 recommendations to improve spacecraft design and crew safety. The recommendations cover a broad range of subjects from crew training, procedures, restraints and individual safety equipment to spacecraft design methods and recommendations regarding future accident investigations.

In addition to the sheer size of the report and the breadth of engineering detail it contains, it is also disturbing to read... not because of the grisly details it contains, per se, but rather in how it graphically details the crew's final moments in dispassionate, critical detail.

"The Columbia depressurization event occurred so rapidly that the crew members were incapacitated within seconds, before they could configure the suit for full protection from loss of cabin pressure," the report reads. "Although circulatory systems functioned for a brief time, the effects of the depressurization were severe enough that the crew could not have regained consciousness. This event was lethal to the crew."

The link to the full 10MB report is below.

FMI: Read The Report (.pdf)

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