[meteorite-list] Seven Perish As Shuttle Breaks Up
From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu Apr 22 10:18:24 2004
Seven perish as Shuttle breaks up
By Julian Coman
The Telegraph (United Kingdom)
February 2, 2003
America was plunged into mourning once more last night after the
space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas during re-entry,
killing all seven astronauts on board.
Columbia lost contact with mission control at the Johnson Space
Centre in Houston at 8am local time, 2pm in Britain, just 15 minutes
before it was due to touch down at Cape Canaveral in Florida.
Shortly before the final descent, a CNN television news
presenter told viewers in Texas - President George W Bush's home
state - to look out of their windows as "they might see something
Instead, dramatic video footage showed the spacecraft breaking up
more than 200,000ft over north-eastern Texas as it banked
steeply on re-entering the atmosphere at 12,500 mph.
Flaming like a comet, the single bright trail that marked the
doomed Shuttle's progress exploded into a series of white streaks
across the blue sky.
The sonic boom left the ground shaking across Texas. "It was like
a car hitting a house, or an explosion. It shook that much," said
John Ferolito, 60, of Carrolton, north of Dallas."
Bob Multer of Palestine, a town 110 miles south-east of Dallas,
said the noise "was very similar to a tornado, it was very loud and
intense - loud enough and low enough that it shook the building".
Burning debris crashed to earth across northern Texas and
Louisiana. Nasa warned people not to touch any wreckage, which
would be highly toxic because of the spacecraft's propellants.
Local reports in Texas said police had confirmed that a human arm
and hand, with remnants of a Nasa uniform, had been found among
debris near Nacogdoches. More human remains were found 100
miles to the west, in Jaspar.
Only two of the seven astronauts had been in space before: the
Shuttle's commander, Rick Husband, and Kalpana Chawla, an
Indian-born mission specialist. The other five were William
McCool, the pilot, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Laurel Clark
and Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli in space.
The wives, husbands and children of the astronauts - five men and
two women - who had been waiting at the landing strip were
ushered away seven minutes after the scheduled touchdown.
Last night Grace Corrigan, whose daughter Christa McAuliffe died
in the 1986 Challenger Shuttle disaster, wept as she said: "I want
to think of something of comfort to say to the families of those men
and women but, the truth is, I can think of nothing. It is a terrible
The brother of Ms Chawla fought back tears as he remembered the
young woman with whom he shared the dream to fly. Speaking
from New Delhi, Sanjay Chawla said: "She achieved everything I
had always hoped to achieve. Now all those dreams are
President Bush returned to the White House from his weekend
retreat at Camp David, in Maryland, as his administration
absorbed the latest blow to the American space programme.
In the past week, Nasa observed the anniversary of its other
space tragedies - the Challenger explosion, which killed all seven
astronauts on January 28, 1986, and the Apollo spacecraft fire in
which three died on January 27, 1967.
Last night, in an address to the nation, Mr Bush said: "In an age
when space flight has come to seem almost routine, it is easy to
overlook the dangers of travel by rocket.
"The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of
the seven souls we mourn today. The crew of the Shuttle Columbia
did not return safely to Earth; yet we can pray that all are safely
Security had been extraordinarily tight for Columbia's 16-day
scientific research mission because the crew included Col Ramon.
Space agency officials feared that the air force officer's presence
might make the Shuttle more of a terrorist target.
But senior government officials last night played down
suggestions of terrorist involvement. One official said that no
threat had been made against the flight and that the Shuttle's
altitude at the time of the explosion - 207,000ft - was out of range
of any surface-to-air weaponry.
Attention switched instead to a catastrophic technical malfunction
on Columbia, which made its first flight on April 12, 1981 and was
the oldest in Nasa's fleet.
Concerns had been raised during the launch on January 16 when
close-up cameras showed debris from one of the fuel tanks
striking the Shuttle's left wing.
Nasa officials are thought to be investigating whether the falling
piece of insulating foam pierced the heat shield around the wing,
which bears the brunt of the intense temperatures as the Shuttle
re-enters the atmosphere at more than six times the speed of
If the disaster was the result of catastrophic failure of the
heat-resistant tiles, it is unlikely that the astronauts had any time
With all protection from the 2,500°F temperatures of re-entry
gone, the Shuttle would have become little more than a meteor
within seconds, incinerating the cockpit. Heinz-Hermann Koelle, a
German space specialist, said the crew would have died within "10
Last Friday, Leroy Cain, the Mission Control flight director,
assured reporters that engineers had concluded that any damage
was considered "minor" and posed no safety hazard.
But one of America's leading space safety experts said last April
that he had "serious concerns" about the Shuttle programme's
Richard Blomberg, the chairman of Nasa's aerospace safety
advisory panel, told Congress's space and aeronautics committee
that budget cuts and delays to safety improvements would
seriously jeopardise safety.
He said: "In all my years of involvement, I have never been as
concerned for the space Shuttle as I am right now."
Columbia's latest mission - its 27th - had been hailed as a
tremendous success. At dawn yesterday Mission Control gave the
seven astronauts the go-ahead to come home on time: "You are
'go' for the de-orbit burn." Astronaut David Brown had jokingly
asked Mission Control: "Do we really have to come back?"
The disaster raises fears for the three astronauts orbiting Earth in
the International Space Station. Two Americans, Ken Bowersox
and Donald Pettit, and the Russian Nikolai Budarin are due to be
relieved by a crew taken up by the Atlantis Shuttle on March 1.
Received on Sat 01 Feb 2003 08:52:51 PM PST