A NASA official is reflecting on the lessons that were learned after the Columbia disaster

“The Space Shuttle Columbia is not coming back”: Pam Melroy, a NASA Assistant Administrator, and a Contribution to the Columbia Investigation

The Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated as it returned to Earth, killing the seven astronauts on board, including its commander, Rick Husband.

The mission of Columbia’s 28th flight was focused on research in physical, life and space sciences. On the morning of February 1st, 2003 the crew was set to return to Florida’s Kennedy Space Center after conducting 80 experiments in 16 days in space.

While Texas residents were watching smoke rise from the sky as debris fell, Mission Control lost contact with the crew and the shuttle’s temperature and tire pressure readings vanished.

Pam Melroy is a deputy administrator at NASA and was involved in the Columbia investigation. She was in Florida getting ready to greet the crew.

She said the space shuttle will come back through the Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of Mach 25 and that it will arrive within a second. There was a moment where we all looked around and questioned how it could be happening. The space shuttle isn’t here.’ And that’s when we realized it wasn’t coming back.”

More than 3000 pieces of debris, including the crew members’ remains, were recovered over the next few weeks in Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana.

The shuttle had a piece of foam insulation break off its propellant tank and hit the edge of the left wing at the beginning of its launch. But the exact location and extent of the damage was not clearly visible to engineers, and NASA management reportedly did not address their concerns during the shuttle’s time in space because they believed little could be done about it.

It said that culture and organizational practices resulted in decreasing safety issues over the years. The investigators called for NASA to be more proactive in its efforts to replace the shuttle with a new system and for more government support.

“I was very focused on doing everything in my power to use that learning to protect the crew in case of a mishap,” she said. ” I think everyone feels that way, I know that it was very much on my mind throughout the whole mission, to ensure that the crew was as safe as possible.” Thankfully, I didn’t have to.

The Apollo 1, which caught fire during a pre-launch test in 1967, and the Challenger, which exploded seconds after liftoff in 1986 had a large impact on NASA, according to Melroy. She thinks the agency “evolved more” after each of those incidents.

“If people died for this knowledge, we’re going to learn from it,” she said. I believe that was the first step. Making sure that voices are heard inside the agency that have safety concerns and making sure that they get elevated to the right decision-makers were the key lessons that we learned from Columbia.

Source: https://www.npr.org/2023/02/01/1153150931/columbia-space-shuttle-disaster-20th-anniversary

The American astronauts who served on NASA’s space shuttle program from 1983 to 2011: a documentary about Ronald’s experiences and the work ethic of Sally Ride and Ellison Onizuka

NASA holds an annual Day of Remembrance to honor astronauts who died in the line of duty. This year’s had a special focus on the Columbia anniversary, as Houston Public Media reported.

“In the past twenty years, the Columbia families have had celebrations, and sorrow, and life experiences,” she said. Some of us are now grandparents after one of us became a parent.

NASA hopes to put the first woman and first person of color on the moon by 2025, in preparation for a new era of spaceflight.

Growing up in South Carolina in the 1950’s, Ronald thought doors slammed in his face. The public pool was for white people only, so he could not learn to swim. When he was nine years old, a librarian called the police on him for trying to borrow calculus books.

After overcoming racism, he was able to study physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and at the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro. NASA selected him as a finalist to be anastronaut in 1978, the first group to contain women, people of colour and scientists. Sally Ride, the first US woman in space, and Ellison Onizuka, the first Asian American, were also part of his class.

The New Guys has a narrative written about the group of US astronauts by a film producer and journalist. She does not break new ground in outlining their experiences and the team’s role in space history. But she does illuminate the historic nature of their selection — and, significantly, how they helped to shape NASA’s space shuttle programme, from its first flight in 1981 until its end in 2011.

It is easy to forget that shuttle astronauts performed the first on-orbit satellite repair back in 1984, on the Solar Maximum Mission observatory, and deployed important scientific spacecraft such as the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the Ulysses mission to study the Sun. But the pressure to fly as often as possible to meet the needs of customers quickly caught up with NASA. More engineers, less inspections, and less time and attention were spent on mechanical issues due to cost-cutting from 1983 onwards.

On separate flights in January 1985 and April 1985, Onizuka and fellow class member Frederick Gregory came close to death without knowing it, when the O-rings that helped to seal the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters nearly failed. Facing a long list of planned launches, NASA managers overrode concerns aired by contractors. In January 1986, four members of the group — McNair, Onizuka, Resnik and Richard Scobee — were on board with three other astronauts when the space shuttle Challenger’s O-rings failed just after lift-off, causing an explosion that killed them all.

Ride served on the panel that investigated those deaths, and helped to bring the O-ring cover-up to public light. The shuttle lost its role in partnering with the military because of the disaster.

And yet Ride found herself on an investigation panel again in 2003 — this time concerning the fatal accident of the shuttle Columbia, which disintegrated just before landing because a piece of foam that had detached from the fuel tank during launch had damaged the craft’s thermal-protection tiles. As with Challenger, NASA culture was to blame. Mission control did not even inform the Columbia crew about the foam strike until a week into the nearly 16-day mission, when it said: “This item is not even worth mentioning other than wanting to make sure that you are not surprised by it in a question from a reporter.”

After the astronauts finished building the International Space Station, NASA stopped the shuttle program, ending the story of the 1978 Astronaut class.

A year ago, the European Space Agency announced the world’s first physically disabled astronauts candidate, a paralympic athlete named John McFall. We are all indebted to the Fucking New Guys.

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