Monthly Archives: January 2013

STS-107 Disaster in Mission Control

As those who know me have already gathered, I’m a NASA geek, specifically a Mission Control geek. Though they don’t make it space, but the engineers and technicians in Mission Control and at the other NASA centers make the human spaceflight program possible.

The video below breaks my heart. It was taken in what is called the White Flight Control Room in Building 30 at Johnson Space Center in Houston, on February 1, 2003 as Columbia was making her way from orbit to earth.  What you hear is the conversations between the controllers and the Flight Director as they read the clues and gather the data and come to the realization that something has gone terribly wrong. These are men and women who have dedicated their lives to the safe operation of the Space Shuttle and International Space Station.

Watch this video, watch it again, see and hear the anguish in the voices of the controllers, see how they keep on doing their jobs even as they realize that the worst has happened to their friends, colleagues, and indeed, the entire space program. Then think that 10 years have gone by since this happened, we still have a manned outpost in space and we’re working on getting out of low Earth orbit once again. The people in this room are those who are getting us there, a fact which gives me tremendous comfort!

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A Tough Week in NASA History

Today begins a tough week in the history of NASA. All three of NASA’s major accidents have happened between January 27th and February 1st:

January 27, 1967 – Apollo 1 Fire

January 28, 1986 – Challenger (STS-51L) Disaster

February 1, 2003 – Columbia (STS-107) Disaster

Each of these events happened at a different stage of the mission, each of them had their own technical causes, but in my opinion, each was caused by ignoring or accepting some of the risks of spaceflight. After each accident, the people of NASA got together to solve the problem and make human space flight possible again.

As you go about your week today, remember the Apollo 1 Crew: Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee;

Apollo 1 Crew

 

the STS-51L Crew: Francis R. Scobee, Michael Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnick, Ronald McNair, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe;

STS-51L (Challenger) Crew

 

as well as the STS-107 Crew: Rick Husband, William McCool, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson, Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramon

STS-107 Crew

and the sacrifices they made for knowledge, understanding, and their country. Be proud of the work they have done and be hopeful for the future of spaceflight and of humanity.

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The Space Shuttle Columbia Lifted Off 10 Years Ago Today for the Final Time

Ten years ago today, the space Shuttle Columbia lifted off for the final time. When the liftoff occurred, no one knew that it would be here final departure from the planet. Rather, it was the start of a science mission scheduled to last about two weeks. Onboard the orbiter were seven astronauts:

  • Commander Rick Husband
  • Pilot William McCool
  • Mission Specialist David Brown
  • Mission Specialist Kalpana Chawla
  • Payload Commander Michael Anderson
  • Mission Specialist Laurel Clark
  • Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon

About 82 seconds after lift off, a large piece of the insulating foam on the external tank came loose and hit leading edge of Columbia’s left wing. This incident was captured on the film of the launch as a white streak training away from the wing as the shuttle ascended. Over the next two weeks, the crew flawlessly executed their mission, knowing that something had struck the wing, but not knowing that this impact would cause the end of their lives.

On the ground, at Mission Control in Houston and at other NASA Centers, some engineers were not so certain that the impact hadn’t caused damage. In the end, however, there wasn’t much done to investigate the effects of the impact. Truthfully, nothing could have been done to repair the damage.

Wayne Hale, a Flight Director at Mission Control and leader in the Shuttle program, has written a series of blog posts over the past several months examining the totality of the Columbia disaster, which are definitely worth a read. See his blog at waynehale.wordpress.com for his insights.

Over the next couple of weeks, I hope to post more thoughts on the Columbia disaster, its place in history, and other related topics.

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Looking at Things in a Different Way

About a week ago, my family was out on a drive just after sunset. I looked up and saw a cloud that, by virtue of its altitude, was still lit brightly by the sun. I mentioned the cloud to my wife and pointed out that the cloud and the ISS were similar. Both were high enough to be lit by the sun while the part of the earth we were on was in shadow. My wife said that she didn’t remember the fact that the ISS is visible because of sun reflecting off the solar panels because it was still in visible light. She smiled and laughed at the simple explanation of an awesome occurrence. It’s always wonderful being able to share the love of space with my family.

On the same topic, at the corner of Ascot and Chelton in Oakland, there is a local landmark known as painted rock. Since the 1960’s, neighbors have painted celebratory messages on this rock for their family and friends. I was lucky enough to see this painted on the rock as I headed up the hill today:

My wife, after a  year’s wait, painted the rock this afternoon for my birthday! It was awesome to see this as I drove up the hill! This is a great new way to look at the rock.

When I got home, my wife and son had put together a scavenger hunt for me to find my birthday present. I had to look at my house in a different way to find the clues hidden by my wife and son. My four year old son is amazingly good at writing clues, far beyond his age… It was a lot of fun and even though he gave the ending away before I got to the final clue, I kept on looking because the journey, not the destination, was the point of the hunt. There’s another way of looking at things.

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