serious deficiencies pointed out by the final report

NASA has just published the final version of the report of the Columbia shuttle accident (flight STS-107) of February 1, 2003, pointing out several serious deficiencies and issuing around thirty recommendations so that such facts do not happen again.

According to this 400-page document entitled Columbia Crew Survival Investigation Report (here in pdf, 16 MB), the seven astronauts the shuttle crew had only 40 seconds between losing control of the spacecraft and the explosive decompression that resulted in their deaths.

Many deficiencies have been identified by investigators who, if they could not have prevented the fatal outcome, could cost the lives of future astronauts if not remedied in the next families of manned craft.

The investigation team, made up of astronauts, engineers and pilots from the Nasa, spent four years examining in detail, second by second, the chronology of events during the re-entry into theatmosphere of Columbia, on that tragic day of February 1, 2003. Five potentially fatal causes were identified, and 30 recommendations issued.

Soon mandatory parachutes

As a reminder, a fragment of mousse insulation had detached from the sides of the shuttle’s ventral tank during its launch two weeks earlier, hitting the leading edge of the left wing, tearing part of its thermal coating. No spacewalk was planned during this flight (there was also no SCUBA on board) and Columbia should not join the International Space Station (it has never moored there), no one has been able to realize the existence of this damage, much less assess the gravity.

Upon re-entering the atmosphere, theair fire engulfed this breach and quickly opened a passage to the shuttle’s essential organs, melting the structure before causing it to disintegrate over Texas.

According to the report, the astronauts were doomed upon re-entry and nothing could have saved the crew. However, several shortcomings were pointed out by the investigation team.

During the first swerves of the shuttle, the anchoring device of one of the seats did not resist and it tore off. It is therefore probable that the occupant of this seat suffered serious trauma even before the fatal explosion.

Coveralls, helmets, gloves and seat belts also suffered serious deficiencies. It was determined that one crew member was not properly strapped to their seat, one of the seven astronauts had not secured their helmets, and the other six had neglected to lower their visors, rendering the suit permeable to ambient air. In addition, three of them had not attached their gloves …

NASA has therefore decided to review the protocols training of future crews so that this negligence does not recur. But structural modifications are also recommended, such as a better fixation of the seats with the shuttle, and especially the abandonment of the orange diving suit, a light model designed to be used exclusively during the setting up. orbit and atmospheric reentry but less robust and offering less protection than conventional models.

In addition, NASA denounces the current parachute system which equips astronauts in the event of abandonment at low altitude, which offers little guarantee because it must be opened manually. An automatic device is on the list of recommendations.

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