Missed Opportunity to Repair Shuttle Columbia Haunts Us 10 Years Later

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Missed Opportunity to Repair Shuttle Columbia Haunts Us 10 Years Later
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A Columbia Space Shuttle Launch

FIRST PERSON | Friday marks the 10-year anniversary of the explosion of the Space Shuttle Columbia. The shuttle had just completed a two-week successful flight orbiting the earth. The shuttle lost radio contact with NASA at 9 a.m., within minutes of landing at Kennedy Space Center. Texas residents saw pieces of flaming debris falling from the sky. Seven crew members perished, five men and two women.

Examination of the launch videos had revealed that 80 seconds after takeoff a chunk of insulation had dislodged from the fuel tank and struck the shuttle, but the extent of damage could not be determined. Some engineers were concerned that a wing was damaged, but project managers felt that even if the damage was severe, there was no way to manage repair in flight.

I was retired, 70 years old and living in Zanesville, Ohio. Our TV was on, and I could not believe my ears. It was a repeat of the Challenger disaster that claimed the lives of seven astronauts shortly after takeoff. Today, still living in Zanesville, I have never forgotten my reaction. My emotions were of intense grief for the astronauts and their families. Then, I wondered if they could have been rescued while in flight.

Being the oldest shuttle, Columbia had completed 28 successful missions. A NASA administrator was quoted by History.com as saying that "the accident was not caused by anything or anyone on the ground."

The statement does not seem accurate. History.com states that the investigative report found that the mission could have been extended 15 days. The shuttle Atlantis could have been launched by Feb. 10. This would have allowed a five-day period to inspect for damage, repair the damage or transfer the Columbia crew to the Atlantis. PBS.org called a crew transfer high risk but stated that it may have worked

After a period of investigation and reassessment of the space shuttle, the program resumed with the flight of the shuttle Discovery on July 26, 2005. The most tragic part of the story is the missed opportunity for saving seven courageous astronauts.

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