NASA reports graphic details of Columbia deaths
WASHINGTON -- Seat restraints, pressure suits and helmets of the doomed crew of the space shuttle Columbia didn't work well, leading to "lethal trauma" as the out-of-control ship lost pressure and broke apart, killing all seven astronauts, a new NASA report says. At least one crewmember was alive and pushing buttons for half a minute after a first loud alarm sounded, as he futilely tried to right Columbia during that disastrous day Feb. 1, 2003.
In fact, by that time, there was nothing anyone could have done to survive as the fatally damaged shuttle streaked across Texas to a landing in Florida what would never take place.
But NASA scrutinizes the final minutes of the shuttle tragedy in a new 400-page report released Tuesday. The agency hopes to help engineers design a new shuttle replacement capsule more capable of surviving an accident. An internal NASA team recommends 30 changes based on Columbia, many of them aimed at pressurization suits, helmets and seatbelts.
As was already known, the astronauts died either from lack of oxygen during depressurization or from hitting something as the spacecraft spun violently out of control. The report said it wasn't clear which of those events killed them.
And in the case of the helmets and other gear, three crewmembers weren't wearing gloves, which provide crucial protection from depressurization. One wasn't in the seat, one wasn't wearing a helmet and several were not fully strapped in. The gloves were off because they are too bulky to do certain tasks and there is too little time to prepare for re-entry, the report notes.
Had all those procedures been followed, the astronauts might have lived longer and been able to take more actions, but they still wouldn't have survived, the report says.
The new report comes five years after an independent investigation panel issued its own exhaustive analysis on Columbia, but it focused heavily on the cause of the accident and the culture of NASA.
The new document lists five "events" that were each potentially lethal to the crew: Loss of cabin pressure just before or as the cabin broke up; crewmembers, unconscious or already dead, crashing into objects in the module; being thrown from their seats and the module; exposure to a near vacuum at 100,000 feet; and hitting the ground.