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NASA Releases Columbia Crew Survival Report

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the sacred-cow dept.

NASA 223

Migraineman writes "NASA has released a 400-page Columbia Crew Survival Investigation Report [16MB PDF.] If you're interested in a detailed examination and timeline of the events leading to the destruction of Columbia, this is well worth the time. The report includes a number of recommendations to increase survivability of future missions." Reader bezking points out CNN's story on the report, which says that problems with the astronauts' restraint systems were the ultimate cause of death for the seven astronauts on board.

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ultimate reason for the astronauts death (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26273309)

Is not the restraint systems. No restraint system could have saved them. The fact that their vehicle was disintegrating from burning up might have something to do with it.

Re:ultimate reason for the astronauts death (4, Funny)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273355)

Is not the restraint systems. No restraint system could have saved them. The fact that their vehicle was disintegrating from burning up might have something to do with it.

Ack!! Not everybody read the article first. Use the spoilers tag!!

Re:ultimate reason for the astronauts death (4, Funny)

flaming error (1041742) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273379)

With a proper seat belt-airbag system, they might have been encapsulated in a wind vortex which insulated them from the heat of re-entry and cushioned their impact as they bounced across several Texas counties. Just sayin'.

Extreme forceful asphyxiation (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26273819)

I believe the actual cause of anyone's death when suddenly exposed to the extreme thin (lack of) atmosphere at high altitudes, is extreme forceful asphyxiation.

At 30,000 feet MSL, the healthiest humans can only maintain consciousness about 1.5 minutes max.

At 35,000 feet MSL you'll last only about half as long... 45 seconds max.

At 40,000 feet MSL, after rapid decompression, you might stay conscious for 25 seconds if you're in excellent shape.

Remember the Payne Stewart LearJet crash? They lost cabin pressure and the plane on autopilot went up into the flight level 40's.

Above 50,000 feet you must wear a pressure suit in addition to breathing supplemental oxygen... unless you're inside a pressurized aircraft/spacecraft.

At 63,000 feet MSL, all the gases dissolved in your blood boils. You die in seconds if exposed to rapid decompression.

The Columbia began it's breakup around 200,000 feet MSL and most educated guestimates place the altitude where the pressurized crew compartment broke away from the rest of the craft at around 100,000 feet and that it held its pressure until about 60,000 feet until it broke open.

The ballistic trajectory of the big chunks of what was left of the ship took a sharp downward turn once it reached about 40,000 feet MSL due to all the pieces slowing down so rapidly and then fracturing into such small pieces as to next be more accurately called a debris cloud in the relatively thick atmosphere of 35,000 feet compared to where the breakup first began.... at least that's what the math models derived from the shape and size of the debris field on the ground seems to suggest.

One thing that always amazes me, and that most people don't even understand is that the actual atmospheric air pressure difference between here on the ground and being in the "vacuum" of space, is only 14.7 teeny-tiny pounds per square inch.
That's right. Less than 15 measly PSI. Fifteen PSI ain't even enough air in your car tire to make it roll very well. And that's all the difference there is between ground and space. Space is not some huge gigantic super vacuum that'll crush a strong metal container as if it was a beer can. Space is actually a quite subtle difference in pressure from what we breath here on the surface, especially when you compare it the pressure difference to what you'd find a only a few thousand feet under the sea.

Re:Extreme forceful asphyxiation (1)

Da Cheez (1069822) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274013)

At 63,000 feet MSL, all the gases dissolved in your blood boils. You die in seconds if exposed to rapid decompression.

[Citation Needed]
I'm not trying to challenge what you're saying (too much) or start an argument, but I'd just like to see an original source for that. I've often heard that even in complete vacuum a healthy individual will maintain consciousness for 10 to 15 seconds and then have another couple minutes or so before they asphyxiate. But I don't have any completely reliable sources for that information either. Just wondering.
Also, it seems to me (though again I have no source for this) that your blood would in fact not boil as the pressure imposed on your blood vessels by the surrounding flesh would be more than adequate to keep anything more severe than a bad case of the bends from happening. Anyone know if this is correct?

Re:Extreme forceful asphyxiation (3, Informative)

Da Cheez (1069822) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274081)

Terribly sorry to reply to my own post, but I located a Wikipedia article with useful information on this subject. [wikipedia.org]
It would seem that in my previous post I was (at least partially) correct.

Re:Extreme forceful asphyxiation (4, Informative)

0xdeadbeef (28836) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274159)

http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/ask_astro/answers/970603.html [nasa.gov]

exposure to vacuum causes no immediate injury. You do not explode. Your blood does not boil. You do not freeze. You do not instantly lose consciousness.

Re:Extreme forceful asphyxiation (3, Interesting)

evanbd (210358) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274761)

I'm not trying to challenge what you're saying (too much) or start an argument, but I'd just like to see an original source for that. I've often heard that even in complete vacuum a healthy individual will maintain consciousness for 10 to 15 seconds and then have another couple minutes or so before they asphyxiate.

That's basically correct. In vacuum exposure, your blood does not boil, but since your lungs still work all the dissolved gases (like oxygen) in your blood leave through your lungs. 15 seconds is about how long it takes the extremely deoxygenated blood to reach your brain, at which point you suddenly black out. There are plenty of other things that go wrong in vacuum exposure, but that's the first one. Note that this is much faster than asphyxiating from breathing an inert atmosphere, which is faster than from being unable to breathe.

Holding your breath doesn't work; your lungs can't contain enough pressure to help. You'll just get a ruptured lung, which is a medical emergency even if you were in a hospital and not exposed to vacuum.

Re:Extreme forceful asphyxiation (3, Interesting)

sam_v1.35b (1296319) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274203)

Space is actually a quite subtle difference in pressure from what we breath here on the surface, especially when you compare it the pressure difference to what you'd find a only a few thousand feet under the sea.

At only 10 meters (c. 30ft) beneath water you're exposed to twice the pressure you experience at sea level. It then increases by about 1 atmosphere per 10 meters. So, at one hundred meters it's an order of magnitude higher. You don't even need to go a few thousand feet under the sea to experience significantly higher pressure.

Re:Extreme forceful asphyxiation (2, Insightful)

Qrlx (258924) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274233)

At 63,000 feet MSL, all the gases dissolved in your blood boils. You die in seconds if exposed to rapid decompression.

In other words, my arteries and veins are wholly dependent upon atmospheric pressure to keep the gases in my blood from from boiling out as I type this?

Don't they have some structural integrity on their own? I would be surprised if they suddenly stopped working just because the surface pressure on my skin were removed.

Briefly surprised. Hopefully long enough to think "Hey, that AC was right! gurgle murgle blurgle..."

Mount Everest Altitudes (3, Interesting)

sjbe (173966) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274341)

At 30,000 feet MSL, the healthiest humans can only maintain consciousness about 1.5 minutes max.

Citation please.

You are saying that despite the fact that mountaineers have summited Mount Everest which is 29,029 feet MSL (8,848 meters) without supplementary oxygen [wikipedia.org] that they would only last for 1.5 minutes just 1000 feet higher? Sorry but I'm having a hard time swallowing that one. Yes it is very dangerous for anyone to be above about 26,000 feet (8000 meters) - it's called the death zone for a reason - but it seems to me that people can very likely last longer than 1.5 minutes at that altitude even assuming rapid decompression.

Re:Mount Everest Altitudes (2)

quenda (644621) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274699)

He did say _sudden_ exposure. Mountain climbers take many days to acclimatise. But then that stuff about blood boiling in seconds is total crap.

Re:Mount Everest Altitudes (1)

sjbe (173966) | more than 5 years ago | (#26275433)

He did say _sudden_ exposure. Mountain climbers take many days to acclimatise.

But posted anonymously and cited no sources. Sorry but I've got a bit too much skeptical scientist in me to buy that assertion at face value.

BTW Mountain climbers acclimate to avoid altitude sickness [wikipedia.org] , not to avoid sudden asphyxiation.

Re:Extreme forceful asphyxiation (2, Interesting)

Rorschach1 (174480) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274773)

That's right. Less than 15 measly PSI. Fifteen PSI ain't even enough air in your car tire to make it roll very well. And that's all the difference there is between ground and space.

Here's another way to look at that measly 14.7 PSI pressure differential - on a 1-meter diameter circular hatch, that's about 17,890 pounds of force. Or roughly 3.5 Ford F-150's, since this is Slashdot and car analogies are mandatory.

Re:Extreme forceful asphyxiation (1)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 5 years ago | (#26275291)

Or roughly 3.5 Ford F-150's, since this is Slashdot and car analogies are mandatory.

How many Libraries of Congress is that?

Re:Extreme forceful asphyxiation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26274819)

That's right. Less than 15 measly PSI. Fifteen PSI ain't even enough air in your car tire to make it roll very well.

Wrong... Yet another failed car analogy. You tire would actually look almost normal at 15 PSI. Maybe some bulging on a tire that isn't very stiff.

Offroad we regularly run 5-10 PSI and to be honest if you weren't paying attention it would be hard to tell that from a fully inflated tire.

Re:ultimate reason for the astronauts death (5, Insightful)

JCSoRocks (1142053) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273425)

Yeah, this is a bit like driving your car off of a mile high cliff and saying that the restraint system is the reason you died... yeah... you know... that or the impact and the ensuing fireball.

Re:ultimate reason for the astronauts death (1)

davester666 (731373) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273507)

All this means is that the next Astronauts can count on remaining belted to their seats, as the seats crash back to Earth, instead of being injured inside the cockpit because their belts and/or seats came apart as the Shuttle exploded.

Now, it's up each Astronaut to decide whether those few extra seconds of life are worth it.

Maybe they could add a "Just Kill Me Now, Please" handle to the seat as well?

Re:ultimate reason for the astronauts death (2, Insightful)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 5 years ago | (#26275253)

Yeah, this is a bit like driving your car off of a mile high cliff and saying that the restraint system is the reason you died... yeah... you know... that or the impact and the ensuing fireball.

You drove your car off a cliff. Moments before your car hit the ground, I plugged you right between the eyes with a sniper rifle. Your car hits the ground and creates a dramatic fireball. How did you die?

Re:ultimate reason for the astronauts death (1)

Rinisari (521266) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273487)

One could also consider that the most prevalent restraint system for humans—gravity—was also a factor.

What did you expect from NASA and Contractors? (0, Flamebait)

mikelieman (35628) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273497)

This is par for the course. The damn thing FELL APART and they blame the seatbelts.

That way NO-ONE is really responsible.

Re:What did you expect from NASA and Contractors? (1)

Detritus (11846) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273667)

It "fell apart" because a wing was severely damaged. The same thing happens in any high-performance aircraft when you lose aerodynamic stability, either from structural failure, control system malfunction, or pilot error. It isn't a failure of structural engineering.

Re:What did you expect from NASA and Contractors? (0)

fluch (126140) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273935)

That way NO-ONE is really responsible.

1) Hmm, just wondering ... who did manufacture the seatbelts??
2) ?????
3) Profit!

Re:ultimate reason for the astronauts death (5, Insightful)

mea37 (1201159) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273521)

That's one way of looking at it.

However, the actual cause of death was apparently trauma that would not have occured had the restraints been better designed / utilized, and that information is of practical value to future vehicles and missions. That's the whole point of the report.

That they would've died of another cause, doesn't change that they did die of the stated cause.

Re:ultimate reason for the astronauts death (5, Informative)

amRadioHed (463061) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273779)

Actually the cause of death may have been the trauma, or it may have been the rapid depressurization preceding that. The report wasn't able to determine which was the actual cause.

On a positive note however, at least it seems the depressurization knocked them unconscious quick enough that they didn't suffer much.

Re:ultimate reason for the astronauts death (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26274477)

Wrong. The report clearly stated (or rather the NY times summary of the report which I read) that no conceivable restraint system could have protected the astronuats from reentry at hypersonic speeds.

Or something of the sort.

Re:ultimate reason for the astronauts death (2, Funny)

Bandman (86149) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273531)

This is why Scotty never bothered to install them. When going from Warp 8 to zero, seat belts are _not_ the issue

Re:ultimate reason for the astronauts death (2, Funny)

Spy der Mann (805235) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274405)

This is why Scotty never bothered to install them. When going from Warp 8 to zero, seat belts are _not_ the issue

Lord Helmet begs to differ! [youtube.com]

Re:ultimate reason for the astronauts death (5, Insightful)

SecurityGuy (217807) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273715)

Spoilers.

The report doesn't list a cause of death, it lists five events which were sufficient to cause death, the first being cabin depressurization, and IIRC, the second was the restraint system failing to keep their upper bodies immobilized as the crew compartment tumbled, resulting in what would have been lethal injuries. For the pedantic, yes, the report implies they were alive when these injuries occurred because their circulatory systems were still functioning. I parse that to mean there was associated bleeding.

Thermal injury would, of course, have been fatal, but by the time they were exposed to re-entry heat, they were no longer breathing (no heat related injuries in the lungs).

The final potential lethal event was ground impact. And actually, if they'd been in pressurized suits AND the restraint system didn't fail, they'd have likely lived until the crew compartment disintegrated and they were exposed to reentry heat. As it was, they fell unconscious almost immediately after depressurization.

It's a fascinating report, with what I gather are the more graphic bits redacted. It's quite a thorough and professional job, and though it talks about seats and functions, there's always the awareness that you're reading the story of the final moments of real people, and that the whole point of the report is that we might do a better job of protecting our future astronauts.

Re:ultimate reason for the astronauts death (3, Funny)

OglinTatas (710589) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274357)

"As it was, they fell unconscious almost immediately after depressurization."

And that is a mercy. As the joke goes: I'd rather die peacefully in my sleep, just like grandpa, rather than screaming in terror like his passengers.

Clearly an intertial dampener problem (2, Funny)

unassimilatible (225662) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273791)

That, and no emergency transporter protocol.

Did Dale Earnhardt die in vain?

Re:ultimate reason for the astronauts death (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26274401)

Wow, they didn't need to make that report at all! They could have just asked you. You should go ask NASA for a job.

Re:ultimate reason for the astronauts death (1)

fermion (181285) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274969)

In this case it might be fair to say that the restraint system was fairly well designed. It appeared to have rendered them unconscious during an incident that they could do nothing about and would have been very painful. There is no reason to design a retraint or any kind of protective system that would keep a person alive during that catastrophic breakup. As the report stated, the only reasonable thing to do is to prevent the break up, no keep people alive so they can witness their inevitable demise.

The improvement made to the new crew capsule using suggestions from this report appear to involve immobilizing the head so that if an incident is survivable, there would be less trauma. Also, they want to make the outer skin more durable so bits of foam won't penetrate. There is no indication, that if the same type of thing happened to they new capsule, and it began to spin our of control, with no hope of correcting the behavior, the new restraint system would do anything different, i.e the crew would still black out.

I believe you've missed the point (2, Insightful)

Weaselmancer (533834) | more than 5 years ago | (#26275365)

There is no reason to design a retraint or any kind of protective system that would keep a person alive during that catastrophic breakup.

What they noticed is that the restraint system did not keep the astronauts alive during a situation where it could have.

What if there was an event that shook the cabin really hard, but was non-lethal? The current restraint systems would injure or kill the astronauts and turn a survivable event into a fatal one.

Having the best safety equipment is always the preferred option. A slim chance of survival is better than none.

Re:ultimate reason for the astronauts death (1)

rikkards (98006) | more than 5 years ago | (#26275457)

That's silly it was because of lack of brain activity. That was when they were officially dead

Why did it took this long... (5, Funny)

grub (11606) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273333)


Columbia Crew Survival Report:
They didn't.

Re:Why did it took this long... (1)

niteice (793961) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273759)

oh how i wish i had mod points...

Re:Why did it took this long... (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273933)

Spoiler Alert: Snape kills the Columbia Crew by throwing Rosebud through the heat shielding.

I'm sorry (2, Informative)

XanC (644172) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273351)

The report is very clear: nothing could have saved them. The restraint system was certainly not the ultimate cause of death; it was perhaps an immediate contributor, but at best a minor one.

Re:I'm sorry (1, Insightful)

Detritus (11846) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273559)

I think the idea is that in a more survivable accident, an improved seat and restraint system, and better procedures, could make the difference between life and death. Look at the improvements that have been made in race cars over the years, like head restraint systems. Race car drivers are much more likely to survive a crash than in the old days. The same is true for high-performance military aircraft. You learn what you can from the fatalities, and try to fix the problems exposed by the accident investigation.

Re:I'm sorry (1)

EnglishTim (9662) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273773)

I thought the report was fairly clear that the inadequate restraint system was probably the immediate cause of death, but that there were a long list of other things that would have killed them anyway after that.

dumbification (5, Insightful)

spikeham (324079) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273435)

The mainstream media once again lives up to its long history of mangling science stories.

The report cites 5 specific fatal aspects of the loss of Columbia: depressurization, extreme dynamic loads, separation of the crew from the vehicle, exposure to space, and ground impact. Implying that this really means inadequate restraint systems is a joke. No amount of safety hardware would permit surviving the breakup and uncontrolled re-entry of (pieces of) your spacecraft.

Due to NASA politics, the report omits a more accurate summary statement that the Shuttle is an inherently flawed and unsafe design when compared to ballistically stable capsules that can and do survive uncontrolled re-entry.

http://3.paulhamill.com

Re:dumbification (2, Interesting)

Volante3192 (953645) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273567)

You know, for an 'inherently flawed and unsafe design' it did pretty well for almost 30 years, outliving it's expected life by, what, 15?

Regarding capsules, you're not exactly going to survive uncontrolled re-entry if, say, a tile breaks off or the parachutes fail to deploy. We've just had less capsule launches than shuttle launches.

The shuttle didn't break up due to uncontrolled reentry, either. The break up caused uncontrolled reentry.

As far as how the media's reporting it? Well...the media's filled with idiots who'd sign a petition to outlaw dihydrogen monoxide.

Re:dumbification (5, Informative)

spikeham (324079) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273801)

In April 2008 a Soyuz made an uncontrolled reentry due to failure of the service module to separate during the de-orbit sequence. The cosmonauts survived due to the inherent ballistic stability and fail-safety of the design:
http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/may08/6229

NASA has finally conceded that the safest place for the astronauts is on top of the launch stack, with abort rockets to escape a failing lower stage, and with no exposure to damage from falling debris. These factors plus the increased safety of ballistic reentry explain the return to capsules with the Constellation system.

Shuttle vs. Soyuz Reliability
http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=7954.0

Soyuz vs Shuttle
http://salul.wordpress.com/2008/09/25/soyuz-vs-shuttle/

Russia is safer than US space program? (1)

SonicSpike (242293) | more than 5 years ago | (#26275509)

Are you trying to say that the Russians are now safer than our American space system?!?!?

Re:dumbification (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26273809)

No buddy there have been many mnay more capsule entries including this uncontrolled "ballistic" entry in 2008.
http://www.universetoday.com/2008/04/22/soyuz-capsule-hatch-nearly-failed-and-crews-lives-were-on-a-razors-edge/

Re:dumbification (3, Informative)

avandesande (143899) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273909)

Capsules don't rely on tiles but instead use single-ablative shields that are protected during the entire flight until reentry.
After each launch the shuttle has to be completely rebuilt so there weren't any cost savings.
A little more about problems with the shuttle design by a Nobel-Prize winning physicist....

http://www.fotuva.org/feynman/challenger-appendix.html [fotuva.org]

Re:dumbification (4, Interesting)

trappermcintyre (1216004) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274201)

You know, for an 'inherently flawed and unsafe design' it did pretty well for almost 30 years, outliving it's expected life by, what, 15?

I would be inclined to think that the reason it "did pretty well" is more to do with beating the odds than good design or good management. Read what Richard Feynman had to say about his role on the Challenger investigation board (Rogers Commission) in "What Do You Care What Other People Think?". It's fascinating. The people on the ground who had the most to do with the Shuttle put the odds of a catastrophic mission failure at much shorter odds (1 in 100 ISTR) than managers (something like 1 in 100,000 - sorry for not being more precise I don't have the book to hand). These were the same managers who were much less obsessed with the safety of the shuttle and crew than they should have been and pushed for launching when they shouldn't have done. I suspect managers with similar figures for failure in their heads were the ones to ignore concerns of more junior staff when the hole was first detected.

At the point where the shuttle broke up it was obviously a non survivable event, but I'm of the opinion it didn't have to be if appropriate steps had been taken when there was first a problem detected. I also feel anything they can learn now from Columbia to help design a better vehicle that ups the odds of surviving a catastrophic failure in future is a good thing.

To go back to my original point, I do think it is extremely misguided to say that just because a thing hasn't happened before means it is safe or well designed - it may just mean that so far it's beaten the odds, and I don't think that should be overlooked by NASA when they come to finalise future designs, or plan future missions.

Re:dumbification (2, Interesting)

Dun Malg (230075) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274229)

Regarding capsules, you're not exactly going to survive uncontrolled re-entry if, say, a tile breaks off...

Capsules don't use tiles. They use an ablative metallic heat shield, and heat shields don't break off--- they're essentially foolproof. The use of delicate ceramic tiles for heat shielding is one of the shuttle's many shortcomings.

Re:dumbification (2, Informative)

cmowire (254489) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274779)

Spaceplanes don't have to use a ceramic tile, just the space shuttle, the way they designed it required either ceramic tiles or reusable ablative coverings (which was optional in the design for a while in case the ceramic tiles turned out to be impossible, but hasn't been mentioned since)

One aspect of the X-33 that never got tested (which bugs me) is the reusable refractory metallic heat shield. See, the denser the craft, the gentler the reentry. If the shuttle was less dense, perhaps by having the orbiter integrate at least some of the external tank's capacity, it might have been possible to make one with a less delicate shield.

The main reason why the ablative non-metallic heat shields on capsules are essentially foolproof is that you re-enter on a piece of shielding that's been kept covered the whole flight. You could likely make a capsule with a reinforced-carbon-carbon reusable shield if it weren't likely to shatter when it hits the ground.

Re:dumbification (2, Interesting)

cmowire (254489) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274411)

That really doesn't do the report justice. You couldn't add magic restraints, better spacesuits, self-activating parachutes, etc. to the shuttle and expect for crewmembers to survive the accident, but there are a lot of more subtle design points to be made.

e.g. the example of the person who survived a SR-71 structural breakup, at even greater overpressure on the suit but with a more favorable thermal environment and while properly suited up.

The big and fairly underappreciated lesson of both shuttle accidents is that the crew cabin survived for quite a while longer then the vehicle at large. To me, thus suggests there are benefits to be had in figuring out which large structural segments of a crewed spacecraft... even a capsule that can survive uncontrolled re-entry... are going to survive the longest in a catastrophic failure and see if they can last long enough for the crew to bail out. Sure you've just lost the vehicle, but at least you might recover some of the crew.

Insisting that the only way up and down is in a ballistic capsule is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Something like the Soyuz is fine for now, but there are plenty of ways to make a spaceplane that are not quite as flawed as the shuttle.

Re:dumbification (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26275189)

The mainstream media mangles every story. All of them. Every single one.

CNN? Restraints? Oxymoron? (5, Funny)

arizwebfoot (1228544) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273451)

Lets try this CNN,
we'll put you in your car with tight seat belts
then we'll put a bomb under the car and ignite
then we'll test if the restraints had any impact on your ability to survive.

Assuming of course there is anything left of you to test.

Re:CNN? Restraints? Oxymoron? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26273571)

Despite lack of rhyme, that should end with this line
Burma Shave.

Re:CNN? Restraints? Oxymoron? (5, Funny)

Cochonou (576531) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273877)

Don't be too rude with CNN. The actual NASA report, while very comprehensive and well written, still contains little gems such as:
For the first 15 to 20 seconds, the modeled loads would not cause serious injuries to a conscious crew member who was capable of active bracing. An unconscious or deceased crew member would have been more susceptible to injury.

Put the people in a "black box"! (1)

erroneus (253617) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273475)

Those things are indestructible. Put the people in a black box and launch. If it fails, the people in the black box can tell us why. Seriously though, building a VERY destruction-resistant module could be the answer to the past and future problem of space traveller safety. But then again, some technologies currently considered science fiction might also have to become reality before such an idea is truly feasible. (Hey, I am NOT a Rocket Scientist....)

Re:Put the people in a "black box"! (2, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273557)

There's also the issue of cost. As it is, getting into orbit is damned expensive. Hardening the shuttle, or some part of it, so it can survive catastrophic re-entry, even if possible, would make manned spaceflight prohibitively expensive. The best solution we have even for the next generation of craft is basically a rescue mission, because there's no feasible way to repair something as integral as a heat shield while in orbit.

As sad as the loss of Columbia, Challenger, and all the other losses of life in the American and Russian programs are, the crews understood the risks, and took them. It's a dangerous trip, involving systems of incredible intricacy and energy, and you can only make them so resistant to failures.

But I will say one thing. I think the shuttles were an utter failure, a terrible engineering compromise between the original intention and what a combination of technological limits and Congressional pork barreling. We would have been much better off continuing from the Apollo programs, and putting off reusable vehicles until we were further down the road.

Re:Put the people in a "black box"! (2, Informative)

dwye (1127395) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273737)

But I will say one thing. I think the shuttles were an utter failure, a terrible engineering compromise between the original intention and what a combination of technological limits and Congressional pork barreling.

(boldface mine)

Lack of intelligent pork-barreling, more like it. If an important (read: expensive) part had been built in Wisconsin, Senator Wm. Proxmire wouldn't have, well, proxmired it down to the DC-1.5 level that it was. We might have had the original design with geosynchronus orbit capability.

We would have been much better off continuing from the Apollo programs, and putting off reusable vehicles until we were further down the road.

Continuing the Apollo program would have been a nice dream, but unfortunately, that is all that it could be. It was reduce the price to orbit or give up the program. As planned, the orbiter was expected to reduce the price per pound to LEO, even more than cheap expendables.

Re:Put the people in a "black box"! (1)

cmowire (254489) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274627)

The real flaw, but only painfully evident in retrospect, was not making something like the Saturn-Shuttle, like the X-20 atop a Saturn II, or even a reusable first stage for the existing stack. Likely taking a Saturn IB, II, or V stack and making it reusable bottom-to-top would have worked out far better.

The problem was barreling forwards with blinders on, not going back and checking assumptions. It wouldn't have been such an edgy design had it been more like the initial DC-3 concept or had they re-evaluated some of the early designs that were rejected for not being fully reusable or making sure that abnormal things like O-ring wear and tank debris weren't more carefully controlled.

Re:Put the people in a "black box"! (1)

Znork (31774) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273979)

If you put people in an indestructible box you get people splattered over the insides of that box at impact, if not before. Suspending them in water or near-human density foam might keep them in one part until impact, but I suspect that the impact shockwave would still liquify bones and organs; the available deformation zone simply wouldn't be enough to decelerate a human body at a survivable rate.

You need some form of controlled deceleration or you're simply going to have a very bad day, no matter how indestructible your surrounding compartment is.

Re:Put the people in a "black box"! (1)

erroneus (253617) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274451)

Ah yes.... and if only someone would invent the parachute and retro-rockets...

Re:Put the people in a "black box"! (1)

Junta (36770) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274637)

In a way, they've had it. In the form of the capsule approach. A good example is the Soyuz re-entry. As much of a debacle it was, they survived.

*If* a re-usable spacecraft design proves to be useful, the crew cabin may benefit from being a capsule that could somehow explosively decouple in an incident. Of course, chances are that it's just not worth it to reuse. Even if you had such a capsule, reliable separation such that a chute could be deployed successfully would be dangerous. Add to that the cost of preparing a shuttle for re-use, *and* the limted number of uses even with those measures.

Re:Put the people in a "black box"! (1)

cmowire (254489) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274663)

Not even that.

Consider the A-10, with the titanium bathtub around the pilot so you can shoot all you want, but he's still sound.

Now, consider strengthening the crew cabin so that in the event of a structural breakup, they have a fighting chance of bailing out. No capsule. No separation. Just a little more plating or Titanium instead of Aluminum in the right spots. Remember, both the Columbia's and the Challenger's crew cabin held together for quite a long time.

Pretty amazing forensics (5, Insightful)

Tibor the Hun (143056) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273499)

I am always amazed at the quality of forensics in cases like this, or aviation accidents and such.

I mean this thing exploded, or better yet disintegrated how many hundreds (thousands) of meters in the sky, scattered its debris all over BFE, and yet they can still piece together enough information to deduce who was unbuckled, who wasn't wearing gloves, and who didn't have their visors down.

Re:Pretty amazing forensics (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26273593)

They knew all that mostly from a video of the re-entry taken seconds before the shuttle disintegrated. They didn't piece it together from the wreckage (apart from finding the video tape in the wreckage).

Re:Pretty amazing forensics (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26273683)

It must be awful to watch that tape, seeing the agony on the crew's faces as they realize their fate.
Where's the torrent link?

Re:Pretty amazing forensics (1)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 5 years ago | (#26275353)

I'm still waiting for the torrent of Steve Irwin. Yeah, I'm going to hell ;)

Re:Pretty amazing forensics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26273639)

Not to discount the work of forensic experts (which I agree is amazing), but don't forget that one of the crew was recording everything going on inside the cabin with a simple hand-held video camera, presumably right up until the point of disintegration. One of the most overlooked parts of the story is the fact that A) the tape was subsequently found given the debris field covered a huge swath of the central-southern USA, and B) that only the outer layers of the tape were damaged.

Re:Pretty amazing forensics (4, Interesting)

darkmeridian (119044) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273869)

The most amazing forensic work I read of was the Lockerbie bombing of a TWA flight while in midair. The debris was scattered over many square miles. Yet the investigators were able to reconstruct the bomb and find the bomb's timing circuit. A chip in the timing circuit was traced to the perpetrators.

That was pretty fucking cool, I thought.

Re:Pretty amazing forensics (1)

trappermcintyre (1216004) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274267)

Lockerbie was a PanAm flight (not TWA) :) But yes, the forensic work done to reconstruct the bomb was pretty fucking cool :D

Re:Pretty amazing forensics (2, Insightful)

Shamenaught (1341295) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274577)

Not to sound like a 9/11 conspiracy theorist, but didn't they also supposedly find the passport of one of the suspects in the wreckage?

There's a fine line between pretty fucking cool and bullshit, IMHO. I know that saying that makes me sound like a conspiracy theorist, but I evade that label as I have no theory. I just think it's bullshit.

What? (0, Redundant)

joh (27088) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273511)

So, if "problems with the astronauts' restraint systems were the ultimate cause of death for the seven astronauts on board" they would have survived the plasma blast while reentering in a vehicle that is being torn apart? I'm going to read the report now, but I think CNN has got something wrong here.

Re:What? (1)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273549)

No, they would have survived long enough to be killed in said blast.

Seatbelts, the solution to all of life's problems...

Re:What? (1)

Shamenaught (1341295) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274715)

Yep, and the fact that the inadequate restraints was the cause of death is an important fact to consider when they build the shuttle's successor.

Consider what would happen if they only put in safety measures to counteract all of the other potential causes of death. You'd still have a bunch of dead astronauts if they used the same restraints, so it's an important lesson to learn.

Re:What? (2, Insightful)

ConceptJunkie (24823) | more than 5 years ago | (#26275519)

an important fact to consider when they build the shuttle's successor.

Does anyone think our government will ever actually accomplish building a successor to the shuttle? Take the best design you can come up with, multiply the cost by 100 and divide the quality by 100. That's what it would end up being.

We, as a society, have lost the ability to manage. The technical know-how may still be there, but the culture of arrested adolescence and unrelenting backstabbing and politics will paralyze the U.S. government and any other large undertaking in this society until we can re-learn how to be grown-ups again.

Crew were incapacitated "within seconds" (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26273607)

It appears that the pressure suits worn by the crew required user input to "configure the suit for full protection from loss of cabin pressure." Pardon my ignorance, but shouldn't a certain pressure be set as minimum survivable pressure, and a "dead-man switch" set to activate at that point? Not that it would have saved them, but though.

At least this means they died rapidly and for the most part without pain. Godspeed.

Re:Crew were incapacitated "within seconds" (1)

forceman130 (1233754) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274227)

It appears that the pressure suits worn by the crew required user input to "configure the suit for full protection from loss of cabin pressure." Pardon my ignorance, but shouldn't a certain pressure be set as minimum survivable pressure, and a "dead-man switch" set to activate at that point? Not that it would have saved them, but though.

I think in this case it means that some individuals were not in the full pressure suit - they weren't wearing the gloves and they didn't have the visors down, so they would have had to manually correct those deficiencies to get full protection.

Re:Crew were incapacitated "within seconds" (2, Insightful)

cmowire (254489) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274549)

By "Configure the suit for full protection" that means put on the gloves and push down the visor. All of the controls are designed for a unsuited crewmember, the visor gets in the way and requires you to be on your oxygen system. And the oxygen system is pure O2 so you can't keep it running because there will be too much O2 and not enough N2 in the atmosphere of the shuttle.

So, no, there's no possibility for a dead-man's switch in the current design. But it's clearly something necessary in a future design. Even airline passengers are protected against depressurization and airliners are fairly safe.

Cascading failure (5, Informative)

Draconi (38078) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273611)

The report lists the immediate causes of death as depressurization, and then trauma (not properly restrained, or failure of restraint for upper body and head in sudden depressurization) for those who survived even that long.

Each event listed after is in of itself certain death, and the report makes sure to say that even if everyone were wearing their full equipment and had been properly restrained, there was no way to survive - there simply isn't a way for our current equipment to "eject" or have a "safety capsule."

The things we can take away are that all signs point to sudden, painless deaths well before breakup, and that the things learned in the investigation can be applied for greater safety in future missions.

Re:Cascading failure (1)

cmowire (254489) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274529)

Consider the SR-71 pilot referenced in the report. He didn't eject, his plane broke up mid-flight, yet he survived. Granted, different thermal environment, but same degree of overpressure.

So, to me, there were things that could have been different that might have resulted in a chance for at least some of the crew to have landed alive.

Shuttle astronauts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26273619)

The shuttle astronauts said they had always wanted to vacation all over Texas ;-)

Yeah yeah yeah... but seriously, I worked for Rick Husband the mission commander once, and he was a fine upstanding individual; Truly a hero.

I have to agree that the report is not germane (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273707)

No matter what "killed" you, if you end up burning in a giant fireball, it's pretty pointless as to exactly how you died before that.

Remember, they had seconds to even attempt to leave, and even that would have killed them.

Let's move on and admit the current systems all have flaws and build something useful for the 21st Century, not keep in the pro-military mindset of the 20th Century that would have us building bases and wasting money instead of actually getting out of here.

Re:I have to agree that the report is not germane (1)

fireteller2 (712795) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274037)

No matter what "killed" you, if you end up burning in a giant fireball, it's pretty pointless as to exactly how you died before that.

That's an unfortunate line of thinking that is probably the type of thinking that contributed to NASA's reduced quality controls over the years. The report specifically discusses expanding the "survival envelope". Under this, more thorough, line of thinking one tries to solve all solvable problems, so in future accidents the chance of survival is improved. Yes they where too high and traveling too fast to survive with any known technology other then a complete entry vehicle, but if they where a little bit lower and a little bit slower they could have survived if this reports recommendations where already in place. Without these recommendations, just the loss of cabin pressure would likely kill future astronaut, fireball or no. f

Re:I have to agree that the report is not germane (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274177)

The cause is the breakup of the shuttle.

All other points cascade from that event.

And, given human reaction times, escape system constraints, and the relative velocities, air quantity, etc .... my point still stands.

Re:I have to agree that the report is not germane (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26274473)

No matter what "killed" you, if you end up burning in a giant fireball, it's pretty pointless as to exactly how you died before that.

It's worth it for when things go wrong but the fireball doesn't fire...

Re:I have to agree that the report is not germane (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274553)

Um, large flying brick hits atmosphere ... and you think you won't die in a large flaming fireball splatted over the earth? ... wow ...

Sugar-coated death notice (5, Interesting)

RobertB-DC (622190) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273723)

I'll admit, I'm a bit more morbid than the average bear. But the report is heavily sugar-coated, with the obvious goal of making sure nobody thinks anyone "suffered". That's the biggest thing in American culture, it seems; "At least they didn't suffer". When my grandfather died of a heart attack, someone told my uncle something about massive "blood clots in the heart" indicating that he "didn't suffer".

Sorry, I don't buy it. At least, not the Disney-fied public-consumption version.

The Spaceflight Now [spaceflightnow.com] summary notes five "lethal events", and implies that the *first* one caused immediate unconciousness:

* Depressurization
* Buffeting without being fully buckled in
* "Separation of the crew from the crew module and the seat"
* Exposure to near-vacuum
* Impact

The claim that the initial "depressurization" would make the crew "incapacitated within seconds" relies on the common perception that exposure to the vacuum of space makes your face explode. That's not the case, as has been explained over and over -- you can't breathe (" respiration ceased after the depressurization" in the report), but not breathing hasn't been the criteria for "death" since the Middle Ages.

It's the second one that probably did most of the crew in. The crew compartment started spinning and tumbling, and "As a result, the unconscious or deceased crew was exposed to cyclical rotational motion while restrained only at the lower body." I would say that "unconscious or deceased" is window dressing, like hoping that the girl from "Dead Like Me" would grab you just before your car runs off a cliff.

But even that assumes that "the seat inertial reel mechanisms on the crews' shoulder harnesses did not lock". I kinda thought that's what seat belts were *supposed* to do. So I can only assume that at least some of the unfortunate crew made it to phase three, which is awfully hard to make sound pretty. "Separation of the crew from the crew module and the seat" sounds almost gentle, but what it means is that the forces were eventually so great that their bodies were ripped apart by the very straps designed to hold them in place.

Unfortunately for those who want their dead to enter the next world peacefully, I think it's pretty likely that the crew's last experience was anything but a peaceful passing from lack of oxygen.

Now, is that so awful? I don't think so. I don't even like to ride a roller coaster, myself, but these were a bunch of adrenaline junkies strapped to a freakin' ROCKET. These weren't people who planned to die in their sleep. I would imagine that all of them -- and especially the pilots, who were almost certainly strapped in and helmets on -- would want to go out kicking, screaming, and pushing every possible button to try to turn the damned thing around.

They died with their boots on. Give them that, at least.

Re:Sugar-coated death notice (2, Insightful)

Amazing Quantum Man (458715) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273747)

The claim that the initial "depressurization" would make the crew "incapacitated within seconds" relies on the common perception that exposure to the vacuum of space makes your face explode.

Spaceflightnow wouldn't buy into that. I suspect that the incapacitation was due to hypoxia.

Re:Sugar-coated death notice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26273845)

I'm the one that wrote the "crew incapacitated within seconds" - reply. You don't have to believe that that low pressure "makes your face explode", but that's not necessarily wrong. A very rapid depressurization will make you face explode ... as well as the rest of you. Read about the Byford Dolphin accident, a diving "bell" that explosively decompressed. The spine of one of the divers inside the bell was "ejected" from his body, and found several tens of feet away. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Byford_dolphin

This is not necessarily, and even not probably what happened to the crew of the Columbia. But depressurization can kill in other ways than making you explode. The rapid dacay of pressure in your surrounding environment will cause your blood pressure to plummet, your brain to become rapidly hypoxic, and you will pass out. Fast.

Re:Sugar-coated death notice (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273975)

During the incident you mentioned, the pressure differential was one of nine atmospheres. However between atmospheric pressure and vacuum there is only one atmosphere difference - at rest. That is hardly any pressure difference at all. I should think that a more important factor is the actual pressure experienced caused by the shuttle's tremendous speeds - even with a very low static pressure. I for one would not like to be hit in the face by that since it's enough to heat the shuttle's outsides to well over 2000 degrees - but in this case it would be pressurization, not depressurization.

Re:Sugar-coated death notice (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26273931)

Well said, RobertB-DC. Folks such as these people, military special forces, Everest climbers (the originals at least), etc. don't do what they do in hopes of dying a peaceful death. They recognize the likelihood of their fate and run straight to the edge. If they meet their fate, I have to think that they do so with a lot of 'fight' in them. In any case, they are...check that, were true pioneers.

Re:Sugar-coated death notice (2, Informative)

forceman130 (1233754) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274307)

The claim that the initial "depressurization" would make the crew "incapacitated within seconds" relies on the common perception that exposure to the vacuum of space makes your face explode. That's not the case, as has been explained over and over -- you can't breathe (" respiration ceased after the depressurization" in the report), but not breathing hasn't been the criteria for "death" since the Middle Ages.

The concept there is Time of Useful Consciousness - which is how long a human can remain conscious when exposed to high altitudes. For someone taken from essentially sea level (whatever the shuttle normally is) to 200,000 feet that time is going to be very, very short - probably on the order of seconds. Even at normal fighter altitudes of 40-50,000 feet the TUC is 9-12 seconds, and it is even lower (up to 50% lower) in the case of a rapid decompression, which this almost certainly was.

Re:Sugar-coated death notice (1)

subreality (157447) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274325)

The claim that the initial "depressurization" would make the crew "incapacitated within seconds" relies on the common perception that exposure to the vacuum of space makes your face explode. ... not breathing hasn't been the criteria for "death" since the Middle Ages.

"Incapacitated" isn't a euphemism for dead. Depressurization causes hypoxia, which results in unconsciousness in tens of seconds. They probably died of trauma, but it probably happened after they blacked out.

retarded parent poster (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26274351)

You're just dead wrong. The atmospheric pressure is so low at 200,000 ft that the oxygen transpires out of your body within seconds, leaving you hypoxic and unconscious. It's not like holding your breath, your lungs are much more effective at exploiting a tiny differential in partial pressure then that. They were unconscious within a very few seconds, not 15 seconds.

Re:Sugar-coated death notice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26275521)

FTFA:

The NASA report found the astronauts knew for about 40 seconds that they did not have control of the shuttle before they likely were knocked unconscious

Knowing for 40 seconds that you're inevitably about to die is worse than any physical suffering.

What is a survival report? (1, Insightful)

Bromskloss (750445) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273883)

Jokes aside, why is it called "survival report"?

Missing the Point of the Restraint Failure (2, Informative)

systemeng (998953) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273921)

This report does absolutely nothing for the astronauts that tragically died. It attempts to extract valuable lessons for future endeavors.

The failure of the restraints under this circumstance is only significant in the context of future missions.

It means that future astronauts in a much less dire situation would be killed due to failure of their restraints even if no other mishaps beyond a temporary loss of control occurred. In this particular case, the TFA is pretty clear in pointing out that the crew was either dead or unconscious due to restraint failure which could have been prevented long before catastrophic breakup of the vehicle for which prevention is stated as the only remedy.

A loss of astronaut lives in an event that did not promulgate loss of the vehicle would be politically devastating and need not occur if more attention is paid to this system on future vehicles.

Columbia astronauts lived about a minute (0)

peter303 (12292) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273945)

Challenger's lived about 2.5 minutes. Probably too fast to really have worried about it too much. In both cases the immediate cause of death was not the actual accident, but depressurization in one case, and water surfaceimpact trauma in the other.

It sounds from the report that some engineers speculated if they made the suits a little better, yada-yada, some could have survived. NOT.

No, it doesn't say that (1)

hwyhobo (1420503) | more than 5 years ago | (#26273999)

The summary above says that "problems with the astronauts' restraint systems were the ultimate cause of death for the seven astronauts".

  1. Nowhere does the report say that
  2. By no definition of ultimate [bartleby.com] could problems with the restraint systems been indicated as such a cause
  3. The CNN's John Zarrella repeatedly states that hypoxia was the ultimate cause of death

Therefore, the problems with the restraint systems could at best be described as "ancillary".

Re:No, it doesn't say that (1)

hwyhobo (1420503) | more than 5 years ago | (#26274035)

Aarrgghh.... Clicked on the wrong button before finished editing.

Edit item (2) above:

s/been/be/

Append to the end of message:

Let's leave sensationalizing to mainstream media. They do a splendid job of it without our help.

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