- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2003

The Space Shuttle Columbia and its seven-member crew were spinning out of control before the orbiter exploded, according to a 28-page report released by the independent Columbia Accident Investigation Board.
The new timeline released by investigators yesterday combines data from Columbia's computers with visual evidence from witnesses and other sources to shed some light on the final seconds of the shuttle flight. But it doesn't help investigators solve the mystery surrounding the Feb. 1 explosion.
Columbia's nose was veering left at 20 degrees per second as it sped along at about 12,500 miles an hour, the new information shows. But Columbia could have been turning left at a much faster rate because 20 degrees per second is the highest reading the orbiter's instruments could measure.
"Those readings are suspect, but if they're anywhere close to being accurate, there's a problem," NASA spokesman John Ira Petty said.
At 20 degrees per second, Columbia could have completed a circle in about 18 seconds.
Investigators culled the data from two seconds of information from Columbia's computers, so it's not clear how long the turning lasted.
"Data suggests vehicle was in an uncommanded attitude and was exhibiting uncontrolled rates," the report says.
The new timeline also suggests there were no readings coming from Columbia's left orbital maneuvering system in the final two seconds, which could mean it broke off or was badly damaged with the left wing. Mr. Petty said there isn't enough information to know if the left wing tore off.
The timeline indicates Columbia's automatic pilot was still on, though there has been some speculation that the astronauts tried to disengage it.
The timeline also includes from witness accounts and photos when debris shed from Columbia. NASA reported that 15 small pieces of debris were seen shedding from Columbia before it crossed the Arizona-New Mexico border. The first report of debris occurred over California.
Investigators suspect that superheated gases seeped into the shuttle through a breach along the edge of the left wing, though it is not clear what caused the breach. Insulating foam peeled off Columbia's external fuel tank during liftoff Jan. 16 and struck the left wing.
Meanwhile, a NASA engineer said yesterday he supported the space agency's handling of e-mails he wrote days before the Space Shuttle Columbia exploded during its descent.
In a series of e-mails that now seem prophetic, Robert Daugherty complained that NASA was not paying more attention to problems that might occur during re-entry if the orbiter suffered a breach near its left landing-gear compartment.
Yesterday, he said his e-mails were "intended to spark debate, and it did."
Mr. Daugherty's first public comments about the e-mails were made during a press conference organized by NASA.
Mr. Daugherty, an expert on tires and landing gear at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., said he believes the e-mails reached the appropriate people within the agency and disputed that they should have reached higher-ups.
"My e-mails [covered] technical issues for technical people to discuss," he said.
Mr. Daugherty said he had no reason to believe there would be problems during Columbia's descent, even though he conceded having an uneasiness.
"There was some … what if-ing on my part, [but] I certainly believed everything was going to be fine," he said.
Mr. Daugherty said he will talk to the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.
Board spokeswoman Laura Brown said investigators will look into how NASA handled the e-mail communication.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide