Written by Gerald Boerner
Superstition holds that bad things happen in groups of three. If you believe that, the events of the last week fall into that pattern. on January 27th, the Apollo 1 fire took the lives of three of our astronauts. On the 28th, the Space Shuttle, Challenger, exploded just as it was about to go to full power on launch. And today, February 1st, we are covering the break up of the Space Shuttle, Columbia, the first shuttle to fly. So within a seven day period, we remember three disasters that have befallen our space program over the years.
Fortunately these disasters did not occur during one calendar week, but identifies a time of the year when they seemed to be more likely to occur. Why does this week seem to be so prone to accidents? After all, these missions were all associated with the Cape Canaveral/Kennedy Space Center complex located in southern Florida. That is not in the snow belt of the Great Lakes region nor were any of these accidents associated with hurricanes known to hit the area. So what could be the cause?
Well, for one thing, space exploration has inherent risks; it is far riskier than traveling on a scheduled airline. The fire in the Apollo 1 Command Module probably could have occurred anywhere. NASA was still experimenting with the environment, especially for the first three-man crew.
A second factor was the weather at the cape. While the area is generally known to have a warm, sunny climate. However, the nights often had low temperatures that resulted in overnight frost and the build-up of icicles. And both shuttle disasters were associated with the cold temperatures. We often still hear about a delay of a launch due to icing, a lesson learned from these disasters.
Finally, we must remain aware that these rockets ran on liquid hydrogen and oxygen. In that state, the fuel itself is at temperatures far below zero degrees Fahrenheit. That in itself can cause ice to form on the outside of the tanks, of which the shuttle launch vehicle has two. Between the ice formed on the launch platform itself and the ice on the tanks, the is a real possibility for some of this ice breaking off and damaging the insulation tiles, o-rings, and other connections.
We grieve with the families and friends of these brave astronauts who perished in this disaster. The two non-Americans had performed their assigned tasks as expected during their time in space. It was as shock to all watching, including myself, as this shuttle came in for its landing at the cape. We had seen so many of these re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere during previous flights and expected the same, routine glide of the shuttle to another safe landing. Then the disaster hit; the areas of the shuttle’s underbelly that lost its heat tiles caused the accident. We didn’t know what had happened until the announcement from mission control. While space travel has inherent risks, may we never see another scene like this!
But now let’s get started looking at the details of this Columbia Space Shuttle Disaster… GLB
These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2012 • Gerald Boerner • All Rights Reserved
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Quotations Related to Shuttle:
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“After the Challenger accident, NASA put in a lot of time to improve the safety of the space shuttle to fix the things that had gone wrong.”
— Sally Ride
“I will go around the space shuttle and give a guided tour of the major areas and describe what is done in each area. This will be called The Ultimate Field Trip.”
— Christa McAuliffe
“I think the Space Shuttle is worth one billion dollars a launch. I think that it is worth two billion dollars for what it does. I think the Shuttle is worth it for the work it does.”
— Pete Conrad
“I had been here five years already, training very hard, learning about the systems, the shuttle, the station systems. But, everything really became real when I started to work with them.”
— Philippe Perrin
“After the loss of Columbia a couple of years ago, I think we were reminded of the risk. All of us, though, have always known that the Space Shuttle is a very risky vehicle, much more risky than even flying airplanes in combat.”
— Mark Kelly