Monday, February 03, 2003
THOUGHTS ON THE COLUMBIA: I have been an avid follower of the space shuttle programme ever since I was 9. I still vividly remember borrowing my sister's old black and white to watch the Columbia lift off at aroud 7AM for the very first time in 1981 with Crippen and Young on board. Young later went on to head NASA through some difficult times after the Challenger disaster. Back then, the external tanks were painted white, not the orange they are now. Columbia always had a special place in my heart as the first. I mourn the ship and passengers... NASA officials claiming that if the insulation from the tanks hitting the heat shields on liftoff was responsible there would have been nothing they could have done about it sounds suspiciously like ass-covering to me. Frankly, I'd be surprised if that wasn't the cause. All indicators point to a heat buildup in the vicinity of where the heat shield was supposedly struck. It's not as if the Columbia would be suffering from any other stressful malady such as metal fatigue. Despite being the oldest in the fleet, Columbia had comparatively few cycles on its clock compared to, say, your average six month old 737. Columbia probably even had more reinforcements than any of the other orbiters due precisely to its being the first. If the heat shield incident does turn out to be the culprit, the area could have been inspected by the astronauts, the space station or any of a large number of ground or space based lenses. If the heat shield incident does turn out to be the culprit, someone should be held responsible for bad decision making.