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Final: Columbia crashed because of the foam impact

The shuttle's fate was determined one minute and 22 seconds after takeoff * Experiments carried out by the shuttle disaster researchers proved that the impact of the pieces of insulating foam on the wing caused it to crash; Pieces of insulating material were "shot" at a model of the wing and created a hole in it; The spacecraft was lost from takeoff

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The "Columbia" team in one of their last photographs in space

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Experiments carried out as part of the investigation into the crash of the space shuttle "Columbia" found what was defined as the "smoking gun" that caused the accident. The experiments proved that the cause of the crash was indeed an impact of insulating foam on the wing of the shuttle.

The accident investigators "shot" pieces of insulating foam, such as those detached from the shuttle's body during takeoff, at a replica of the spacecraft's wing. The foam was blown towards the wing at a speed of about 220 km/h and caused a hole with a diameter of about 40 cm. Scott Hubbard, one of the members of the investigation team said that "the experiment we performed demonstrates that this is actually the more probable cause that caused damage to the wing, which resulted in the shuttle crashing and the loss of its crew." The AP agency reports that the series of experiments that helped unravel the mystery cost 3.4 million dollars.

From the beginning of the investigation, the members of the official inspection team estimated that the impact of insulating foam that was detached from the body of the shuttle caused damage to the wing, resulting in its disintegration upon entry into the atmosphere in early February. The researcher Hubbard described the experiment and said that "it was so dramatic, the damage to the wing was so dramatic. This is probably the type of damage that caused the spacecraft to crash."

The researchers believe that the latest findings leave little room for doubt that the fate of the shuttle and its seven crew members was lost 22 minute and XNUMX seconds after liftoff. At this moment in takeoff, the cameras clearly showed how a number of insulation tiles broke off from the shuttle's external fuel tanks and hit the left wing. NASA knew about the damage to the wing but did not think that there would be damage that would lead to a crash.

3 senior NASA officials who played key roles in the "Columbia" launch were removed

by Nathan Gutman

"Haaretz" correspondent in the USA

Washington. The management of the American space agency, NASA, decided on Tuesday to remove three senior officials from the shuttle project, who held key positions during the launch of the space shuttle "Columbia", which crashed on February 1.

The three, the director of the Columbia expedition during its stay in space, Linda Hamm; The director of the Space Vehicle Engineering Office, Ralph Roe and engineer Lambert Austin, were the ones who led two fundamental decisions, which in retrospect turned out to be wrong - the first was not to attach much importance to the blow the shuttle received from the block of insulation foam that broke off during takeoff and to be satisfied with the engineering analysis that determined that the blow was not significant, and the second was Avoid ordering photos of the shuttle's shell, using spy satellites, photos that could have revealed the damage caused to the shuttle from that blow.

The dismissal of the three was decided by William Parsons, who was recently appointed head of the shuttle project at NASA, after the resignation of Ron Ditmore. The head of the American space agency, Sean O'Keefe, said that the transfer of the senior officials from their positions does not result from their poor performance during the Columbia disaster, but from the desire of the new director to change the composition of the team leading the project.

Columbia disaster: did a similar fault appear in Atlantis?

In 2000, after Atlantis landed safely, a defect in the sealing of the insulation tiles on the wing was discovered. It turned out that hot gases penetrated the wing during the return to Earth but did not cause serious damage. A defect in the insulation tiles is, according to experts, one of the causes of the Columbia crash six months ago

A few days after a NASA experiment provided, according to the experts, the "smoking gun" in regards to the Columbia shuttle disaster, it was revealed that the Atlantis shuttle was saved from a similar fate.

According to information that appeared in NASA documents, during a mission in 2000, the shuttle Atlantis suffered damage to a wing that caused the intrusion of hot gases during the return to Earth. A similar gas intrusion is, according to experts, the main reason for the disintegration of the wing of the shuttle Columbia in February, an event that finally led to its crash in the skies of Texas.

Damage to the insulation tiles

The documents show that the damage to the wing was discovered only after Atlantis returned from its mission. Experts estimated that it was caused by the penetration of hot gases during the entry phase into the atmosphere, when the shuttle passes from outer space to the upper layers of the atmosphere and the shuttle's body is subjected to enormous friction and heat pressures. The hot gas penetrated, the experts estimated, between the insulation tiles of the shuttle wing, due to improper assembly or a defect in the sealing between the tiles.

The shuttle was not seriously damaged, but after the discovery of the malfunction, the heads of NASA ordered a change in the method of assembling the tiles and an inspection of the integrity of the assembly in all the other shuttles. Atlantis was also repaired and returned to flying four months later.

Damage to the insulation tiles is, according to experts, the cause of the Columbia ferry crash. The experiment carried out yesterday supports the opinion that emerges from the work of the investigative committee appointed to look into the circumstances of the Columbia crash. Information states that insulation foam detached from the shuttle's external fuel tank during takeoff on January 16, 2003. The foam hit the wing with great force and apparently caused serious damage to the insulation tiles. It is also possible that during the stay in space several tiles were detached and part of the wing remained exposed.

When returning to Earth, the part of the damaged wing was exposed to the immense heat and according to the estimate the shuttle body simply melted. The hole expanded and the hot gases began to "eat" the shuttle from the inside. The wing was severely damaged and the shuttle began to lose balance. Changing the angle and the flight computer's attempts to overcome it only increased the friction and heat and finally caused the shuttle to crash.

Yesterday's experiment was carried out on the Atlantis wing: he discovered that indeed insulating foam can create a hole in the wing and cause irreversible damage. The investigative committee is expected to publish its conclusions in about a month. After the publication of the conclusions, NASA hopes that they will be able to set a future date for the return of the shuttle fleet to activity. Atlantis, by the way, is expected to be the first shuttle to fly into space after the end of the silence.

The book "The Crash" by Avi Blizovsky and Yefa Shir-Raz"
They knew the Columbia disaster

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