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NASA: The piece of foam is not the cause of the Columbia explosion

Ron Ditmore, director of the shuttle program: It doesn't make sense that a piece of foam weighing one kilogram caused the explosion; Investigators are expanding the investigation of the disaster; It is possible that an explosive found in the landing pad is the cause of the explosion

NASA researchers are expanding the Columbia disaster investigation after ruling out the assumption that the piece of foam that hit the shuttle's left wing during takeoff was the cause of the crash.

Ron Ditmore, director of the shuttle program, said it did not make sense that a piece of foam, weighing a little more than one kilogram, disrupted the entire protective covering of the shuttle. He said that the researchers noticed that the automatic rudder system tried very hard to maintain the direction of the flight when entering the atmosphere.

"Something that happened in the left wing pulled the shuttle to the left and the automatic system added more and more power in an attempt to maintain the flight direction," Ditmore said. NASA researchers are investigating the possibility that the rise in temperature in the landing pad to 33 degrees Celsius caused the disruption. The landing gear has explosives designed to be activated in case of difficulty in releasing the gear. "It is possible that the heat caused the explosive to explode, and that was the cause of the disaster," Ditmore added.

It was reported in "Voice of Israel" that Ditmore mentioned the possibility that it was debris from previous launches that hit the shuttle, but according to him such hits are rare, even though they have happened in the past.
NASA: The falling foam is not the only cause of the accident

By Natan Gutman (USA) and Tamara Traubman


At a press conference held yesterday in Houston, NASA clarified that even after repeated tests, it does not believe that the detachment of a piece of insulating foam during takeoff was the only factor that led to the shuttle's crash.

Ron Ditmore, director of the shuttle project at the US space agency, said that "it doesn't seem logical to us that this is the key factor in the loss of Columbia. There must be another reason." Ditmore noted that NASA experts are investigating whether during the launch or flight there was another incident of damage to the insulation that was not detected.

Meanwhile, it was learned that NASA was warned nine years ago that a disaster could occur if the protective tiles on the bottom of shuttles were damaged. According to the AP news agency, scientists from Stanford and Carnegie Mellon universities in the US expected that an impact could cause a shuttle to explode. The scientists, whose research was funded by NASA, also pointed to the ice accumulating on the fuel tank as a main source of the pieces that could fall on the tiles. A similar scenario is now being tested as the leading theory, for now, of the chain of events that led to the crash.

Paul Fishback, a professor at Carnegie Mellon said that after NASA received the warning, "changes were introduced in the materials and flight rules, in order to reduce the risk of parts breaking that could damage the tiles (...) There are very important tiles down there", he said. "If tiles loosen in these parts, this could cause a ferry to be lost." NASA claims that they did not ignore the warning, but did not attach much importance to it in light of their positive experience with the tiles.

An inspection conducted in 1994 found that NASA was having difficulty training technicians to glue and test the insulation tiles. It turned out that more than once the technicians glued the tiles carelessly and in one case a technician was found to have spat on the adhesive to speed up the attachment. Testing the durability of the tiles also requires a special skill that is not found in all land workers.
  NASA researchers are looking for the shuttle's encrypted transmitter  
 NASA researchers are focusing on an area in Texas with top secret remains 

The director of NASA's shuttle program, Ron Ditmore: It is possible that the falling piece of sealing foam during takeoff was after all the cause of the Columbia crash.

NASA researchers are looking for top-secret remains, and they are carefully scanning a certain area near Bronson, Texas.
A newspaper in Houston reported that it was a communication mechanism through which messages transmitted between the shuttle and the control center were flooded. It was not stated why the researchers are focusing on the particular area.
The head of the space agency Sean O'Keefe clarified today that the researchers will also examine the possibility that a block that detached from the shuttle during the launch caused the damage that led to the shuttle's crash. Yesterday, the team of investigators announced that they had abandoned this avenue of investigation.
And in the meantime, editorials in American newspapers and commentators there expressed doubts about the independence of the investigation.

Col. Ramon's name will be engraved on the memorial monument at Cape Canaveral
The name of the Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon will be engraved on the memorial monument for American astronauts at Cape Canaveral in Florida.
The directors of the foundation responsible for the memorial site in Florida discussed the question of Ramon's inclusion in the state dedicated to American citizens, and decided in the affirmative. Steven Feldman, chairman of the foundation, said: "Ramon flew with American astronauts on an American shuttle, and his name will appear with them."
NASA is checking if shuttle parts fell during launch
by Nathan Gutman

The NASA investigation team is now looking for new avenues of investigation after concluding that the impact of the insulation foam fragment on the left wing cannot explain the loss of the shuttle. NASA is currently investigating several other possibilities for the malfunction.

Another avenue of investigation that is currently being examined is a rare combination of events during take-off, that is - damage to the insulation fragment in the wing and some additional damage, which was not noticed at the time of launch.

The investigative teams have sent representatives to the Cape Canaveral area in Florida who are scanning the area and the beaches in an attempt to locate debris that fell during the takeoff on January 16. Other theories being tested concern a stay in space. There is a possibility that the shuttle was hit by an asteroid or a fragment of a satellite or an old spacecraft floating in space. This possibility was not given much credence at first because the astronauts would feel vulnerable.

A possible solution may come from the searches on the ground in the west of the USA. The researchers are devoting effort to locating fractures in California, New Mexico and Arizona, west of the main fracture distribution area, in Texas and Louisiana. If the fragments of the shuttle are discovered there, then it will be the first fragments that fell, before the beginning of the disintegration of the shuttle.

These fragments, if found, could explain to NASA researchers what was the first part of the space shuttle that did not withstand the load and led to the "domino effect" that collapses the entire system. Each of the million parts that make up the shuttle carries an identification number, which makes it possible to know exactly where it is located.

A memorial service for the astronauts was held yesterday at the National Cathedral in Washington. Vice President Dick Cheney, in his obituary, said that America would continue its space program to expand human knowledge.

Assessment: The crew sensed that something on the landing was going wrong

By John Noble Wilford

Colombia / The temperature rose more and more, until the connection was lost
New York Times

The Columbia team apparently knew something was wrong. However, no detail that emerged from the investigation and that was reported by NASA, or that was heard in the transmissions between the shuttle and the ground did not prove this. There is currently no certain data that suggests that the astronauts knew the severity of the problem the shuttle encountered during the landing.
The estimates, based on interviews with astronauts and former astronauts, who described step by step the moments of landing, indicate that the seven, for a few seconds or maybe only a few minutes, knew their situation. In Colombia they knew that things were not working as planned.

In the last lap around Keder Ha'aretz, Columbia was about 283 km above the ground at a speed of about 27,841 km/h. The astronauts sat in their seats. The shuttle commander and the pilot sat down in the cockpit, and fired up the maneuvering engines to turn the shuttle and bring it to the angle necessary for braking before landing.

The cockpit crew searched for clues to abnormal activity, and the first case occurred at 15:52 (according to Israel time, 8:52 EST). At this moment it seems that the temperature has risen beyond normal. Up until that minute, this flight was no different from other shuttle flights.

Columbia began its landing at 15:15 over the Indian Ocean, when four computers activated the two engines of the maneuvering system for 2 minutes and 38 seconds, to slow the shuttle's speed to about 278 km/h. After this move, the expedition commander and the pilot followed the information that appeared on their computer monitors. The commander checked the information to make sure the computer was maintaining an appropriate landing speed and direction of flight. Up to this moment everything was working fine.

The maneuvering engines brought the shuttle to a landing position, or what is known as the "angle of attack". The nose of the shuttle was at an angle of 40 degrees, which exposes the lower part of the shuttle and the wings - in order to divert the heat caused by the friction in the atmosphere. This is done under the control of computers. The astronauts continued to follow.

The angle of attack is essential to ensure safe entry. If it is greater than 40 degrees, the shuttle may overturn and its sensitive parts are exposed to heat. If the angle is more obtuse, the shuttle enters the atmosphere too fast to be fatal. From the information provided by NASA, it seems that at this point everything was working fine.

At 15:45, half an hour before landing, the shuttle entered the atmosphere at an altitude of about 120 km. At this point only the air slows down her speed. The shuttle turned down. The steering engines were turned off and the computers sent instructions to the wing racks and other control surfaces to maintain the planned course and angle. The shuttle is moving too fast. The computer still controlled the gaim. According to Rob Navias, a spokesman for the Johnson Space Center, if something goes wrong the astronauts can override the computers, but such a thing has never been done - except in a very extreme case, because computers react faster than humans.

At 15:52 the temperature rose and three minutes later, over California, the temperature continued to rise. At 15:57 over Arizona and New Mexico, the temperature rose above what could be measured by the shuttle instruments. Something went terribly wrong, but the problems happened so quickly that neither the control center nor the shuttle crew could detect them until it was too late.

It appears that the control systems lost control in efforts to stabilize the shuttle and flight became more difficult.

"Shortly after that point we lost all contact with the crew, and no information from the shuttle came through," said shuttle program manager Rod Ditmore.

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