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The shuttle tires shed light on the disaster * The astronauts knew the malfunction and deactivated the autopilot

NASA's investigation reveals that at some point the shuttle's autopilot was disconnected; Apparently, the crew noticed the malfunction and tried to control the situation themselves; Senior officials: The investigation is taking longer than planned


Picture left: Columbia's main left tire in the remains storage hall. On the right - complete right tire
Picture left: Columbia's main left tire in the remains storage hall. On the right - complete right tire


"Columbia" began to disintegrate before the connection was severed
CNN reported early this morning that NASA denies the claims that someone, apparently the astronauts, took command from the autopilot before the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated. As you may recall, we published on this website about two weeks ago that in an attempt to prevent the drift caused by the fault in the left wing, the ferry fired four engines intended to correct its course. Two of the ignitions were clearly by the autopilot and the cause of the other two is unknown, meaning it is unclear whether they were also carried out by the autopilot or by the crew.
New details from the investigation into the crash of the space shuttle "Columbia" at the beginning of February reveal that the disintegration of the shuttle's body began even before contact with it was lost. It also appears that at some point the autopilot meant to land the ferry was disconnected, apparently because the crew members realized the malfunction and tried to control the situation themselves.

Natan Gutman, Haaretz reports that in the last few days, following findings that came up in the investigation, NASA updated the sequence of events in the last moments before the crash. From the updated version, the 14th in number, it appears that two seconds before contact with the ferry was finally lost, it was already evident that it was in distress. The data that arrived indicated that the auxiliary engines were unable to stabilize her trajectory, and that she tilted to the side at a rate of 20 degrees per second.

This means that the shuttle was actually in a spin and that it completed a complete revolution around itself every 18 seconds. The reason for the spinning was a severe impact that the shuttle suffered on its left side, which caused it to "drift" in that direction. The shuttle's control system automatically activated the right auxiliary engine to stabilize it, but due to the heavy impact stability was not possible.

It is still unclear what hit the wing

The new information also shows that at some point, before the loss of contact, the shuttle crew members disconnected the automatic pilot mechanism, and tried to control the shuttle themselves. Normally, control is transferred to the autopilot from the moment of entering the atmosphere until the shuttle slows down to below the speed of sound, due to the difficulty of the crew to operate in the jolts and pressures caused by entering the atmosphere. The disconnection of the autopilot system apparently indicates that the astronauts realized there was a problem and tried to control the spinning shuttle themselves, although it is also possible that the system disconnected itself after failing to stabilize the flight path.

The researchers also do not rule out the possibility that the automatic pilot mechanism was inadvertently stopped by one of the astronauts. It turns out that the operating handle of the mechanism is placed in such a way that it was possible to turn it off by an accidental touch. From the recordings of the conversations with the shuttle, it appears that Commander Rick Husband himself turned off the mechanism by mistake, a few minutes before entering the atmosphere. He immediately noticed the problem and fixed it. NASA does not attach importance to this incorrect shutdown of the system, but notes that this event is evidence that the autopilot mechanism may have been turned off accidentally and not on purpose.

NASA's inspection team is still far from forming any real conclusions about the factors that led to the crash disaster, and senior officials at the agency said that the investigation is taking longer than they first estimated. The difficulty the researchers face is determining the exact factor that led to the damage to the wing, and the way in which this damage led to the disintegration of the entire shuttle.
The shuttle tires shed light on the disaster

Tires and debris recovered from the remains of Columbia led NASA engineers to propose that the left tires exploded, causing a hole in the passenger compartment and thus allowing extremely hot gas to enter the shuttle's left wheel area, under the left wing. This is what researchers said on Thursday 6/3/03.

Officials with the independent investigative team looking into what caused the fall of Columbia said the new findings, while very tantalizing, leave many questions open.
"We believe that there is a possibility that the tires on the left side exploded," said Roger Tetrault, a member of the Columbia disaster investigation team. "The tire blowout could be a catastrophic event." specified
"These tires were hanging on the brakes and they were literally pushed out," he told reporters in Houston.

On the other hand, the tires on the right side appear to be in better condition even if you compare them to airplane tires surviving an air crash.
The question of whether the explosion happened before or after Colombia began to break up remains open. Until contact with the shuttle was lost, the data transmitted from it indicated that the pressure in the tires was normal, says the chairman of the committee, retired admiral Harold Gehman.
Besides all six tires, the search teams also found other components that shed some light on the disaster, although it is clear that it was caused by a crack in the left wing, which allowed hot gas to penetrate the structure of the spacecraft. The insulation tiles were pierced with burn marks, and engraved with molten scars. The fragments on the starboard side appear thin and black and include molten aluminum that apparently dripped from the shuttle's inner frame. Tetrault says that, moreover, remains found and shuttle data show that very hot air came out of the left wheel's undercarriage.
Gehman says the team is working hard to figure out what all this night of information means. The researchers are also looking to find out where and how much gas could have moved through the wing. "We are trying to find a script that will match the temperature readings." said.

Molten aluminum is found on the Columbia tiles

Molten aluminum was found on Columbia's insulation tiles and inside the tip area of ​​the left wing, and this confirms the theory that the shuttle was destroyed by hot gas that penetrated and damaged one of the points on the left wing.

Roger Tetreault, a member of the team, said that he suspects that the melting happened due to the intrusion of hot gases as well as due to the enormous warming in the passage through the atmosphere.
"My best guess is that eventually, we'll find both causes," he said. "The molten aluminum looks like black soot, and it's on both the left and right sides of the spacecraft." said.
Many of the tiles on the left side appear to be smeared with a black layer, the like of which we have not seen in any flight so far." said Tetrault.
According to him, the two left tires showed evidence of unusual and extreme heating: "They were flat and their inner was torn, almost certainly they burst in the last seconds of the shuttle's flight, Tetrolet said.
In any case, the damage to the left tires may have been caused by the heat coming from the wing. This heat, in turn, could have caused the explosives used to open the landing gear to detonate in case the door jammed just before touching the ground.
"I wouldn't speculate as to whether it was the door exploding and the passenger compartment falling that caused the accident. This may be a result and not the cause," said Tetrulet, a retired senior manager of several companies, and with experience in nuclear submarines.
The researchers also theorized that the foam or other debris that broke off from the external fuel tank during the January 16 launch caused damage to the wing, most likely the tip area, possibly the area around the passenger compartment - and allowed heat to penetrate the wing and destroy the shuttle.
The search for remains continues, the investigative committee held a public hearing
The investigation into the loss of the space shuttle Columbia and its crew continues. On Friday, investigators continued to search for the remains of the ferry in Texas. The day before, senior officials announced that about 417 square kilometers had been scanned so far. The search for debris is being coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
That same day, the Columbia disaster investigation team also met for a hearing at the University of Houston on the Clear Lake campus adjacent to the Johnson Space Center. The head of the investigation team, Harold Gehman and the other members of the team will question several people, including the director of the Johnson Space Center, Jefferson Howell and the director of the shuttle program Ron Ditmore.

In response to Gehman's request, three more researchers joined the team. Among them are Nobel laureate in physics Douglas Oshroff, former astronaut Dr. Sally Ride, and the director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, Dr. John Logsdon.
By Wednesday, NASA had received 6,541 still images and 34 video clips of Columbia, including the entry into the atmosphere, the debris and more from the public and the media.
In the meantime, the chairman of the investigation team, Harold Gehman, said that the team will delve deeper into the question of what role NASA management and the agency's organizational culture played in the disaster. However, it is more important, at this stage, to find what exactly caused the accident. He referred to the e-mail exchanges between flight controllers and other engineers in the final days of the Columbia flight, according to which they discussed the possibility that debris from the launch caused severe damage to the left wing. They said that they are constantly dealing with "what if", and did not suspect any serious problem, even though some of them predicted what would happen if a crack formed.

Meanwhile, the committee's deliberations moved from the Johnson Space Center to the nearby university. The crew members sought to distance themselves from the agency, and in fact asked NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe to remove some senior shuttle program officials from the investigation. Gehman said he was satisfied that O'Keefe had complied with the request. He refused to name the senior NASA officials whom he asked to be removed from the investigation.


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