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"Even if the chance was low, an attempt should have been made to save the members of the Columbia team"

This is what Jonathan Clark, the husband of the astronaut Laurel Clark who died in the Columbia disaster, said yesterday in a panel held at the International Space University at the Technion. Rona Ramon, Ilan Ramon's widow agreed: "Every idea had to be tested"


Columbia disaster panel at the Technion International Space University, 31/7/16. Photo: Avi Blizovsky
Columbia disaster panel at the Technion International Space University, 31/7/16. Right to left, John Connolly, Rona Ramon, Jonathan Clark, Doug Hamilton. Photo: Avi Blizovsky

"It was possible to at least try to save the Columbia crew members, but when you don't try, the chance is zero, any attempt would raise the chance above zero." So said last night Jonathon Clark, Baylor College of Medicine, associate professor of neurology and space medicine, and husband of the astronaut Laurel Clark who died in the Columbia shuttle disaster, in which Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut, also died.
"My role in the investigative committee was to analyze the astronaut rescue component. I was very disappointed by those who said at NASA that nothing could be done anyway. Since the disaster, technologies have developed in regards to astronaut rescue, it's a shame that it cost people's lives. If we knew, we would at least try. Anything is better than zero."

Clark said these things at a panel that dealt with the human aspect of the Columbia mission held as part of the International Space University currently taking place at the Technion. Also participating in the panel were Rona Ramon, Ilan Ramon's widow and chairman of the Ramon Foundation, which deals with space and science education. Doug Hamilton, associate professor at the University of Calgary, former flight surgeon at the Canadian Space Agency, and John Connolly, International Hal University (ISU) and director of the space studies program, Missions and exploration systems at NASA. Connolly headed one of the many teams that searched an area of ​​3000 square kilometers in East Texas for the remains of the ferry.
Rona Ramon also agreed with him: "I am not an engineer. As for the question of whether it was possible to save the crew members? I don't know what the technical answer is. NASA people are so brilliant that if they realized there was a serious problem I believe that if they brought back the Apollo 13 crew they could also bring back the Columbia astronauts. Instead of being at the best time, the decision making at NASA was in a different direction. We learned about the shocking facts 8-7 months after the accident and of course it changed the whole perspective on the subject. You had to test every idea, and not take anything for granted and say that if it happened before, it's fine."
Hamilton: "The issue came up in the command team. There was disagreement as to whether it was dangerous or not. I should have known we should have thought about what to say to the team. If it is a catastrophic situation I would give them three more days and then they would land and the disaster would happen then. There was also an idea to fix the broken wing in space. But I only found out after the disaster. As a flight surgeon I should have given them the option. During those three days we would try to think of solutions but for some unknown reason NASA decided not to provide the information to the mission managers. I couldn't understand why the decision was made."
Connolly: "If there was an understanding that there was a danger, we would have moved to the Apollo 13 mode, the stay could have been extended up to 30 days. After the disaster we decided that all the shuttle flights would be for the assembly of the space station and that in the event of an emergency the astronauts would wait at the station for rescue. There was also the idea of ​​Luther on the mission to repair the Hubble and we finally carried it out when another shuttle was waiting on the second launch pad. It's in retrospect. I would be happy if they were given a chance to find a solution.

The cover of the book "The Crash"
The cover of the book "The Crash"

The four also addressed relationships with team members and their families.
Ramon: I don't remember the exact moment when we met, but what was so special for the team, we became a big family, and we were an extraordinary team, we had a total of 12 children, four of them mine."
Clark: "I had a special status because my wife was an astronaut and I worked at NASA, I moved there from the Navy, I met Ilan and his backup man (Yitzhak Mayo, AB) in 1998, you could feel the presence of a very special, humble person But with great curiosity and a kind of sense of humor. He had the ability to make us laugh in special ways. When Laurel was assigned together with him I said it was a spectacular experience." Turning to Ramon, Clark said: "I appreciate the fact that I had contact with you and the other Columbia families."
Hamilton: During the training I got to guide them in the simulator as an airborne doctor. They went to the kitchen to eat and I was left hungry. Ilan asked Rick Husband (mission commander) where he (Ali) is from and what I like. The husband told him that Canada and I like meat, he brought me beef stroganoff"

According to Connolly, part of the unusual camaraderie arose because the mission was delayed no fewer than 18 times because NASA's priority was to launch shuttles to assemble the space station and perform spacewalks, and Columbia was not upgraded to be able to fly to the space station. They were together for three years.
This seniority was also manifested in the fact that the astronauts knew how to perform the tasks in the field of biology and life sciences by heart. "It was a kind of mini space station for conducting many experiments in the field of life sciences without taking them to the space station. Connolly said.
Hamilton: "Initially the mission was supposed to be an experiment of artificial gravity. But it didn't help, so they switched to experiments in the field of life sciences. The astronauts learned the experiments by heart thanks to the many years and even repaired experimental facilities in space. A significant part of the results of these experiments was transmitted in real time to the ground, which allowed scientists to analyze them."

Ramon: "They performed experiments from all over the world and even trained several times in a simulator in Europe, and there was the Israeli Medex experiment, they performed 83 experiments. From the team's side they did a fantastic job. They worked on all the experiments, 80% of the knowledge came down in real time, which allowed the researchers to continue working on the materials."

9 תגובות

  1. Columbia's orbit was completely different from that of the space station, and there wasn't enough time or fuel to allow it to change to bring it close to the station. Even if they had reached the appropriate proximity, Columbia did not have the physical ability to connect to the space station, and Columbia did not have a space suit to allow at all to check the situation and try to repair it (not to mention equipment and spare parts). As far as I remember the time of handling some other shuttle and preparing it for a rescue flight was also beyond Columbia's maximum operating time.

    In this situation, could they create a possibility to return Colombia safely or rescue its people? It is impossible to know. My bet is that maybe they could have designed the return path to put less stress on the damaged wing and slow down its heating.

  2. In retrospect, everything seems clear. The astronauts are going to die, aren't they? So they had to organize some sort of rescue mission. Any attempt is better than no attempt...
    It's so easy to get caught up in it. Especially since you weren't involved in the decision making.
    But life in conditions of uncertainty is very difficult. Things are not as clear as they seem after the fact. There are people who will cause an uproar over any phenomenon the size of a grain, and there are people who will dismiss a phenomenon the size of a mountain. Go make decisions under these conditions….
    to make many decisions under conditions of uncertainty. To watch, to pay attention to exceptions, to analyze, to hypothesize what will happen, to decide how to act. Decide, gentlemen. its not easy. Sometimes it's hard to despair. You must distinguish between a circle and an ellipse. Only sometimes the ellipse is so similar to the circle, so similar. In retrospect, it turns out that some of the decisions were excellent, and you pat yourself on the back. And some are bad. And you torment yourself with whips, "How did I not see?" It cannot be avoided. Next time I will pay more attention, I will make a better decision." But of course, next time there will be uncertainty again.
    Shame on the Columbia staff. Excellent people have fallen into the void. The best we can do in their memory is to learn and draw lessons. Yes. It is also possible to derive personal lessons. But carefully, sensitively, moderately.

  3. Wait, surely she couldn't connect to the space station. The chance that both were on the same track is negligible. And making a course change in space takes a lot of fuel.

  4. To 101: It seems to me that Columbia was not able to reach the space station. Maybe a lack of fuel. But if so, then that was also an option.
    To A. Benner: I agree one hundred percent. But it is a fact that the engineers tried to convince the management. Only the attempt failed for the reasons you mentioned.

  5. What "Herzl" and "101" claim here is true, and this is what Israelis would have done, if the operation had been conducted by Israelis.
    For the Americans, on the other hand, it is simply impossible. As elementary as they are on the one hand, on the other hand they are square like a cube.
    In the American mind, there is no possibility of improvising an action that was not planned in advance and is not listed in the operating instructions of the operation.
    This is their advantage and their disadvantage. In AMLAV (for now there is nothing to be done about it)

  6. There was also the trivial and simple possibility of ordering the Columbia crew to dock at the International Space Station and wait there until a rescue mission. But of course the managers chose to close their eyes and bury their heads in the sand.

  7. There was also the trivial and simple possibility of ordering the Columbia crew to dock at the International Space Station and wait there until a rescue mission. But of course the managers chose to close their eyes and bury their heads in the sand.

  8. After the launch it was clear that there was a serious problem with the heat shield. The engineers demanded to direct the vanity to the shuttle and see what exactly the problem was. The managers refused to confirm this, arguing that if there is such a problem, there is nothing to be done and the ferry is doomed to crash.
    In my opinion, it was possible within two days to understand that the problem would not allow the shuttle to land. It was possible to act in two ways - a. Trying to fix the heat shield. But apparently there weren't enough spare insulation panels. B. Launch another shuttle - if everyone in NASA was mobilized, it might be possible to launch a shuttle in about a month. third. Launch in a regular launcher (Russian? French?) designed for satellites full of food, water and oxygen for the shuttle, and allow the survival time to be extended to two months or more.
    But the executives refused to discuss any option. In my opinion, the entire management is guilty of manslaughter due to negligence.

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