[FPSPACE] BBC Horizon "Guide to the Space Shuttle"...could the Columbia have been saved?
juliermiller at earthlink.net
Wed Apr 25 15:12:46 EDT 2012
Every single scenario I've seen which claims that Columbia could have
been saved assumes several things -
A change to the laws of physics (having Columbia rendezvous with the
space station or launching anything from Bakinour)
Too much knowledge which didn't exist at the time (anything which
requires hindsight or any information unavailable to the mission
control teams during the mission or finding out information before it
was actually available)
Equipment aboard Columbia which didn't exist (Columbia had no EVA
compatible cameras - video or digital, no robot arm, and only had
LiHO canisters, etc.)
Almost infinite resources on the ground (the capability to ask,
receive permission, and gain access to launch vehicles in other
countries, prepare ascent profiles in less than a week, some kind of
canister which would fit on that rocket, etc.)
A team on the ground which never (or at least almost never) makes any
mistakes and always selects the correct choices while preparing for
the rescue attempt.
If you do come up with a scenario where this super-intelligent never
makes mistakes team can save Columbia, then you've got to ask
yourself why didn't the same people have those abilities in October
2002 at the STS-113 flight readiness review when the STS-112 falling
bipod issue was addressed and effectively ignored? That's the point
where the Columbia "rescue" scenario should have been performed -
ground the fleet until a fix is in place, just as was done for the
flowliners earlier that year.
Discussing scenarios for saving Columbia's crews is like discussing
how all of the passengers on the Titanic could have been saved, or
saving everybody in the second World Trade Center tower after the
first one was hit, or any other historical scenario. It's always
easier to say why didn't they do things differently after the fact.
Borrowing an Ariane rocket to launch supplies to extend Columbia's
stay in space requires many assumptions - a new launch trajectory
which had never been flown, more maneuvering and engine restarts of
the Ariane upper stage than has ever been done, a non-existent cargo
canister (to say nothing about the shipping and customs problems to
get the cargo to French Guiana), no rendezvous aids, some way of at
least *partially* stabilizing that container once it's within place
where it can be reached from an outstretched arm in a spacesuit, some
way of getting that container temporarily attached to the shuttle (I
suppose an EVA tether would do, even though the container would
probably bounce back and forth and eventually damage the tunnel), a
way of avoiding the jack-in-the-box effect when opening up the
container to take the stuff into the airlock (unless you're assuming
that you can squeeze everything into a container small enough to fit
into the airlock), and probably a bunch of other things.
Remember that the repair/rescue scenarios which NASA came up with
under the CAIB's orders starts with the assumption that there's
ABSOLUTE FIRM EVIDENCE 5 days after launch that Columbia is doomed
and will not survive reentry. Only with that hard axiom in place do
you make the decision to cancel all crew activity, including the
experiments the crew was performing, kill the rats (two extra LiHO
canisters), and go into minimum power mode. And even that assumes
that you've got no major issues while preparing Atlantis for a rescue
mission AND that you're willing to launch Atlantis with the absolute
knowledge that on two of the previous three launches foam fell off
the bipod (STS-112 and STS-107) and caused damage to flight hardware
in BOTH instances and you don't know whether or not it fell off on
the third (STS-113) because it was a night launch. And even then,
that rescue scenario was devised after weeks of work and the
knowledge that the Columbia accident had occurred (hindsight).
They COULD NOT have had hard evidence that early - there just wasn't
enough information that early. The fact that the foam hit wasn't even
known until the day after launch when the film was examined.
Every single day STS-107 was in space the crew was busy performing
their experiments, including extremely heavy exercise for the
European ARMS experiment. That consumes a LOT of LiHO cans. Only
after the Mission Evaluation Team is concerned enough that there
*might* be a chance that a rescue would be needed would it be
justifiable to tell the crew to stop doing experiments and power down
everything until Mission Control can determine whether or not the
wing is safe, if an emergency spacewalk might be needed, or whatever
else might be necessary. If that happens after about half way into
the mission they've already consumed enough LiHO cans that there
wouldn't be enough time to fly up emergency supplies.
I don't recall how many LiHO cans were onboard or how many extra
weather wave-off days were available to the crew. I read that there
was no consideration to extending the mission for science because the
Biotube payload wanted to come back as quickly as possible.
If six members of the crew decide to sacrifice themselves and take
the mythical suicide pills which don't exist then the remaining
person would have enough supplies to last much longer. But - right or
wrong - Mission Control considers the crew to be "one unit" when
considering rescue scenarios, plans are only devised where everybody
can be saved.
A plausible rescue which doesn't violate the laws of physics is not
impossible - I'll agree with that. But impossible and could actually
have been performed in the real world within the actual absolute
constraints - I don't think so. (IMHO of course).
Of course for many of the media (not all) it's much more
exciting/newsworthy/interesting to talk about possible rescue
scenarios than the hard facts and real world limitations. (IMHO of course).
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