On February 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia broke apart while re-entering the atmosphere over Texas, killing all seven crew members on board. The disaster occurred minutes before Columbia was scheduled to land at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. An investigation later determined the catastrophe was caused by a problem that took place shortly after launch on January 16, when a piece of foam insulation broke off from the shuttle's propellant tank and damaged the edge of the shuttle's left wing. The Columbia disaster was the second major tragedy in the history of the space shuttle program after the space shuttle Challenger broke apart shortly after launch on January 28, 1986, and all seven astronauts on board perished.
COLUMBIA SPACE SHUTTLE DISASTER
Fllight risk management
In a risk-management scenario similar to the Challenger disaster, NASA management failed to recognize the relevance of engineering concerns for safety for imaging to inspect possible damage, and failed to respond to engineer requests about the status of astronaut inspection of the left wing. Engineers made three separate requests for Department of Defense (DOD) imaging of the shuttle in orbit to more precisely determine damage. While the images were not guaranteed to show the damage, the capability existed for imaging of sufficient resolution to provide meaningful examination. NASA management did not honor the requests and in some cases intervened to stop the DOD from assisting. The CAIB recommended subsequent shuttle flights be imaged while in orbit using ground-based or space-based DOD assets. Details of the DOD's unfulfilled participation with Columbia remain secret; retired NASA official Wayne Halestated in 2012 that "Activity regarding other national assets and agencies remains classified and I cannot comment on that aspect of the Columbia tragedy." Throughout the risk assessment process, senior NASA managers were influenced by their belief that nothing could be done even if...
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