Columbia Tragedy: All Versions of Catastrophe Possible

Investigation of Columbia disaster is posing more and more questions. For instance, some amateur astronomer managed to take a picture of a strange phenomenon when the shuttle tragically fell down; the pictures clearly depict a bright orange flash resembling an electric discharge. Specialists cannot say so far what the flash could be. San Francisco Chronicle published an article on this problem today.

Meanwhile, as Russia’s Vesti.Ru informs, a preliminary version of the tragedy suggested by NASA specialists proves to be true: the tragedy occurred because of failure of special thermal tiles that protect the shuttle from burning up during re-entry. Computerized data from the shuttle and analysis of its debris prove the version. But in order to reconstruct the exact picture of the tragedy, specialists need to assemble a puzzle from debris of the shuttle scattered in the radius of 160 kilometers.

Unfortunately, there is practically no hope that airborne recorders of the shuttle will be decoded; this information is provided in NASA with an addition that space airborne recorders are not strong enough.

The first session of an independent panel for investigation of the catastrophe causes headed by retired Navy admiral Harold W. Gehman is to take place in Louisiana today. Previously, Harold Gehman helped investigate the 2000 terrorist attack on the USS Cole in Yemen. However, George W. Bush won’t wait until the investigation is completed, he plans to proceed with manned flights and even to increase budgetary financing for the space program. But NASA sticks to a different opinion: specialists say that shuttle launching will be resumed only when the investigation finds answers to all question arising in connection with the accident.

But the number of question still prevails over answers. It is likely that computerized data of Columbia flight will make the situation clear, decoding of the data has been already started at the Houston Mission Control. Information of the computers is expected to help find out what happened on board the shuttle several minutes before the tragedy.

However, someone is already trying to recreate the circumstances of the air tragedy. Shuttle program manager Ron Dittemore suggested his version of the tragedy. He says that approximately 22 minutes before landing temperature suddenly rose in the fuselage. It increased by 60 degrees Fahrenheit within five minutes, after that Columbia took a list to the left. Then the shuttle lost connection with the surface. To all appearances, the automated flight system tried to adjust Columbia’s path. The crew of the space shuttle couldn’t control the situation any longer. “Although no exact conclusions can be drawn right now, we still consider failure or loss of the thermal tiles of the fuselage right after the shuttle’s start as one of the causes of the accident.”

Meanwhile, the USA reports that remains of several crew members have been recovered, they are currently under identification. The exact number of victims isn’t reported. There is still enough evidence supporting the original hypothesis saying that the accident occurred because of failures in the thermal protection system. Although specialists consider all possible causes of the catastrophe, at that they emphasize the fact of suddenly increased temperature in the fuselage before the tragedy.

As Russia’s television ORT informs, in the nearest time NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe will inform the US president and Congress of the investigation of the shuttle crash. Russian news agency RIA Novosti mentions that an experiment was held during Columbia’s last flight when the Mission Control and the shuttle communicated through the Internet. Experiments of this kind were held even earlier. For instance, in 2001 NASA specialists created an Internet server on a space satellite for the first time; a year before that, an experiment was held to transfer data from Columbia to the Earth with the help of Internet connection. During Columbia’s last flight NASA used a special Internet protocol, ONMI. Before it was used in space for the first time, it was tested with a US coastguard vessel.

So, it was for the first time that a space craft got an Internet address of its own which provided it with connection with the Earth through the satellite. Such an experiment was held for the first time; it is no wonder that when the catastrophe occurred, it was almost immediately reported that it could be somehow connected with the Internet experiment carried out during the flight. It will take some time to find out whether such suggestions are true or absurd.

On Sunday NASA recommended American citizens to abstain from attempts to sell debris of the shuttle as “it is property of the US Government.” However enterprising Americans started publication of announcements on selling of the debris on the largest Internet auction eBay right in few hours after the tragedy. Later the administration of the Internet auction had to delete them hastily. Instances of looting are reported from Nacogdoches where the number of Columbia debris is great. The FBI started investigation of such cases.

Law enforcement services are taking much effort to cordon off the region where remains of the shuttle dropped. It is prohibited to touch the debris as they may be toxic. It is reported that about 70 people who touched debris of the shuttle already appealed for medical aid, they complain they feel bad. National mourning is declared in the USA till February 5. More information is to come soon.

Sergey Yugov PRAVDA.Ru

Translated by Maria Gousseva

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