Ron Dittemore Is Sure It Was Something Different

The loss of a thermal protection tile couldn’t cause catastrophe of the shuttle. Something different occurred on Columbia’s board. What could it be?

Today George W. Bush and his wife Laura Bush will participate in a ceremony dedicated to memory of perished Columbia astronauts. The ceremony will start at 9:00 p.m. Moscow time and will be broadcast by all central American TV channels. The event is to take place at NASA’s Lincoln Space Center in Houston, right at the place where an analogous ceremony was held in 1986 when Challenger shuttle exploded at a take-off. The president and his wife will meet with families of the perished astronauts.

Yesterday, NASA shuttle program manager Ron Dittemore held a press-conference at the NASA Mission Control. As Russia’s news agency RIA Novosti reports, Dittemore said that “it couldn’t be because of the loss of a thermal protection tile” that temperature on board the shuttle suddenly rose before the catastrophe.

The temperature rise registered in the undercarriage trunk and in shuttle’s left wing before the catastrophe made up 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit. Ron Dittemore says that if the hull of the shuttle was broken, the temperature would have been much higher; at landing a shuttle is wrapped in plasma and the temperature makes up 2000 degrees Fahrenheit overboard. He says, the cause of the catastrophe was something different.

Thus, the temperature rise inside the shuttle is just an evidence of some problem on its board. Experts cannot say so far what kind of problem this may be. Dittemore says it is not ruled out that this problem will never be identified.

Besides, new, more precise data concerning what was going on the shuttle before the catastrophe were reported at the press-conference.

At 4:52 p.m. Moscow time, 24 minutes before scheduled landing, three undercarriage sensors in the shuttle’s hull registered a sudden temperature rise. A NASA spokesman says, “it was the first warning of some troubles on board the shuttle.”

At 4:53 p.m. Moscow time, the shuttle Columbia was over California, the fourth sensor registered a temperature rise of 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit in the left undercarriage. In two minutes (4:55 p.m.) the fifth sensor also registered a temperature rise. Temperature sensitive elements of the left wing’s upper and lower covering failed when the shuttle was over Arizona and New Mexico at 4:57 p.m. At 4:59 p.m. Moscow time, when Columbia was over eastern Texas, the airborne computer responded to the shuttle list to the left and gave a command to the right maneuvering engine to start for a couple of seconds to straighten the shuttle out. Soon after that communication with the shuttle was lost.

On the whole, it will take NASA one more day to obtain all information concerning the shuttle’s catastrophe. At present, searches of the shuttle’s debris still continue. Specialists say it is unlikely that the thermal tile that was damaged with the thermo-insulation at the take-off will be found. According to the recent information, about 12 thousand of different debris of the shuttle have been already found; searches for more wreckage is carried out on the territory of 28 thousand square miles and delivered to the Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. Experts will try to reconstruct the shuttle in order to find out the cause of the catastrophe. Fragments of bodies of all of the seven astronauts have been already recovered.

Meanwhile, as Britain’s Guardian reports today, the NASA leadership was informed two days before the catastrophe that a thermal tile protecting the shuttle from thermal overload was seriously damaged. The newspaper writes, one of NASA engineers informed that a 76-to-19 centimeter section of the tile on the left wing was damaged. And the edition wonders if anything could be done in this connection to avert a catastrophe.

As Russia’s news agency RBC informs, NASA still insist on the main version of the Columbia catastrophe saying that the accident occurred because of a damaged thermal tile of the shuttle’s upholstery. Now specialists are trying to estimate the injury caused by a part of the thermal protection system damaged at the start and dropped into the shuttle’s left wing.

Israel’s Air Force command is considering the possibility of posthumous raising the rank of Colonel Ilan Ramon perished in the Columbia catastrophe. As BBC reports, the rank of colonel was conferred to Ramon seven years ago, he would have been obligatorily conferred the rank of a brigadier general after his return from the orbit. A final decision on raising the rank of Ilan Ramon will be taken after official recognition of the colonel as perished.

So, it is not clear yet what was the true cause of the US shuttle’s catastrophe just 16 minutes before scheduled landing. All possible variants of the tragedy and all versions are to be considered to find out the cause. As Russian radio Golos Rossii (Russia’s Voice) stated: “One thing is for sure: space exploration won’t be stopped no matter how hard human losses are.”

Russian astronaut Yury Gidzenko, member of the first crew of the International Space Station, knew the astronauts killed by the Columbia explosion. He said in an exclusive interview to the Russian radio station: “I grieve over the perished astronauts like all Russian cosmonauts. The Columbia demise is a tragedy not only for the USA, but also for Russia. I knew personally four of the perished. I meet with all of them in NASA. When I got back from the International Space Station in March 2001, I was delivered to the Earth in a shuttle as well.”

In the words of Yury Gidzenko, Russian astronauts say that shuttles of this construction are good, they are very convenient for the crew.

Press-secretary of the Russian Aerospace Agency, Vyacheslav Mikhailichenko is sure that cooperation of both countries will continue: “Specialists must count up everything and check the plans for errors. Everything can be restored. I am perfectly sure that Russia-America space cooperation will continue.”

Sergey Yugov PRAVDA.Ru

Translated by Maria Gousseva

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