A bold plan that could save the shuttle "Columbia". Part 1

What you can do ... Source: Lee Hutchinson / NASA / NOAA i>

«If we die, we want people to take it for granted. We are engaged in a risky business and we hope that with us if something happens, the program will not be delayed. Conquest of space is worth it to risk your life for him. » B> i>
- Astronaut Gus Grissom, 1965

«First of all it is important to note that failure to" Columbia "occurred during that phase of flight, which, given the current structure of the aircraft, did not give the team a chance at survival.» B> i>
- From report of the Commission of Inquiry of the shuttle disaster "Colombia»

January 15, 2003, at 10:39 am Eastern Standard Time space shuttle "Columbia" was launched from Pad 39A Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After only 81.7 seconds, a piece of insulation foam fell off from orange external fuel tank of the ship and crashed into the leading edge of the left wing on the relative velocity of at least 640 km / h, but the "Columbia" has continued its ascent to orbit.

NASA did not observe strike on the air. Only after the shuttle reached Earth orbit, NASA launched the image analysis, which revealed the fact that the wing was hit. Spalling parts during start happening regularly and program managers decided not to shoot the orbital state of "Columbia" and a visual assessment of the size of the potential damage. Instead, a special team of NASA conducted a theoretical modeling of ship collision with debris, but was unable to reach any definite conclusions about the state of the wing of the shuttle. The mission continued.

In fact, punch broke at least one vital to ship carbon-carbon heat insulating panel which fringes the edge of the wing, resulting in a brittle ceramic material formed a huge hole. Sixteen days when "Columbia" again entered the atmosphere, superheated plasma penetrated into the internal structure of the ship through a hole in the wing and the shuttle began to fall apart.

In the Mission Control Center in Houston, the statement following the descent of "Columbia" began to notice interruptions in receiving telemetry data from the shuttle, then all voice communications and information sharing with the ship was lost. Even when there is evidence that there was an accident, operators continued to hope that they observe only a hardware error. Finally, at 9:12 on the central eastern time head to control the phase of input into the atmosphere LeRoy Cain gave the order, who were afraid to hear everything, and that sounded before only once, 17 years ago, when the "Challenger" sprawled on start: & quot; Lock the doors & quot ;.

It means recognizing that the worst happened: the mission is now moved into the "Emergency". Door control center were closed and operators inside began to record all the information carefully with their management consoles.

"Columbia" was lost, and all seven members of her crew were dead. NASA stands for this very rare and the worst possible situation as LOCV- «Loss of Crew and Vehicle» ( the loss of the vessel and the team - approx. Interpreter i>).

Full freezing h4>
«Colombia lost. No survivors. » B> i>
- President George W. Bush in his address to the nation about the incident, the central 14:14 EST, February 1, 2003.

The whole world of space flight measurement - first lamenting the dead, and after trying to figure out what happened. Congress placed the responsibility on the shoulders of the investigation the Commission to investigate the accident, "Columbia" (which, as is customary in NASA, received its name, acronym «CAIB», on the pronunciation of a name similar to "Gabe"). Within a few months after that, CAIB, in the course of its investigation, penetrated the structure of NASA and its contract providers.

In my own memories that followed the disaster, dominated by gloomy picture of the meetings and the crazy work. I then was the main system administrator Boeing Company in Houston, and since, we have supported the shuttle program, we had to look for and send a bunch of NASA analysts boxes bekapnymi cassette containing everything that happened on each of our servers, the data center during the mission .

In August 2003, CAIB published its final report . Along with the unveiling of a direct cause, which was to strike a piece of foam, the report contained a serious criticism of the decisions taken before and after the launch, representing NASA, as the agency, led by middle management, obsessed with obtaining high-profile results. Excessive concentration of structures on their own purposes and specific statements without additional focus on the joint work units and liaison between them, played at least as large a role in the crash than it did clash with debris. These accusations were given barely audible echo, already familiar to us from the events of 17 years ago, when many of them have already been sounded Commission Rogers , investigating the crash of the "Challenger".

Ultimately, what happened with the "Columbia" has led not only to the loss of human lives, but also the completion of many careers at all levels of NASA. Part of the famous flight of people to manage the program were transferred to other posts. Wreck "Colombia" also probably caused the resignation of Director of NASA Sean O'Keefe. Many people who worked on the mission, including a large number of people who work at NASA to this day, still struggling with post-traumatic stress and survivor guilt. All scheduled shuttle flights were suspended and three ship-companion "Columbia" - "Discovery", "Atlantis" and "Endeavour" returned to Earth.

NASA turned its gaze within itself, and we wondered if we now fly in space again.

A choice that was not done h4>
«To get a complete picture of events, the Commission has requested that NASA establish whether the team flight STS-107 able to return unharmed.» B> i>
- The report of the Commission of Inquiry of the shuttle disaster "Colombia»

The foregoing describes the events that actually happened. But let's imagine an alternative history of events for the mission, "Colombia", in which a NASA quickly realized how devastating blow was the wreckage. Was a safe way to take astronauts to orbit?

While writing his report, CAIB asking the same question, so they have requested from NASA to develop a theoretical plan of salvation for the repair and "Columbia", "based on the assumption that damage to the wing during launch would be seen at an early stage." The result was quite exclusive collection of documents that appears at the end of the report as "Appendix D.13». It passes under the modest title of & quot; possible scenarios during flight STS-107 & quot ; but the script that it describes would force NASA to work at maximum capacity, spending most ambitious space operations for the time of its existence.

The engineers NASA, responsible for planning, did have one ace in the hole, which make this plan possible: during the flight "Colombia» STS-107 "Atlantis" has already passed the preparation for the flight STS-114, whose launch was scheduled for March 1 . While the "Columbia" flew to the orbit, the younger the shuttle is in the area of ​​training ship №1 (OPF-1) at Kennedy Space Center. Three of its main engine has been installed, although in his cargo bay still missing flight equipment and hand-arm. There were still two weeks of preparatory work and bring it to a working state, after which he had to carry through the entire space center in huge blocks upright assembly to attach to the external fuel tank and a pair of solid rocket launch.

«Endeavour" on the stage of preparation in OPF-2. "Atlantis" was passing through the same procedures as "Colombia" was flying on his last job. Source: Lee Hutchinson / NASA / NOAA i>

And it follows that salvation is in orbit was at least possible, but preparations for the flight of the shuttle - an incredibly complex procedure, which involves millions of individual steps. To bring the launch of the "Atlantis" planners need to determine what steps in what procedures could be safely skipped without endangering the lives of the rescue team.

A desperate race h4>
«scenario assumes that decisions about fixing the shuttle" Columbia ", or the salvation of his team had to be taken quickly and without taking into account possible risks.» B> i>
- From the application D.13 report of the Commission of Inquiry of the shuttle disaster "Colombia»

However, even before these decisions could be taken, NASA was also to assess the amount of time they had to prepare. According to NASA on stocks, "Colombia", planners realized that the most critical issue for the astronauts was not a lack of something like air or water, but excess production of something else - namely, carbon dioxide.

Weight - a very valuable resource for the outer vessel. For every gram of weight you want to push into orbit you pay for fuel, adding that you also add on extra weight and for which you pay again, even more fuel (the vicious circle of "mass adds fuel which adds weight, which adds fuel which adds weight "is also called & quot; тиранией rocket equation & quot;). Not being able to get air out of the space, the ship sets off with a limited volume of air inside, which they process, returning to its structure missing gases. Space Shuttle carries an inventory of liquid oxygen and nitrogen, which are converted to a gas and mix with the air inside the vehicle-compartment in order to comply with the ratio of 78% nitrogen / 21% oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere. However, when this command is exhaled carbon dioxide which should be removed from the air.

To do this, air is filtered through the shuttle tank filled with lithium hydroxide (LiOH), which reacts with the molecules of carbon dioxide and forms crystals of lithium carbonate (Li2CO3), thus isolating the toxic molecule CO. Each of these containers contains a certain amount of LiOH, therefore their use is limited in time. "Columbia" was equipped with 69 such vessels.

However, to estimate how long these 69 vessels could survive difficult because there is very little reliable information about what level of carbon dioxide the human body can survive under low gravity. Standard rules for the behavior during mission indicate that it should be stopped, if the CO2 level will exceed the partial pressure at 15 mm Hg (About two percent of the volume of air in the vehicle-compartment). Engineers planning mission believes that they will be able to stretch the stock tanks with LiOH to "Columbia", so that the team will be available 30 days of flight, without exceeding a specified threshold. However, this would require the crew of each half-day to day conduct of the sleep, rest and do all that would not require a high metabolic activity.

Оригинальное Image Source: NASA / CAIB Report, Appendix D.13 i>

If the team was not able to stick to a low activity, then by the aviation physicians NASA, increasing the partial pressure of up to 26.6 mm. Hg. Art. (About 3.5% of the air volume of the vehicle-compartment) "would not have a lasting effect on the health of the crew." This would allow the team to work in a more normal schedule with 8 hours of sleep and 16 hours of wakefulness, the cost of possible physiological ailments such as headaches, fatigue and other problems associated with high levels of carbon dioxide that would have begun to emerge quite quickly.

Оригинальное Image Source: NASA / CAIB Report, Appendix D.13 i>

Next after filters carbon dioxide, the most restrictive in the consumption element - oxygen. Stocks of liquid oxygen used not only for recreation atmosphere breathable but also for generating electricity in a fuel cell the shuttle (which mixed hydrogen and oxygen to produce not only electricity but also drinking water). The amount of liquid oxygen on the board could be spread out over the same 30 days, in the case of filters with CO2, drastically reducing the consumption of electric power on "Columbia».

Three remaining consumable products are food, water and jet fuel. Assuming a minimum of movement on the part of the team, food and water could be spread over a much longer time than the stock tanks with LiOH. To save fuel, the ship would have to be located in space so that he needed a minimum of fuel to keep the exchange rate.

That is exactly when the command "Columbia" could shut the effect of these measures on the conservation of energy and oxygen dependent on short-order decision making. In the scenario that we consider, we assume that NASA is already on the second day of the flight (17 January) has determined that the impact of debris caused damage. Next would need another day out to collect images "Colombia", using "national assets", such as ground-based telescopes, as well as other space-based sources (such as spy satellites) under the control of USSTRATCOM .

Увеличенный size Source: NASA / CAIB Report, Appendix D.13 i>

If using the resulting images were able to determine the damage, "Columbia" would immediately went into low power mode. If the image does not allow the conclusion, the team undertook to EVA (extra-vehicular activity - go outside on the surface of the shuttle) to visually assess the damage to the wing and then cut off the electricity consumption would.

In any case, the third day of the flight marked the beginning to many sleepless nights for many people.

There are no errors, no alterations h4>
«Rescue Mission, being quite feasible, would be a challenge for all.» B> i>
- The report of the Commission of Inquiry of the shuttle disaster "Colombia»

Planning out of the shuttle would take out the entire 4 day flight (January 19), but the period of use of containers with lithium hydroxide to expire exactly 30 day flight (February 15), regardless of what happens on Earth. Therefore, at the same time, the Kennedy Space Center were to begin work to accelerate the preparation of the "Atlantis».

"Acceleration" - is too simple a word to describe a Herculean effort that would be required. Activity that typically takes weeks or months should be completed within hours or days. Officials and workers had to start working 24 hours a day, instruments were functioning continuously, would require every hour a day for 21 days to conduct the "Atlantis" through the checkout and prepare it for launch.

It would be three weeks of incessant and heavy clock operation without room for error or failure. Team Zone training ship, the Bloc upright assembly and launch site №39 were carried out correctly, millions of steps and each module "Atlantis" would have to function perfectly first time flying. Otherwise, the work would go down the drain.

Source: NASA / CAIB Report, Appendix D.13 i>

The forthcoming big. First of all, computers "Atlantis" had to be reprogrammed to match the changes in the mission. Fortunately, the flight software developed for docking with the ISS as part of the flight STS-114 can be adapted to mate with the "Columbia", even for this and had to change most of the parameters. Changes have been downloaded to your computer "Atlantis" during DOLILU-the Day of Launch Input Load Update ( Update on launch day - approx. Interpreter i>), a standard software update that shuttle gets two hours before the start . Usually DOLILU includes updating the control system, it is necessary to prepare the shuttle to the weather conditions on the day of the launch, but the update, we are talking about, would change everything setup flight. It would be a major upgrade to software that has ever attempted on the launch pad.

To quickly complete the "Atlantis", would miss a number of standard tests. After only 6 days of stay in the prep area of ​​the ship, the "Atlantis" had to get into the unit upright assembly, hour preparatory work in which would be able to save even 1 day to as soon as possible to connect it to the external fuel tank and booster rocket.


See also

New and interesting