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The day before the Columbia crash, NASA engineers drew up an accurate scenario of the expected disaster

The American space agency (NASA) published yesterday the transcripts of e-mail messages sent by safety engineers, who specifically warned a day before landing about the crash of the shuttle "Columbia" on landing, due to damage to the left wing. The external investigation committee into the circumstances of the crash is investigating why the warnings were not addressed

The remains of "Columbia" at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, yesterday. Among the fragments was found a video tape containing the minutes before the shuttle entered the atmosphere

One day before the Columbia disaster, senior NASA engineers were concerned that the left wing might burn and kill the crew. The engineers described a scenario like the one the researchers believe actually happened. However, they did not spread their fears through the conventional channels of NASA. This is according to a document of dozens of e-mail pages published on Wednesday.

"Why are we talking about this the day before landing and not the day after launch?" William Anderson writes, working for United Space Alliance - a NASA subcontractor, less than 24 hours before the shuttle disintegrated.
A few days earlier, a frustrated engineer asked, "Will we do anything to solve the problem of damage to the tiles or will all the people involved just cross their fingers and hope for the best?"
After an intense debate - mainly by phone and e-mail - the engineers, supervisors and heads of NASA's Langley facility in Amphon, Virginia, decided not to transfer the treatment to the heads of NASA.
Jeffrey Klingeg, a flight controller at the control center in Houston, predicted with great accuracy what could happen to Columbia during reentry, if extremely hot air penetrated the wheel system.
Kling wrote only 23 hours before the disaster that the engineering team was filling in such a case to prepare for escape (in case the wing does not burn, allowing the crew members to get out). Kling was among the first in the control room to report the sudden loss of data from the left wing sensors.
The e-mails describe a broader debate about the risk to Columbia than the concerns expressed three days earlier by Robert Doherty, another senior engineer at Langley. He was mostly concerned about the shuttle landing with flat wheels or otherwise damaged from the extreme heat.
Doherty was responding to a Jan. 27 question from Carlyle Campbell, a NASA engineer at the Johnson Space Center, about how heat intrusion during reentry might affect the shuttle's wheels. One day in the middle of the argument, Doherty expressed frustration to Kemble, about the lack of attention to his comments about joining the fingers and hoping for the best.
Among the messages was one from Doherty's boss at Langley, Mark Schwart, to another Langley executive, Doug Dwyer, who described Doherty as the kind of conservative and thorough engineer that NASA needs.

Another mail from McCoin McLoney, a mechanical engineer for the shuttle at the Johnson Space Center, described the risk that could lead to LOCV - NASA's abbreviation for "Loss of crew and shuttle" - but McLoney recommended that nothing be done unless there was a general loss of data from sensors on the left wing, and then the control personnel will be required to decide between a risky landing or a rescue attempt. "I'm straining to think what the breaking point is between the two decisions," McCluney wrote.

The researchers reported such a loss of sensors on the left wing, but it happened too late to do anything - after the shuttle had already begun to enter the Earth's upper atmosphere, and several minutes before it disintegrated. NASA decided that abandoning the shuttle is possible only when it stabilizes in the atmosphere at a relatively low speed and at an altitude of 20 thousand feet (about 6 kilometers) or lower. Columbia disintegrated as mentioned at an altitude of about 65 kilometers and at a speed 18 times the speed of sound, close to 19 thousand km/h.
Many of the emails released Wednesday were collected at the behest of Robert Ditmore, the shuttle program manager at the Johnson Space Center. In a message the day news agencies reported Doherty's concerns, Ditmore asked for copies of the emails "so I can see the traffic and get A feeling about the discussions held".
Doherty's concerns and continued arguments with other engineers came days after an engineer at Boeing, another NASA subcontractor, assured that Columbia was safe despite damage to the left wing caused by the launch of pieces of insulation foam from the external fuel tank.
In response to Dittmore's request for the emails, Robert Dormus, a NASA employee at the Johnson Center, described it: "We had a discussion of what would happen but we all expected a safe return."
The emails themselves revealed that Dwyer, an interim manager at Langley, had written to the research center's director, Dale Freeman, asking if he could contact William Reddy, NASA's joint director responsible for manned spaceflight. NASA officials said yesterday that Freeman never spoke to Reddy, and Freeman decided he assumed the problem was resolved after he discussed the matter with Langley engineers.

Meanwhile, NASA researchers discovered among the debris of the shuttle "Columbia" a video tape recording the last minutes of the flight, before entering the atmosphere. In the recording, several members of the crew are seen as they engaged in routine operations before landing.

It does not teach anything new about the circumstances of the crash. NASA decided to allow the astronauts' families to watch the tape, before releasing it to the public.

John Ira Petty, a NASA spokesman, said that the film did not reveal any new clues about the causes of the shuttle crash. The film was screened in front of the astronauts' families and will be shown in Congress, before being released to the general public.

And in the meantime, NASA is examining the possibility that in the future the astronauts will be able to repair malfunctions in space, such as gluing porcelain tiles to the protective layer, instead of tiles that will break or detach from the shuttle body. This requires special training of the staff members during their training.

The Los Angeles Times writes that the possibility of using a robotic arm on the International Space Station, which costs a billion dollars, is also being considered to check the shuttles' stomachs. The arm, which is about 17 meters long, may be used as a platform on which the astronauts will stand outside the shuttle and perform repairs on its lower part. Columbia did not have enough fuel to reach the space station, but on future flights access to the space station will be part of the journey routine.

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