Updates; March 2009; Scientific American Magazine; by Philip Yam; 1 Page(s)
Columbia¿s Last Moments
The final minutes of Columbia, which broke up on reentry on February 1, 2003, hold lessons for future vehicles [see ¿Rethinking the Shuttle¿; SciAm, April 2003]. On December 30, 2008, NASA released its definitive report regarding the crew. Although the accident was not survivable by any means, the agency found several safety flaws.
Relying on video analysis, recovered debris, medical findings and computer modeling, investigators conclude that the crew had about 40 seconds to recognize the situation and act before losing consciousness because of cabin depressurization. Shoulder restraints failed, allowing the crew¿s upper bodies to move as the cabin spun out of control. The pressure helmets did not conform to the astronauts¿ heads, like motorcycle helmets would, so they afforded little protection from impact. The report states that uncontrolled motions led to ¿injuries and lethal trauma.¿