Columbia shuttle crew died within seconds: NASA report


Washington : The astronauts, including India-born Kalpana Chawla, who died in the 2003 disintegration of the space shuttle Columbia as it returned to Earth had just seconds to respond before becoming incapacitated, an in-depth report on the tragedy has said.

Support TwoCircles

The 400-page report released Tuesday by NASA was aimed at gleaning lessons for crew survival from the tragedy that killed Columbia’s seven-member crew. The accident was blamed on foam that broke from the craft during takeoff and damaged heat shielding tiles, a defect that caused it to burn up during reentry.

The report found that there were just 40 seconds from the time control of the orbiter was lost before the cabin depressurised, causing the crew to lose consciousness. The window was so short and much of that time may have elapsed as the crew attempted to troubleshoot the problem that the astronauts could not fully deploy their safety suits, NASA said.

“The Columbia depressurisation event occurred so rapidly that the crew members were incapacitated within seconds, before they could configure the suit for full protection from loss of cabin pressure,” the report said.

“Although circulatory systems functioned for a brief time, the effects of the depressurisation were severe enough that the crew could not have regained consciousness.”

The study also found the crew faced other deadly conditions, including seat belts and helmets that did not properly shield them, the breakup of the crew module, exposure to near-vacuum conditions and low temperatures, and impact with the ground.

NASA recommendations include safety devices that would deploy automatically, changes to helmet and seat belt designs and greater focus on emergency response training.