Originally published 01/31/2013
What would you tell seven astronauts if you knew their space shuttle was crippled on orbit?It was a question that faced NASA's Mission Control considered after initial suspicions that something might be wrong with the shuttle Columbia as it was making its doomed reentry in 2003.Wayne Hale, who later became space shuttle program manager, struggled with this question after the deaths of the Columbia crew 10 years ago. Recently he wrote about the debate in his blog, recalling a meeting to discuss the dilemma:"After one of the MMTs (Mission Management Team) when possible damage to the orbiter was discussed, he (Flight Director Jon Harpold) gave me his opinion: 'You know, there is nothing we can do about damage to the TPS (Thermal Protection System). If it has been damaged it's probably better not to know. I think the crew would rather not know. Don't you think it would be better for them to have a happy successful flight and die unexpectedly during entry than to stay on orbit, knowing that there was nothing to be done, until the air ran out?"...
Originally published 08/09/2005
The underside of the Space Shuttle Columbia shortly before it began to burn up upon re-entry on February 1, 2003. Credit: U.S. Air Force. Columbia shuttle crew not told of possible problem with reentry (1-31-13) Jonathan Coopersmith: After Columbia, Now What? (8-5-05) NYT: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the Space Program (2-2-03)