debtNASA officials don’t really care about this time of year. Fifty-six years ago, on January 27, 1967, astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee died in a launch pad fire aboard the Apollo 1 spacecraft while they were rehearsing the countdown. . On January 28, 1986, the Shuttle Challenger exploded during launch, due to a seal defect that caused one of her solid rocket boosters to ignite an external fuel tank. bottom. As seven astronauts died, including New Hampshire schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe, the pair of solid boosters flew carelessly, leaving a terrifying two-finger fireball in the sky.
Seventeen years later, on January 28, 2003, astronaut Rick Husband, commander of the then-orbiting shuttle Columbia, celebrated his anniversary. “They made the ultimate sacrifice,” he said. Their dedication inspired each one of us. ”
Just four days later, on February 1, 20 years ago, Columbia met a similar demise as Challenger, collapsing on re-entry and hot plasma tearing apart the spacecraft. It is located on the leading edge of the left wing. Her husband and his six crew members died when a shuttle en route to landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida left a trail of debris extending from eastern Texas to Louisiana.
“Toxic rain of broken shuttle debris rained down on backyards, roadsides, parking lots, through dental office roofs, pieces of Nacogdoches machinery, San Augustine hands and feet,” said Nancy Gibbs of Time magazine. I write as part of a magazine. Cover package for the week.
Then-President George W. Bush scheduled a call with the families of the lost crew members later in the day and spent part of the morning researching the crew biographies to find out which astronaut had a spouse. and asked if he had children.
“Tough day, tough day,” Bush could mutter to himself as he prepared to make the call.
Yes it was. NASA initially responded with a certain minimalism and stoicism, as NASA does in such situations. As I reported in an article accompanying Nancy’s article, “‘Space Shuttle Emergency Declared,’ Mission Control’s voice was inflated amid the space agency’s insipid claim. It’s an echo of a low-key announcement 17 years ago when the Shuttle Challenger was engulfed in a terrible fireball, forcing a stunned NASA narrator to declare ‘a clear major failure’. ”
But NASA has done other things when faced with tragedy. Found the cause of the problem and fixed it. In the case of the Apollo 1 fire, it involved redesigning the spacecraft from top to bottom to avoid accidental sparks that could cause flames, and replacing the pure oxygen atmosphere in the cockpit (which burns like gasoline) with oxygen. meant to replace with – Nitrogen mixing when the spacecraft is at high internal pressure on the ground. (In space, the internal pressure is much lower due to the vacuum outside, and the spacecraft could be safely filled with pure oxygen.) Changed the fabric to burn-resistant solid cloth. For the Challenger, solving the problem required a redesign of the solid fuel booster and changes to the firing rules. This was to prevent the uncharacteristic Florida freeze that occurred that January morning from weakening engine seals and causing liftoff.
In the case of Columbia, the first task was to determine the cause of the shuttle failure, which caused hot plasma to penetrate the spacecraft. It was eventually tracked by liftoff footage to a suitcase-sized piece of rigid insulating foam that had fallen from the outer tank during the spacecraft’s first moments of flight and struck the wing. It meant doing away with the insulation foam at the confluence (the area where the deadly debris fell) and replacing it with a heater. It also meant that on future flights to the International Space Station, the shuttle pilot would do a sort of pirouette of the spacecraft for visual inspection by the station’s astronauts. I had another shuttle ready in case I had to start a mission to rescue the crew on board the ship that couldn’t be rammed.
But both Columbia and Challenger also brought about a different kind of change. It’s like an inversion to the future in spacecraft design. The rocket revolution that the Shuttle program heralded was intended to put an end to the old model of launching a human on top of a booster into space, then throwing the rocket away after a single use. The new shuttle is reusable, the spacecraft itself glides gracefully back to Earth, the spent solid boosters are parachuted into the ocean and recovered, and the external tank (just a giant shell of metal and piping) ) are discarded. .
But the old design NASA avoided with its shuttle had life-saving advantages. above firework. Since the days of NASA’s first manned flights, spacecraft and booster stacks have been designed so that sensors detect an impending problem with a rocket, and an escape engine blows up the capsule containing the crew. In his two-seater Gemini program in the 1960s, he signaled the commander to pull her D-shaped ring that activated an ejection seat with a parachute.
In the new shuttle design, the crew was stationed directly next to firework. The Challenger tank explosion occurred while the shuttle was riding on it like a human on horseback. Columbia’s wings would not have been damaged had they not been positioned below where the tank foam fell. Even before her remaining three shuttles were retired in 2011, NASA vowed in the future to return to the old model of separating fuel and humans and crews on top of missiles. space launch system, the model employed in NASA’s Crescent rocket; SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Starship rockets; A Starliner spacecraft carrying a Boeing crew. And for SpaceX, both the first stage of the Falcon 9 and the planned Starship rocket have returned to upright landing and can be used again, which has largely solved the disposable problem. .
Twenty years after the most recent loss, and generations removed from previous losses, NASA never fades the memory of the missing men and women, or the sacrifices they made. Each year, on the last Thursday of January, the space agency hosts his NASA Day to celebrate their lives and mourn their deaths. We consider space travel a staple of his 20th century and his 21st century life. But the crew makes big bets on physics, fate, and engineering as they board the spacecraft. We all benefit from the fact that they do.
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