Date: Fri Feb 28 2003 - 17:22:22 PST
AOL's report: (I did not see it, if it was broadcast)
SPACE CENTER, Houston (Feb. 28) - In a videotape released Friday by NASA,
Columbia astronauts in the final minutes of their lives sipped drinks, put on
their gloves, joked and mugged for the camera, unaware of the catastrophe
The cassette was found among shuttle wreckage three weeks ago.
''Looks like a blast furnace,'' commander Rick Husband comments to his crew,
referring to the bright flashes outside the cockpit windows as Columbia
re-entered the atmosphere.
''Yep, we're getting some G's (gravity),'' replies his co-pilot, William
McCool. ''Let go of the card and it falls.''
''You definitely don't want to be outside now,'' Husband adds.
Says Laurel Clark, seated behind them: ''What, like we did before?'' drawing
a big laugh.
The digital tape was discovered near Palestine in East Texas on Feb. 6 - five
days after the shuttle disintegrated just 16 minutes away from its landing in
Florida. The investigation board suspects a breach somewhere in the left wing
let in superheated gases.
The 13 minutes of tape also shows flight engineer Kalpana Chawla. All four
are clad in orange flight suits, with their helmet visors up, and seen going
through routine checklist activities in the cockpit. The other three
astronauts were seated on the lower deck.
Husband is seen sipping from a drink pouch and, along with McCool, putting on
gloves. The two women take turns smiling for the camera; Clark gives an
especially wide grin.
NASA broadcast the tape on its television service early Friday afternoon. It
was introduced by astronaut Scott Altman, who commanded the previous mission
of Columbia, a year earlier. Altman said of the more than 250 tapes flown
during the doomed flight, this was the only one recovered that had any
recording left on it.
Because of heat damage, the tape ends four minutes before the first sign of
trouble, said an official close to the accident investigation who spoke on
condition of anonymity.
NASA acknowledged the existence of the tape on Tuesday. Officials wanted to
make sure all the astronauts' families saw it before broadcasting it to the
public. It holds no investigative value, officials said.
The tape shows routine flight-deck activity beginning around 8:35 a.m. Feb.
1, as Columbia soared 500,000 feet above the south-central Pacific Ocean, and
continues until 8:48 a.m., when the shuttle was over the eastern Pacific,
southwest of San Francisco, at an altitude of less than 300,000 feet.
Eleven minutes later, Mission Control lost contact with Columbia. And 32
seconds after that, all communication ceased as the spaceship shattered over
The video was shot with a small onboard camera mounted to the right of
McCool, at the front of the cockpit, NASA said. He removes the camera at one
point and hands it to Clark to continue filming.
Columbia was 38 miles up, traveling Mach 18 or 18 times the speed of sound,
when it came apart. The fact that the video cassette was preserved is
''remarkable,'' said Charles Figley, director of the Traumatology Institute
at Florida State University.
''Some might view it as a miracle,'' Figley said. ''Suddenly here is a
postcard of these men and women.'' He added that the video should provide
additional peace of mind for the astronauts' families, because it shows them
happy and doing what they loved.
It is clear that none of the astronauts had a clue about their impending
doom. NASA officials said Husband was notified about the tank debris that
smacked into the left wing barely a minute after liftoff on Jan. 16 and also
the results of the engineering analysis that concluded any damage to the
thermal tiles posed no safety threat.
Flight controller Jeffrey Kling, who was the first one in Mission Control to
report problems in the left wing during Columbia's plunge through the
atmosphere, said earlier this week that Husband seemed to be satisfied with
the engineering results that were relayed to him.
The astronauts seated in Columbia's lower deck were Michael Anderson, David
Brown and the first Israeli in space, Ilan Ramon.
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