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February 18, 2003
Challenger's Shadow
Hardware, Management
Point to Columbia Breakup!

John C. Macidull and Lester E. Blattner, Contributors

Shuttle Columbia at Liftoff    WASHINGTON, D.C -- As the Columbia investigation intensifies, we're hearing all kinds of sense and nonsense: It was an old shuttle; the tiles were always falling off; maybe it hit space debris.... Regardless of these speculations, the 1986 Challenger investigation taught us that certain elementary safety precautions should have been in place.
    The Columbia disaster shows that these precautions hadn't been implemented and several safety alternatives that were in place were ignored. Even after it was obvious that a large piece of insulation had come off the external tank and hit the underside of the left wing and its fragile but critical tiles, no abort was recommended. Then, during sixteen days of orbit, there was no inspection either by high-resolution telescopes or by a space walk. No one considered sending a rescue shuttle because no one knew whether there was any critical damage!
    The backpedaling that NASA is now doing is very impressive in its creativity. Who would think, for example, that a piece of soft foam insulation could cause any damage? NASA has already performed tests and concluded it couldn't. But do they tell us what kinds of tests they performed? Is foam still soft at minus 30 degrees F? Does the dynamic air pressure at fifty thousand feet, moving at over twice the speed of sound, have enough force to propel the piece into the wing and cause massive damage? They assume the public cannot understand this. The only thing the public knows is that "foam is soft," so they ride that horse for a while.
    Despite the deliberate confusion sown by NASA, there is a consistency to it... all their theories and speculations point in the direction of some bad piece of hardware... something that cannot testify in a court of law... something that draws attention away from management.
     As many have stated, the Columbia was an accident waiting to happen. "The fuse was already lit," Macidull says. "There were tile failures on nearly all of the previous shuttle flights, none of which were caused by external impact. Columbia was sent into space with probable damage, then it was brought back without even checking how this damage might have affected re-entry. Does NASA management believe they're above the laws of physics? Apparently, they do."
     John Macidull should know. He was on the Presidential Commission to investigate the Challenger Space Shuttle accident. He'd lost a classmate in the explosion; he was involved in the investigation; and he had been lied to, so when it was all over, he kept gathering information.
    As a result of his findings, he co-authored a book with Les Blattner-- Challenger's Shadow: Did Government and Industry Management Kill Seven Astronauts?--to tell what actually happened, who contributed to the accident, and how much of the truth was kept hidden from the world. Since the Columbia accident, Macidull has been interviewed on NBC Nightly News, CNN Crossfire, ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, MSNBC Dateline, by USA Today, the Washington Post, New York Post, New York Times, the London Daily Express, the Boston Globe and others.
     On the CNN Crossfire interview in which he participated, Astronaut Thagard said NASA was unaware until the next day that the insulation had come off and had possibly hit the left wing. But all information about the launch and the shuttle goes to Control Central. "If they don't know exactly what is happening to the stack," asks Macidull, "who does?"
    Shuttle missions are monitored from beginning to end. The entire liftoff sequence is videotaped. The single videotape released by NASA clearly shows that a large piece of foam came off the external tank, disappeared under the left wing, and then reappeared behind the wing going in a different direction, toward the wing tip.
    Macidull contends that "it is highly unlikely that this was caused by the air stream. It is very likely that it hit something to change direction so abruptly and within such a short distance. The only thing it could have hit was the underside of the left wing where critical re-entry heat tiles are...or were. This was hard evidence of which NASA had to be immediately aware."
     The flight crew has no TV monitor inside the cockpit. With no way to check the body of the shuttle themselves, the astronauts rely on ground control to safeguard their lives. NASA has already publicly stated that there were no abort options to consider. By saying they knew nothing of the problem until a day later, NASA management has succeeded in diverting attention and responsibility. After all, there can be no abort options to consider if they don't notice anything until the shuttle is already in orbit.
     And there's more. NASA could have sent an astronaut out on a tether to take pictures for closer analysis. Eugene Cernan, the last person on the moon, said that it is impossible to do any work outside the shuttle without having something to hold on to. "This is true. Nice spin," Macidull comments. "But a Columbia crewman wouldn't be out there to do any work. All he or she would do is float, probably rotating a little at the end of a tether to get a close-up photo of any damage that may have been there."
     NASA is looking for space junk, hardware problems, ionization inside the re-entry flames, meteorites, anything to keep their management from being held responsible. But the fact remains that they could have done much more than they did. They could have aborted the mission, examined the ship from the ground through high-resolution telescopes, sent an astronaut out on a tether to ascertain the damage, or even launched a rescue shuttle if necessary.
    They did do an analysis after Columbia was in orbit, and concluded that any possible tile damage was of no concern. But they had no facts about any existing damage to analyze. Why? Because they had become dangerously complacent and professionally irresponsible.
     According to Macidull, "NASA shuttle management, during both the Challenger and the Columbia missions, seems to have had two glass boxes in their offices. One said, "In Case Of Possible Catastrophe - Break Glass." The other said, "After Catastrophe - Break Glass." Both boxes contained enough sets of blinders to cover most eyes in the room.
    Watching the NASA management post-accident shell game concerning the Columbia is like watching history repeat itself. The price paid by the Challenger crew should have contributed to saving the Columbia and all lives onboard."

     [Editor's Note: Order your copy of Challenger's Shadow online through or at your local bookstore.
Challenger's Shadow: Did Government and Industry Management Kill Seven Astronauts? Author: Macidull and Blattner; ISBN: 1-932047-39-5; # of Pages: 156; Hardcover; Publisher: Llumina Press, PO Box 772246 Coral Spring, FL 33071]


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