The crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia died on Feb. 1, 2003 when a hole in the spacecraft's wing caused it to break apart on its return to Earth.
The crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia died on Feb. 1, 2003 when the ship was destroyed on its return to Earth due to a hole in its wing. Space Shuttle Columbia crew, left to right, front row, Rick Husband, Kalpana Chawla, William McCool, back row, David Brown, Laurel Clark, Michael Anderson and Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon. NASA
The debris from the Space Shuttle Columbia was collected and cataloged at the hangar at Barksdale Air Force Base, Shreveport, La.
The debris from the Space Shuttle Columbia was collected and cataloged at the hangar at Barksdale Air Force Base, Shreveport, La. NASA
NASA released a detailed study Tuesday about the 2003 Columbia space shuttle disaster, suggesting fixes that might help protect crew members in less catastrophic accidents.
The space agency said none of the lessons learned would have been of much help to those who died when Columbia broke up on re-entry high above the Earth in February 2003.
NASA says the study confirmed there is no conceivable way the crew could have survived. As was previously theorized, the astronauts died either from lack of oxygen as the cabin depressurized or from injuries suffered as the shuttle spun out of control.
But the detailed review of what went wrong in February 2003 revealed many things that NASA says can be improved. For instance, the seat belts in Columbia didn't lock automatically when the shuttle encountered problems. And the helmets on the spacesuits were designed to help astronauts breathe — not to protect their heads.
The report recommends 30 changes based on the Columbia accident, most of them regarding pressurization suits, helmets and seat belts. Had some of those fixes been in place in 2003, it's possible the astronauts might have survived long enough to take more action to control the shuttle.
The 400-page NASA report also recommended that more safety features — including parachutes — be fully automated, relieving astronauts of the need to take manual action in times of emergency.
NASA says it has already incorporated some of the changes into the space shuttle and is incorporating other recommendations into the design of the next-generation space vehicle.