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NASA Targets Problems To Make Space Travel Safer
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NASA Targets Problems To Make Space Travel Safer

Space

NASA Targets Problems To Make Space Travel Safer

NASA Targets Problems To Make Space Travel Safer
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The first NASA study of astronaut crew safety since the 2003 Columbia disaster was released Tuesday. While scientists found that there was nothing that could have been done to prevent that disaster, they did look into preventing other problems before they could come up.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

NASA has released a comprehensive study of what happened to seven astronauts killed when the shuttle Columbia broke-up in 2003. The hope is this report will lead to improve safety on future mission. NPR's Richard Harris has the story.

RICHARD HARRIS: Nothing could have saved the astronauts who died aboard the space shuttle Columbia on February 1st, 2003. The shuttle's wing had been punctured by debris during lift-off, and once it broke-up high over Texas at speeds of over 10,000 miles per hour, there was no hope for the seven astronauts on board. Even so, NASA decided to use the accident as an opportunity to look for ways to improve astronaut safety. The 400 page report identifies 30 recommendations that could help in a less catastrophic accident. For example, space helmets are currently designed only to help astronauts breath, but they could also offer head protection. In a telephoned press briefing NASA official William Hale said: The study has already led NASA to improve the seat belts on the remaining shuttles.

Mr. WILLIAM HALE (Official, NASA): And that is a huge, I think safety improvement. Again, one that would not have made any ultimate difference in the Columbia accident, but one that in a less severe circumstance could save lives.

HARRIS: More safety equipment should also be designed to operate automatically. For example, parachutes that don't require an astronaut to pull the rip cord. Hale says: NASA made the report public to help spacecraft designers around the world and for the future.

Mr. HALE: These hard lessons need to be preserved. We have done that with this report, and we will certainly do our level best to teach it to the new generation of engineers as they come forward to design a future spacecraft.

HARRIS: That includes private companies as well as designers in other parts of the world. Richard Harris. NPR News.

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Columbia Report Aims To Make Space Missions Safer

Columbia Report Aims To Make Space Missions Safer
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The crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia. i

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. NASA hide caption

toggle caption NASA
The crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

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  in the hangar at Barksdale Ai i

The debris from the Space Shuttle Columbia was collected and cataloged at the hangar at Barksdale Air Force Base, Shreveport, La. NASA hide caption

toggle caption NASA
The debris from the Space Shuttle Columbia  in the hangar at Barksdale Ai

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.

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