NOVA: Space Shuttle Disaster
Airs Wednesday, June 22, 2011 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Credit: Courtesy of NASA
The Insider Who Knew
In this interview, Rodney Rocha, a chief structural engineer in the Space Shuttle program, describes the tense days leading up to the Columbia disaster. Rocha, who had reviewed videos of the launch, feared that the craft might be vulnerable upon reentry.
On February 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas just 16 minutes before it was due to land. All seven astronauts aboard perished; the worldwide repercussions on the future of the space shuttle program were enormous. What caused the Columbia tragedy? An engineering flaw? A failure within NASA? A lack of financing? Could this catastrophe have been avoided?
Through interviews with astronauts and their families, as well as with members of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, this documentary gives viewers a new look at the Columbia tragedy - and at NASA itself. From the creation of NASA through decades of technical and financial compromises, "Space Shuttle Disaster" gets to the heart of what went wrong - and how to make sure it never happens again.
In the wake of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, investigators did a fairly simple physics calculation and realized that a piece of foam had struck the shuttle’s left wing with more than a ton of force during lift-off, blasting a hole in heat shields that normally provide protection during reentry. In this simulation, follow in the investigators’ footsteps to understand how featherlight foam could strike with devastating force.
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