The engineers who decided the space shuttle Columbia could safely return to Earth were studying the wrong computer model. Their analysis, carried out during the flight, concluded that little harm had been done by the piece of foam came off the fuel tank during lift-off. But former astronaut Sally Ride, who is investigating the accident, says the computer model they used wasn’t accurate. When a group of Boeing engineers carrying out a computer analysis during the flight realized they needed more data about where the foam had hit, they asked NASA to take pictures of the orbiting shuttle to assess the potential damage?but no pictures were ever taken. “I’m think I’m hearing an echo here,” Ride says, referring to the earlier Challenger explosion.

Before the Challenger accident, NASA decided that O-ring problems weren’t dangerous, and in the case of the Columbia, NASA may have gotten used to foam falling off the fuel tanks. “During the Rogers Commission, one of the things that came out early on was that the O-rings were not a problem for the first time on this (Challenger’s final) flight. They’d been a problem on not just one, not just two, not just three, but several shuttle flights before the Challenger accident,” says Ride. She says an attitude developed in NASA that “you survived it the first time, so suddenly it becomes more normal. It happens enough and now it’s a normal occurrence. I think we’re trying to understand whether that same thinking crept in with the foam off the tank.”

The movie “Signs” combined crop circles and space. While we’re not sure there’s a connection, we DO know that Colin Andrews is one of the experts in this field. Don’t miss him on Dreamland, this Saturday, April 12.

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