Movie Monday – January 31 – Flight Testing Shuttle Columbia

This final week of January and early February offer somber reminders of the incredible risk astronauts have taken to participate in the manned exploration of space and their sacrifice in the line of duty to America’s space program. 
January 27, 1967
The crew of Apollo One, Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, were killed when fire swept through their Apollo One capsule in Florida during a ground test. The mission was intended to be the first in-flight test of the Apollo Command and Service Module.
January 28, 1986
Twenty-five years ago this past Friday, the crew of STS-51L, Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Christa McAuliffe and Gregory Jarvis were killed, when Space Shuttle Challenger solid rocket booster ruptured causing the spacecraft to disintegrate a 72 seconds after liftoff.  
February 1, 2003
Space Shuttle Columbia, flying as STS-107, was destroyed on re-entry over Texas during its 28th mission. Rick Husband, William McCool, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson, Laurel Clark and Ilan Ramon, were killed following a 16-day Spacehab microgravity research mission. The accident was traced to an external tank foam strike on the leading edge of the shuttle’s wing during liftoff that damage the spacecraft’s heat shield. 
This week’s Movie Monday takes an incredibly detailed in-depth look at the earliest days of the Space Shuttle program, with a 29-minute 1981 film about STS-2 and the flight testing of the orbiter Columbia. It was to be the first time in spaceflight history that an attempt would be made to launch the same spacecraft for a second time.
The mission, flown by astronauts Joe Engle and Richard Truly, and included the maiden flight of the Shuttle Remote Manipulator System (SRMS), better known as the Space Shuttle’s Canadian-built robot arm. Mission commander Joe Engle had formerly been a North American X-15 pilot whose flights had taken him above 50mi in altitude, formally qualifying him as an astronaut before his first flight in space on STS-2.

4 Responses to Movie Monday – January 31 – Flight Testing Shuttle Columbia

  1. Kitchenator January 31, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

    Hats off to the incredible bravery of our astronauts. They take great risks to advance our knowledge and lift our eyes skyward.

    I was quite surprised to read recently that NASA had targeted just a 1 in 100 catastrophic mission failure rate with the Shuttle program, and is now looking towards 1 in 250 for the private launch systems. This is of course far, far below the levels of safety we’ve achieved in commercial aviation, and makes me wonder if we can do even better for our astronauts.

  2. iamlucky13 January 31, 2011 at 3:54 pm #

    Of course, launch vehicles and spacecraft are complex systems that experience a wide range of conditions (high forces, vibrations, temperature ranges), have a large number of potentially fatal failure modes (launch, life support, re-entry, etc), and are necessarily designed with low margins.

    And they’re far more limited in the amount of full-scale testing you can do before bringing a system into regular service…the shuttle flew one test flight, and it was a manned one. How many thousands of times will the 787 test fleet have flown before EIS?

    Clearly, achieving airliner-like safety for a spacecraft and rocket isn’t near term achievable, but even 1 in 250 flights is a big step in that direction. The 1 in 100 flights for the shuttle (I think the Air Force did their own estimate of 1 in 50) even was a fairly ambitious goal at the time.

    When the shuttle entered service, the US had previously flown 31 manned missions, and while Apollo 1 wasn’t a flight accident and the crew of Apollo 13 pulled off a close call, the goal of three times that many flights as we had ever flown per fatal accident was still pretty ambitious. The USSR at the time had flown 49 manned missions, including two that resulted in crew deaths.

    We’re in a similar position now – The US will have 166 manned spaceflights under our belt when the shuttle is retired. The Russians/Soviets have 116 flights. The Chinese have 3. The human historical total is 285 spaceflights to our credit (for perspective, Southwest Airlines alone flies 10 times as many flights per day), for a statistical record of 1 loss-of-crew event every 71 flights.

    In light of that, I don’t think NASA’s commercial crew requirement of a 1:250 predicted loss rate is unreasonable, and hopefully as the program develops, we’ll be able to improve upon that before accidents happen.

  3. iamlucky13 January 31, 2011 at 7:06 pm #

    Comments aren’t showing up again. I posted one probably 6 hours ago that isn’t here.

    Jon – I know you said previously you screen all the comments. Given the popularity of your blog, you/Flight really should look into some of the automated screening solutions out there. There’s almost certainly one available that’s readily compatible with your publishing software. The time spent configuring it will probably be saved very quickly.

  4. Wilbur Wrong February 1, 2011 at 1:50 pm #

    So, the lesson here is don’t dare get on a NASA vehicle in late January / early February…unless one has a desire to become a martyr.