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Author Topic:   Challenger & Columbia
CJC
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posted 01-03-2006 06:46 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for CJC   Click Here to Email CJC     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Folks, I'm giving a talk in Dublin to Astronomy Ireland next monday concerning Challenger and Columbia and I've a number of questions that I hope somebody can answer for me.

First off, Challenger. In 1997 there was a report in Flight International that an independent researcher had uncovered an image of a plume of flame emanating from the damaged joint on the right hand SRB at T+20 seconds. Has this image ever been publicly released?

Secondly, Columbia. The leading edge section that was used in the foam impact tests come from Atlantis or Enterprise? How many times was it hit before the hole appeared? and thirdly, was the hole in the same spot or section where the other impacts had taken place?

Any help would be gratefully appreciated.

CJC

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-03-2006 08:35 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
To answer your second question first, I believe the Enterprise panels were used to set-up the experiment and then Atlantis flown panels were used for the actual test.

You can see the results of the impact tests on the Columbia Accident Investigation Board website.

The same site has their final report in PDF format for download, in which you can read about the tests and their outcome.

As to your first question, according to NASA/Rogers Commission, the first evidence of hot gases escaping from the right-hand SRB (in the form of a visible flame) occurs at T+58.788 seconds. A smoke plume is first seen at just .678 seconds into flight.

There is a good timeline (with imagery of the plume) on SpaceflightNow.

From best I can tell, these times are still considered to be factual, which would suggest that the Flight International report was faulty (and I cannot find evidence of a photo being released). There are certainly a number of questionable sources who have made claims of "new" evidence since, but have never come forward with any material to support their assertions.

I'm not saying that's the case with the FI report, but I think more details are needed. Does the citation offer the researcher's name?

[This message has been edited by Robert Pearlman (edited January 03, 2006).]

mjanovec
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posted 01-03-2006 08:51 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for mjanovec   Click Here to Email mjanovec     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I would also think that a flame visible at T+20, if seen, would indicate a full breach of the ring by flame. After that point, the flame would be constant (much like we see at T+58 and afterwards). Not having seen the video in question, it's hard to say if there is any creedence to what this researcher has to say.

Regardless, it's clear that failure of the O-ring and joint begins immediately after SRB ignition. The black puffs of smoke are telltale.

If you go to this page http://spaceflightnow.com/challenger/timeline/ there are some video clips showing the black puffs at liftoff and the growing plume at around 60 seconds. There is also a good analysis of the debris we see existing the "cloud" after the breakup.

CJC
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posted 01-04-2006 03:48 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for CJC   Click Here to Email CJC     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Robert and mjanovec,

The researchers name was Ali Abu Taha. He had apparently been given access to the NASA evidence and had carried out an independent analysis. My source for this comes from page 71 of the book "The Space Shuttle, Roles, Missions and Accomplishments" by David M. Harland and published by Wiley-Praxis in 1998. The ISBN No. is 0-471-98138-9.

The Author of the report in FI was Tim Furniss.

As for Columbia I'll give the CAIB reports another going over just in case.

Thanks for that link to spaceflightnow.

Cheers

CJC

FFrench
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posted 01-04-2006 03:58 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
That sounds familiar - if anyone has back issues of the UK magazine "Space Flight News" (no longer in existence) I seem to remember them covering his theories in some detail. If I recall (and we are going back over a decade now) his evidence was based on some rather blurry images which were open to different interpretations and conclusions. I'm not sure how much credibility he was given by others.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-04-2006 04:43 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
CJC, thanks for providing the researcher's name - it helped. Searching the Usenet archives, I was able to read about AbuTaha's theories, which appear to be that instead of an intermittant plume until 60 seconds into flight (as NASA/Rogers Commission found) AbuTaha favored a steady stream that forced Challenger off-course. According to AbuTaha, it was the forces associated with correcting for the side-thrust that ultimately broke apart the vehicle and that the o-ring failed because it actually deformed the SRB wall, a design mistake by Thiokol (according to AbuTaha). Dr. Yale Jay Lubkin, writing in the May 1988 issue of Defense Science, suggests AbuTaha's theories were the basis for Dr. Richard Feynman's dissenting opinion released as part of the Rogers Commission report.

At least, that was just one of the theories put forth by AbuTaha, who apparently created his own steady-stream of alternate causes, some of which were investigated, with negative or inconclusive results (writes Henry Spencer, a respected contributor to sci.space.history). Spencer read AbuTaha's article in Spaceflight and described it as "incoherent".

Anyway, getting back to CJC's original question, according to the same thread of discussion, pictures supporting AbuTaha's theory were published in the March 1987 issue of the British magazine Spaceflight News.

[This message has been edited by Robert Pearlman (edited January 04, 2006).]

FFrench
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posted 01-04-2006 06:35 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
March 1987? I'm a little disturbed that I remembered a magazine article I read once, 19 years ago...

CJC
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posted 01-06-2006 06:43 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for CJC   Click Here to Email CJC     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks Folks,

I remember Spaceflight News and I think I have copies of it lying around somewhere nearby so I'll start searching for them.

I've read the CAIB reports concerning the foam impact tests on the leading edge panels and have come to the conclusion that the hole only appeared after that particular section had been constantly hit, time after time, by pieces of foam. Surely all these impacts would have weakened the panel to a point which ultimatly led it to breaking?

So here I am scratching my head thinking about this, has anybody got any thoughts on this?

Cheers,

CJC

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-06-2006 07:00 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I just re-read pages 81 and 82 of the CAIB report, which provide the results of the impact tests. From my reading, there were 5 tests conducted on a fiberglass panel from Enterprise, one test on Panel 6 (flown 30 times) from Discovery and one test on Panel 8 (flown 26 times) from Atlantis. The single test on Panel 6 resulted in cracks and a t-seal breach. The first and only impact on Panel 8 saw the infamous hole. The two panels were chosen for their location and flight history as being consistent with what flew on Columbia.

All times are CT (US)

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