In Mission Control, while the loss of signal was a cause for concern, there was no sign of any serious problem
February 1, 2007 1:22 PM   Subscribe

Four years ago today the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated shortly upon reentry. Here is a sad, but, fascinating real time video recreation of the final moments, compiled from various sources including Nasa radio transmissions.
posted by ae4rv (27 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Bloody hell. I had just been reading about the Challenger disaster the night before, and was teaching a Saturday class, when one guy walks in an hour late (as usual and starts talking about the breakup. I called bullshit, and didn't believe him until we scrounged up a radio.
posted by notsnot at 1:33 PM on February 1, 2007

I didn't realize until the end that the conversation wasn't between ground control and the shuttle. Eerie to watch.
posted by itchylick at 1:36 PM on February 1, 2007

Some of it is.
posted by ae4rv at 1:38 PM on February 1, 2007

I had just a month earlier purchased a dish, so that I could get NASA-TV.

I woke up just in time to hear the last transmission from Columbia (before the ion cloak from re-entry would have prevented radio contact). As time passed and Mission Control indicated that they had no radar fix and called them over and over, even on the UHF, a chill came over me like I'd never felt before.

Five minutes after they were due for touchdown, I woke my girlfriend and told her I thought something terrible had happened.

We returned to the broadcast just in time to hear the flight director announce "lock the doors." And it was then clearer and clearer what happened - utterly confirmed by video from the skies over Dallas.
posted by OneOliveShort at 1:43 PM on February 1, 2007


(For now, at least, the video is also on YouTube.)
posted by Plutor at 1:53 PM on February 1, 2007

Ah, but the YouTube link has a lot of inane comments while the original site has better quality video and some very interesting research and links. And, it credits the author.
posted by ae4rv at 2:03 PM on February 1, 2007

Metafilter was there.
posted by drezdn at 2:11 PM on February 1, 2007

At the time of the Columbia crash, I was driving out to visit an elder relative in a nursing home. In a car with no radio (thanks, thief).

We arrived, starting talking with her, and she started talking about how sad it was about the astronauts. I figured she must have read some anniversary article about the Challenger disaster in the newspaper, so I played along. She kept talking about it, and I just figured she was a little batty. Maybe she had misread the anniversary article and didn't realize it had happened years ago.

Finally we got ready to leave, and passed by a TV in the common area of the nursing home, and I realized that *she* wasn't the one that was out of the loop.
posted by jellicle at 2:17 PM on February 1, 2007

Great find. I remember that unique sense of dread I felt when I turned on the radio that morning expecting to hear Car Talk, but instead heard the announcers talking in serious and somber tones. A friend of mine had invited a bunch of us over to watch some DVDs that afternoon, and we all ended up watching the news coverage at his place instead.

Also, you linked a 134-MB file to Metafilter? I hope this guy has a good deal on bandwidth.
posted by Johnny Assay at 2:22 PM on February 1, 2007

That was chilling to watch and listen to. The voices are so calm and matter of fact as they describe the different sensors going out, losing tire pressure etc.

One of my memories of that morning was after they knew there had been a disaster, CNN was switching around between NASA, White House etc, making it up on the fly, and they switched to White House and a shot of their correspondent out front shoving a doughnut in her mouth.
posted by marxchivist at 2:37 PM on February 1, 2007

My (fairly uninformed) take is that after the pilot tells ground control he lost four temperature sensors, you can infer that the technician knows something has gone really bad, but what makes it so sad is that there's nothing anyone can do at that point. He asked the pilot to check if it was a gauge malfunction, the equivalent of wishful thinking really.

Very sad stuff. Hopefully people won't be going up in that death-trap for much longer, but unfortunately NASA has tied its future on the false romanticism of manned flight. Let robots do it for now since it's cheaper, safer, and produces better science.
posted by bardic at 2:46 PM on February 1, 2007

I remember hearing a recording of one of the 911 calls from that day:

"911 operator"
"I just saw something real strange in the sky."
"... okay ..."

The guy had just seen the breakup of the shuttle, but the operator seemed to think he was a kook.
posted by Potsy at 3:18 PM on February 1, 2007

Great post. Thank you.
posted by veggieboy at 4:15 PM on February 1, 2007

"Obviously a major malfunction"

Part of me died that day.


(but I'm not really sure who that is for. Me? Them? Us? All of us?)
posted by eriko at 4:16 PM on February 1, 2007

I spent several weeks walking around East Texas picking up pieces of that thing. The majority of the pieces we found were less than 2"by 2". Crazy.
posted by Big_B at 5:27 PM on February 1, 2007

I'm still waiting for the "real time video" to load and so far I'm seeing what looks like an "American Aerospace" hobbyist's AfterEffects demo reel.
posted by brownpau at 6:41 PM on February 1, 2007

Clicked the wrong thing. Sorry.
posted by brownpau at 6:42 PM on February 1, 2007

posted by moonbird at 8:13 PM on February 1, 2007

Good link.
posted by mazola at 8:14 PM on February 1, 2007

after the pilot tells ground control he lost four temperature sensors

That was a ground control guy informing the FDO (flight director). Most of what you're hearing is a closed circuit between ground control and FDO. The only part between CAPCOM and Columbia is toward the late middle, when Columbia answers, "Roger, buh--" and is cut off, possibly by the failure of the communications system, moments before the shuttle fully breaks up.

There's a long quiet bit there and you know that everyone has moved from serious concern to a grave sinking feeling. Basically, every station in Mission Control must have lit up like a Christmas tree.
posted by dhartung at 10:01 PM on February 1, 2007

posted by dirigibleman at 12:37 AM on February 2, 2007

Remembering Kalpana Chawla.
posted by hadjiboy at 2:38 AM on February 2, 2007


What sticks in my mind most is that an Israeli astronaut died over Palestine (Texas).
posted by nofundy at 5:46 AM on February 2, 2007

The anniversary of the fire in the Apollo 1 capsule was last Saturday, too.
posted by pax digita at 6:09 AM on February 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:42 AM on February 2, 2007

nice effort. all the stitching of video couldn't have been an easy task.

I remember the morning clearly. at work, drinking coffee, reading reuters, and the story mushroomed all day, from unconfirmed reports/concerns to debris collecting.

It's one of the 'we're a super-power' assumptions that gets taken for granted, that we can do anything (until it's proven that sometimes, we cannot).

I try to imagine NASA scrapping re-entry based on a visual inspection of the ship, but without such a catastrophic loss like Columbia illustrating the consequences, the costs involved would be deemed unjustifiable.
posted by Busithoth at 9:12 AM on February 2, 2007

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