NASA releases lessons learned from Columbia


NASA released a report today detailing the last moments of the seven astronauts who died when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon reentry in February 2003.

The report, written by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, said that nothing could have been done to save the crew. But the board used lessons from the accident to make recommendations to NASA about how to improve to flight vehicles, equipment and training to increase the chances astronauts could survive a future accident.

For example, the report noted that one crew member wasn’t wearing a helmet and three weren’t wearing gloves that could have delayed the effects of depressurization. The design of the “advanced crew escape suit” worn on reentry, which was developed separate from the shuttle, meant that some items, like gloves, inhibited the performance of reentry tasks, the board found.

The board also found the seat and helmet design did not protect crew from bodily harm once the crew lost control of the shuttle.
The investigation board recommended NASA design spacecrafts and suits together to ensure that the suits are compatible with reentry operations crew will have to conduct. It also recommended better seat restraints and helmets designed to provide improved head and neck protection.

Along with the report, NASA released a list of steps it has taken to improve safety on the space shuttle and in the design of the Constellation program’s crew vehicle, Orion.

Among some of the implemented recommendations:

  • Suit and seat designs for Orion that are integrated to ensure compatibility.
  • Improved seat restraints for the space shuttle.
  • A crashworthy flight data recorder for Orion.
  • Improved training that integrates problem solving and survival techniques in the event of an emergency.

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