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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2004 > Feb > Feb 21

Shuttle Will Never Fly

From: Terry W. Colvin <fortean1.nul>
Date: Fri, 20 Feb 2004 14:11:25 -0700
Fwd Date: Sat, 21 Feb 2004 07:07:46 -0500
Subject: Shuttle Will Never Fly

Date: Fri, 20 Feb 2004 15:24:48 +0100
From: Amara Graps <amara.nul>
 To: Extropy-chat.nul
SUBJ: FWD [extropy-chat] SPACE: Shuttle will never fly...

Last Christmastime the Los Angeles Times published a series of
articles on the Columbia story by writer Robert Lee Hotz. Even
though I know that he probably had to add some sensationalist
elements to make it into a good newspaper story, he didn't need
to embellish it very much because it is a gripping story on its
own. Plus I think that he is a talented writer.

I jumped into the middle of the series last December, catching
the story regarding the impressive detective work by the
astronomers. Here, allow me to quote part of the story:


The astronomer and the physicist were certain that the first
debris fell not over East Texas, where so much attention
centered, but a thousand miles to the west.

They enlisted Brian Kern, another astronomer from Caltech, and
three experts in space navigation from the Jet Propulsion
Laboratory in Pasadena.

They called themselves the skunk team.

Beasley eventually counted 6,541 images and 34 video recordings
of the shuttle's last reentry, covering its entire flight path
across the United States.

Amateurs had taken them all.

Beasley and Dimotakis studied two shaky videos shot with

Immediately, they noticed that in the first video, recorded by a
man near Reno, the shuttle passed Venus in the sky.

They seized the clue.

By knowing Columbia's planned trajectory, the relative position
of the planet and the constant rate of the video frames, they
worked out the timing, speed and direction of the flight to
within a fraction of a second.

The second video was from Springville, Calif., near Sequoia
National Forest. In it, they spotted the star Deneb and the
compass star Polaris. Other stars - Alpha Cepheus, Vega and Beta
Cassiopeia - could be plotted. This allowed them to confirm the
timing of the flashes and the position of the shuttle.

By enhancing the stars digitally and then working with the
constellations they revealed, the two men determined that
Columbia's actual flight path had been barely a mile off its
predicted reentry. Navigation experts at the Jet Propulsion
Laboratory quickly confirmed their work.

The skunk team could then estimate the mass and size of the
debris the spacecraft was shedding.

By knowing the properties of the exotic materials used in
shuttle construction - recorded in three 22-year-old notebooks
archived in the Caltech library - they calculated how quickly
each piece was left behind by the spacecraft.

A theory took form.


The scientific work of these three people used techniques that
are well known to meteorite researchers and amateurs who record
(often with video cameras) the meteors' entries and calculate
their orbits and, occasionally, search for the objects' fall
location (and sometimes succeed to find them). The work of these
three was particularly comprehensive and detailed and well-done,
I thought.

Even though I know these techniques, to see it well-written in a
major newspaper, and more, to know its importance in solving the
mystery of the shuttle explosion, gave me goosebumps.

I saw the first landing of the First US spaceshuttle on April
12, 1981. I still have my photographs and I remember the crowd
at Edwards Air Force base. So then the birth and death of that
tool for discovery is close to my heart, and the whole story
makes me sad. Not for NASA, because I think that the problems
with the space agency are now clearer than ever, but I am sad
that alot of human's excitement and curiosity for exploring the
universe have become buried under politics and some dirty
business and other activities.

But I continue to try to help keep alive the curiosity for
exploring the universe (or maybe it is just a selfish interest
to share what I like about it myself). Here are the links to the
whole story.

Sunday, December 21, 2003
Decoding Columbia: A detective story
By Robert Lee Hotz
In an inquest fraught with questions of guilt and shame, scientists
unravel the mystery of a shuttle's demise.


Monday, December 22, 2003
Curious outsiders get the jump on NASA
By Robert Lee Hotz
Columbia was a white butterfly bolted to a bullet.


Tuesday, December 23, 2003
Exhuming Columbia, one piece at a time
By Robert Lee Hotz
Early investigators had to rely on informed guesswork. But clues were
puring in.


Wednesday, December 24, 2003
The fate of a wing shaped by politics
By Robert Lee Hotz
Fragments of Columbia were laid out on a vast concrete floor like
broken bones on an
autopsy table.


Thursday, December 25, 2003
Firing point-blank at NASA's illusions


Friday, December 26, 2003
Swallowing the fire: Columbia's final voyage
By Robert Lee Hotz
It was at best a make-work mission.



Switching gears in a different view on this Columbia Story.

Edward Tufte is one of my heroes, and he has written alot
recently about why PowerPoint is one of the worst ways to
communicate and present information. While searching for
something else, I stumbled across these Columbia writings at his
web site:

http://www.edwardtufte.com/ and his bulletin board:
http://www.edwardtufte.com/bboard/q-and-a?topic_id=1 ,

in particular: (related to the Columbia)



especially this:


where he says:

{beginning quote}
page 191:
from the
Columbia Accident Investigation Board

"At many points during its investigation, the Board was
surprised to receive similar presentation slides from NASA
officials in place of technical reports. the Board views the
endemic use of PowerPoint briefing slices instead of technical
papers as an illustration of the problematic methods of
technical communication at NASA." {end quote}

This is one of those comitragedy things, isn't it?

Also, extropes, check this out!


Have a good weekend,


Amara Graps, PhD     email: amara.nul
Computational Physics   vita: ftp://ftp.amara.com/pub/resume.txt
Multiplex Answers     URL:  http://www.amara.com/


"Only a zit on the wart on the heinie of progress." Copyright
1992, Frank Rice

Terry W. Colvin,
Sierra Vista,
Arizona (USA)

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