Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Dark Side Of Space



Things sometimes come in threes. The Atlantis space shuttle had 85 seconds before insulation hit their shuttle and caused damage. The Columbia had 83 seconds with the same exact problem. The Challenger's went a lot worse, with just 73 seconds during ascent - but all three shuttles had problems within seconds of launch, and all three incidents had to do with the giant external tank system that lifted them into space. But only ONE shuttle survived - The Atlantis. That third thing with space shuttles was narrowly avoided.

The STS-27 was the number given to the Atlantis for a substantially dangerous mission that remains a mystery - because they survived. Upon landing, the magnitude of the damage to the shuttle was severe, with seven hundred damaged tiles on the craft. One tile was completely torn off and the ship avoided burning up thanks to a steel and aluminum section underneath. So thanks to a steel plate, they survived. But should we really count on steel? I'm a little more interested in a rumor about a secret (Extravehicular Activity) E.V.A. space walk that isn't fully revealed.

Once into space and in orbit,  is it known Commander Robert Gibson suspected outer wing damage, and he was right. Just eighty-five seconds into flight, ablative insulating material from the right hand solid rocket booster had damaged the ship. But due to a complication involving security, mission control wasn't able to see the images clear enough to agree. Because of this disagreement Gibson became infuriated. Although the supposed space walk remains a question, it's well known that Gibson planned to tell mission control exactly what he thought of thier dubious analysis in the remaining seconds before his death if he didn't make it through re-entry. Maybe at that point he would have revealed exactly what he did know but it never became a necessity. The commander and crew grabbed a hold of destiny, and shook their space gloved fists to the cosmos that they weren't about to become a fatality. 

I've read about the shuttles for many years but never really understood the connections between these missions. The information about the Atlantis struck me as important so I saved the file as a PDF to return to later.  Once I poured through the details, I finally understood the Columbia's tragedy. The heart of the investigation centered on the the fact that the Columbia crew might have been saved. The Atlantis had been on a launching pad ready to go at the time the Columbia was in peril. But the Atlantis never went up to help and no effort was made on behalf of the Columbia before they made their fatal re-entry. Just incase you aren't familiar with re-entry its dangerous business because a wave of extreme heat engulfs the ship for a time upon return.  Investigators found out the Atlantis could have been launched just five days early and gotten the crew off the Columbia —or repaired the wing maybe, just like Gibson did for the Atlantis in 1988. This was the reason the shuttle program was halted and investigated. Why didn't the Columbia realize? If only they had taken heed like Gibson. Soon afterwards improvements were made to help the safety of the program. 

Looking back to the much luckier mission - the STS-27, it's documented that even though the crew faced death in the eye, they also managed to keep a sense of humor during their mishap and played a song on the fourth crucial day of their mission - "Do you want to know a secret." Its a weird parody of a Beatles song by - Mike Cahill. I tried to find the lyrics. Well, they aren't available and remain part of a classified file. 

Theres been a few clues however about how many EVA's have been performed giving us a hint about a space walk during the mission, but my take on the whole incident is, its just good to know this crew managed to survive. I don't like dig it up, but the fact is theres been a large number of accidents and close calls in space. Some have been as bizarre as a small fire to carbon dioxide poisoning and worse. But space is a dangerous place to be, and at times deadly. 

There are ancient definitions of bravery that describe men who are best prepared for life and for whom their welfare alone depends upon themselves, or nearly so, instead of hanging their hopes on other people. If this is true, then this was one of those times when astronauts swayed their future and exemplified courage in the purist sense against the dark side of space. 

Coincidentally three (three comes up again) of our biggest losses in space happened on the same calendar week - The Apollo 1, the Challenger and the Columbia.