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Lee Hutchinson, Monday, 3-17-14 March 18, 2014

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Lee Hutchinson, Monday, 3-17-14


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Guest:  Lee Hutchinson.  Topics:  The possible Columbia Space Shuttle rescue mission.  Please direct all comments and questions regarding Space Show programs/guest(s) to the Space Show blog, https://thespaceshow.wordpress.com.  Comments and questions should be relevant to the specific Space Show program. Written Transcripts of Space Show programs are a violation of our copyright and are not permitted without prior written consent, even if for your own use. We do not permit the commercial use of Space Show programs or any part thereof, nor do we permit editing, YouTube clips, or clips placed on other private channels & websites. Space Show programs can be quoted, but the quote must be cited or referenced using the proper citation format. Contact The Space Show for further information. In addition, please remember that your Amazon purchases can help support The Space Show/OGLF. See www.onegiantleapfoundation.org/amazon.htm.  For those listening to archives using live365.com and rating the programs, please email me as to why you assign a specific rating to the show. This will help me bring better programming to the audience.

We welcomed Lee Hutchinson to the program to discuss his recent article, “The audacious rescue plan that might have saved space shuttle Columbia” which you can read at http://arstechnica.com/science/2014/02/the-audacious-rescue-plan-that-might-have-saved-space-shuttle-columbia.  Note that Mr. Hutchinson said he found the possible rescue plan spelled out in the CAIB report in seldom discussed Appendix D13 of the report.  In questioning Lee, we also learned that the plan did not exist real time with Columbia but was actually requested as part of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board’s work.  In the first segment of our 1 hour 28 minute program, our guest told us why he wrote the article and how he noticed the possible rescue plan back when he was tasked with reviewing the CAIB Report.  During this segment, our guest described all parts of the plan and we discussed the likelihood of it having worked had it been implemented.  Lee also discussed probable & significant timing issues with parts of the rescue plan making it unlikely to have been implemented had it been a real time plan under consideration.  It was dependent upon too many things happening precisely on time and schedule, something that was not always possible with shuttle launches.  Lee also went over the specific crew training issues that would have been required, plus issues in using EVA suits and getting them to and from Columbia for the astronauts to use.  Listeners asked many questions including questions about NASA management at the time, risk averseness, & the NASA culture. Lee was asked about the comments & feedback he received from writing his article.  As the segment ended, Mr. Hutchinson discussed plane change maneuvers and the significance of the orbital inclination of Columbia and the ISS.

In the second segment, a Cleveland listener ask for Lee’s thoughts on SLS-Orion.  Lee & I talked about this & the NASA culture plus the need for heavy lift assuming there are missions for it.  He was asked if the shuttle could fly without pilots, then we went back to SLS.  He also told us about his interest in the redesign of the F1 engine.  You can read his articles on the F1 here:  http://arstechnica.com/science/2013/04/how-nasa-brought-the-monstrous-f-1-moon-rocket-back-to-life; http://arstechnica.com/science/2013/04/new-f-1b-rocket-engine-upgrades-apollo-era-deisgn-with-1-8m-lbs-of-thrust.  Lee received several email questions regarding the foam strike on Columbia & foam modification efforts.  He was also asked about the shuttle repair kit which was carried on subsequent shuttle flights.  Benny asked if a 3D printer on board could have made the materials to repair the Columbia damage.

Please post your comments/questions on TSS Blog above. You can reach Lee Hutchinson through me or the Arstechnica.com site.


1. Dwayne Day - March 22, 2014

When I served as an investigator with the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, we had NASA come in to brief us about this internal study of a rescue mission. The briefing was conducted by two astronauts (I don’t remember who, but I believe that they had performed the simulator tests), with perhaps a dozen NASA people in attendance. It was considered highly sensitive, and highly emotional, because NASA officials were essentially confronting their own culpability again–nobody had wanted to admit that their mistakes (not recognizing the foam as a threat; shutting down the effort to gather information about the wing strike during the mission) had caused the loss of Columbia. And nobody really wanted to confront the possibility that they could have possibly rescued the crew if only they had jumped into action (like on Apollo 13).

Everybody involved was very concerned that the results of this analysis would leak to the press. I cannot remember if the briefing was restricted for this reason to only “essential” personnel, but because of who I worked for I often got to sit in on the sensitive briefings.

One thing that I still remember is that I sat behind a NASA official during the briefing and he slowly shredded a styrofoam coffee cup piece by piece until it was nothing but a short stub. Clearly he was feeling the stress.

The internal study did not leak during our investigation. The CAIB didn’t leak, and in fact I concluded that the one alleged leak about the investigation, which involved some details about crew mortality, was not really a leak from the CAIB, but 90% careful conjecture and 10% information possibly from a NASA rep. It was occasionally amusing to see reputed leaks from the CAIB that were entirely erroneous. It led me to suspect that somebody was feeding one well-known website deliberate disinformation. When the report was released, the rescue mission option was discussed in some publications. I think the NY Times may have had it.

2. Space-for-All at HobbySpace » Space policy roundup – March.19.14 - March 18, 2014

[…] Lee Hutchinson, Monday, 3-17-14 – Thespaceshow’s Blog – A scenario for a Columbia Space Shuttle rescue mission. […]

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