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Environmental Issues
Challenger and Columbia Disasters
The Difference Between

Could the Columbia astronauts have been rescued if the problem had been known before re-entry?


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January 21, 2008 1:49AM

The only feasible option may have been for space shuttle Atlantis to be readied and launched, although this would have involved massive shortcuts and risks because many checks and procedures would have been bypassed. The board investigating the disaster concluded that Atlantis could have been readied with five days to spare between arrival and the time Columbia could remain in space. Spacesuits could possibly have been transferred to Colombia, and then the astronauts taken onto Atlantis via a spacewalk. The problem then would have been if two extra seats could have been fitted, assuming Atlantis took only a crew of two.

Colombia did not have equipment on board for a spacewalk to repair the tiles, although Atlantis could have provided this if it was able to be launched.

Sending Columbia to the International Space Station was not an option, as Columbia was only in low earth orbit, and did not have the fuel to reach the ISS which orbits much higher.

Either way, the conclusions were that the risks taken would have been safer than sending seven souls through re-entry with fatally damaged protective tiles that destroyed them along with their vehicle.