Commentary: Learning from Columbia shuttle disaster

This editorial appeared in The Miami Herald.

The new report from NASA on the February 2003 Columbia disaster has produced 30 recommendations to keep astronauts safer in space. It also reveals in poignant detail how the seven astronauts aboard the spaceship died.

The report makes it clear that the crew could not have survived the cataclysm. Since NASA may extend shuttle flights past their 2010 retirement date, the report's recommendations should be taken seriously. They may save lives in future shuttle missions.

The Columbia was doomed after liftoff when a 1.67-pound chunk of insulation foam broke off an external fuel tank and struck the craft's left wing, punching a hole in it and allowing superheated gases to puncture the wing's interior. This destabilized the craft so that, during reentry, the shuttle spun out of control and began to disintegrate over Texas.

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