NASA’s Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon re-entry as a result of a foam insulation strike to the left wing of the orbiter. The damage to the thermal protection tile, a 16”x16” hole, was enough to break up the shuttle at a re-entry speed and temperature of 17,500 mph and 3,000°F. The tragedy resulted in the loss of 7 astronaut lives, 2 years of suspended NASA operations, and a 29-month stall on construction of the International Space Station; the total damage to the families and program is incalculable.
It was common protocol to review video footage of take off and it wasn’t uncommon to see foam insulation strikes to the bottom of the orbiter. But this strike footage seemed severe enough that engineers requested three times for satellite photos of the bottom of the shuttle and for the video to be enhanced frame by frame; NASA managers denied all of which. The final investigation revealed that management failed to recognize the relevance of engineering concerns for safety (2003, Columbia Accident Investigation Board).
The job of the video review team was a visual NDT job, and their request for satellite photos of the shuttle while in orbit, was another request for a NDT visual inspection. This is a common problem NDT inspectors face when vetting concerns to management for additional NDT tests. Schedules and budgets can and will override safety concerns, but it is our responsibility to never stay silent and always speak up. #sharingndt #ndt #nasa #spaceshuttle #orbiter #columbia