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Space Shuttle Columbia

Columbia report findings, recommendations

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•  Audio Slide Show: Shuttle lost
•  Timeline: Investigation
•  Gallery: New safety guidelines
•  Gallery: Columbia crew
•  Report: Findings, counsel
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NASA chief: Agency 'just flat missed' importance of the foam strike during Columbia's liftoff.
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(CNN) -- After nearly seven months of looking into the cause of the loss of the space shuttle Columbia and its seven-member crew, the 13-member accident investigation board issued findings and recommendations August 26 in a stinging 248-page report. Without sweeping changes, the report warns that "the scene is set for another accident."

Key findings:

• There were no indications to the Columbia crew or engineers in Mission Control that the mission was in trouble as a result of the foam strike during the ascent.

• A breach in the shuttle's Thermal Protection System allowed superheated air to penetrate through the leading edge insulation and progressively melt the aluminum structure of the left wing.

• The accident was not a random event but rather a result of the spaceflight program's culture, which had as much to do with the accident as the foam did.

• NASA managers allowed practices detrimental to safety to develop, which stifled discussions and caused the evolution of an informal chain of command that operated outside the agency's rules.

• There was no possibility for the crew to survive.

• The shuttle's breakup had the potential to cause casualties among the public on the ground. NASA needs to better protect the public during launches and re-entry.

Key recommendations:

• Continue the space shuttle program with adequate funding.

• Build a complement or replacement for the shuttle.

• Prevent the shuttle's external fuel tank from shedding any debris before flying again.

• Improve the shuttle's ability to sustain minor debris damage and develop tests to determine the resistance of current materials used in the orbiter.

• Develop the capability to inspect and make emergency repairs to the Thermal Protection System while the shuttle is in orbit.

• Upgrade the imaging system to provide more useful views of the shuttle during liftoff. Also consider using aircraft to provide additional views of the orbiter during ascent.

• Design a better system to collect sensor data from the craft.

• Expand a training program for NASA mission teams to look beyond launch and ascent, including the potential for loss of the shuttle and crew while in orbit.

• Establish an independent technical engineering authority that looks at safety and does not have responsibility for schedule or program costs.

• Reformulate management so that NASA's main office of safety has independent oversight over shuttle safety.

• Conduct a vehicle recertification of the shuttle and its systems before operating the craft beyond 2010.

Source: Columbia Accident Investigation Board report.

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