On a cool January morning in 2003, Columbia took off from Cape Canaveral on mission STS-107. It was a routine flight until February 1, when the space shuttle became a flying hell, more than 1,500 kilometers from the landing strip.
This resulted in a major tragedy for the mission, with the death of all seven crew members. However, a scenario involving the possibility of a rescue operation was later proposed, which was considered nearly impossible and risky.
A “suicide mission”, but possible
NASA was aware that Columbia had suffered impact damage from fuel tank foam during the mission, but chose not to inspect it.
The Colombia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) said that if they had inspected, they could have launched a rescue operation. According to CAIB, despite the risks, NASA, accustomed to overcoming challenges, could achieve this.
The rescue mission would involve Atlantis and be of unprecedented complexity and danger. Astronauts must undergo rigorous training 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Due to Colombia’s food and water reserves, the time frame to carry out the operation would be limited to approximately 30 days.
The proposed rescue team would include experienced astronauts Eileen Collins and Jim Kelly. The process would have taken approximately nine hours, pushing the two astronauts beyond their physical limits.
Effects of the accident
Although NASA implemented changes after the Columbia accident, it psychologically marked the end of the Space Shuttle program. This tragedy is a reminder of the risks of space exploration and the importance of constant vigilance.
Although it was considered a salvage operation, uncertainty remains as to how Colombia’s fate might have turned out.