The Ed Show | February 01, 2013
>>> and in tonight's big finish , there is a story making the rounds on some news sites that shocked my staff and got all of us talking today. the headlines say nasa knew the space shuttle " columbia " was doomed, but decided not to tell the astronauts. the story is loosely based on a blog post base by a former nasa flight manager. the story is sensational, but it's not really true. the stunning claim comes on the tenth anniversary of the " columbia " disaster. nasa held this remembrance service in california for all astronauts killed over the years. the fate of the " columbia " crewmembers was sealed january 16th , 2003 .
>> three, two, one. we have booster ignition and liftoff of space shuttle " columbia ."
>> from the ground, this looked like a perfect launch. but close-up video showed a chunk of debris slamming into the shuttle 's left wing . no one was sure how bad the damage was, and they believed they couldn't do anything about it. mission control discussed hypotheticals. former flight director wayne hale quoted a colleague saying i think the crew would rather not know. don't you think it would be better or the them to have a happy, successful flight and die unexpectedly during reentry than to stay on orbit, knowing that there was nothing to be done until the air ran out? but hale told us today no one believed the mission would end like this. the shuttle disintegrated 16 days after it launched, killing all seven members and raining debris over texas. president george w. bush ended the shuttle program two years later. hale told me, our staff today i should say, that there was no concern for reentry. the crew was given a summary of the issue with the conclusion of no concern. hale says nasa told crew everything, but everyone agreed there was nothing they could do about the damage. hale says that's the tragic lesson of the " columbia " disaster. quote, we will never again say that there is nothing we can do. i'm joined by nbc news space analyst james oberg . mr. oberg, great to have you with us here tonight on "the ed show."
>> good evening, ed.
>> good evening to you, sir.
>> i know wayne , because wayne and i trained together on the first shuttle flights 32 years ago. so when he talks, we listen. and he made some comments that as you explained did get taken in the wrong direction. but it didn't get to the actually most serious question, which is why didn't they know the shuttle was damaged? did they deliberately or unconsciously not look very hard? and why were they caught by surprise?
>> would nasa ever keep vital information from a crew during a mission?
>> everyone i've talked to and my own experience in mission control is no, because if you start doing that, you start developing a distrust between the ground and people in space, and that communications barrier leads -- will lead to all sorts of trouble. all this conversation was in the hall after they had already decided there was no danger. but the decision was wrong, as hale points out. and what wayne was objecting to, what wayne was regretting was not slapping this guy down right away saying that was crazy. he didn't do it. it turned out he didn't have to because they never would have told. they never felt it was lost. but they missed the chance to find the mistake. they missed the chance to at least go down swinging, go down fighting. trying to fix the hole, trying to get a rescue ship up, trying to get international aid to resupply the shuttle . all those things would have been at least tried. whether they worked or not, we still don't know. but dying out of nowhere, totally out of left field , blindsided by reality, that's a way no one really wants to go.
>> mr. oberg, how much have we learned from this tragedy in your opinion?
>> ed, what we have learned, unfortunately, what philosopher hagel said is all we learn from history is we don't learn from history. the biggest tragedy of this disaster and some of the earlier ones was it taught nasa nothing that they hadn't already learned during apollo and other projects and had forgotten, or had overlooked or had gotten off target. so a lot of the safety issues -- space flight is unforgiving. it's inherently dangerous if you're careless. if you get careless, it will kill you. more so than most other activities on earth, especially maybe underwater caving. but it's dangerous. and if you get slipshod, even if a few people get slipshod, these catastrophes will happen. but they're not accidents. they're consequences. that to me is what is the greatest thing it taught us is we shouldn't have had to kill seven more people to learn what we already knew and had forgotten.
>> could the " columbia " crew have been saved just somehow? and in your mind and heart and professional opinion, was every available option exhausted? like and when i say saved, i mean like apollo 13 .
>> ed, that's what people were hoping for. after the disaster, my colleagues, and i had left mission control at that point. i had already gone off into private consulting on flight safety because i was tired of the way nasa was decaying. but people who were still there told me they wished they had the warning. if they had ten days warning, early in the flight, had seen the hole in the wing. that would have mobile ayed all their energies and the whole country's and the world's energies. they would have tried to find ways to manage gyver the wing and find something on board to stick in the whole. they had to find ways to get the other ship that was being canted down into space sooner. and if they didn't have enough air on board, they would have found ways to get other rockets from other countries. and there were some available, to throw fly canisters up into space where the shuttle could have chased them down and grabbed them before the shuttle 's own power ran out. those things might have happened. in hindsight, the accident investigation board looked at them and couldn't really figure out any way that was surely going to work. but they would have tried.
>> well, a story that surrounds american heros who were lost doing their best for america. james oberg , thank you so much for your time tonight. i appreciate it.
>> thank you.
>> that's "the ed show." i'm