Columbia space shuttle accident was human error of judgment: G Madhavan Nair

The fatal accident involving space shuttle Columbia, carrying seven crew members, including India-born Nasa astronaut Kalpana Chawla, was a human error of judgment rather than an engineering failure, former ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair said on Thursday.

PTI February 16, 2017 22:46:03 IST
Columbia space shuttle accident was human error of judgment: G Madhavan Nair

New Delhi: The fatal accident involving space shuttle Columbia, carrying seven crew members, including India-born Nasa astronaut Kalpana Chawla, was a human error of judgment rather than an engineering failure, former Isro chairman G Madhavan Nair said on Thursday.

Nair said, Nasa scientists took the damage to the space shuttle as "trivial", which proved to be a disaster, killing the crew members.

"If you look at what happened, the shuttle vehicle as you know was designed well, but in spite of this it proved to be a catastrophic failure.

Columbia space shuttle accident was human error of judgment G Madhavan Nair

Kalpana Chawla

"The indication of this was at the right of the launch pad itself. But people took a view that it is not a serious issue and can be managed. This is human error and not an engineering failure," Nair said, while inaugurating ORF's 3rd annual Kalpana Chawla Space Policy Dialouge.

Born in Karnal, Haryana, Chawla died on 1 February, 2003 over the southern United States when Space Shuttle Columbia and the crew perished during entry into atmosphere, 16 minutes before the scheduled landing.

At launch, a briefcase-sized piece of insulation had broken off and damaged the thermal protection system of the shuttle's wing, the shield that protects it from heat during re-entry.

As the shuttle passed through the atmosphere, hot gas streaming into the wing caused it to break up. The space ship depressurised, killing the crew in less than a minute.

The crew of seven – five men and two women, including Chawla – had carried out some 80 experiments during their time in space. The mission was Chawla's second visit to space.

Nair said, if the scientists knew that was already some damage to the space shuttle, they should have anticipated the disaster.

"They could have expected in orbit so that while re-entry the hot gas entry could have been stopped. But they took that as a trivial incident and brushed it aside," Nair said.

In the honour of Chawla, Isro also launched Kalpana-1 meteorological satellite.

He said, in a passenger aircraft, "it is the human element which leads to failure and wrong judgments".

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