December 31, 2008 4:14 AM

Was this really necessary?

WASHINGTON -- Seat restraints, pressure suits and helmets of the doomed crew of the space shuttle Columbia didn't work well, leading to "lethal trauma" as the out-of-control ship lost pressure and broke apart, killing all seven astronauts, a new NASA report says. At least one crew member was alive and pushing buttons for half a minute after a first loud alarm sounded, as he futilely tried to right Columbia during that disastrous day Feb. 1, 2003.... As was already known, the astronauts died either from lack of oxygen during depressurization or from hitting something as the spacecraft spun violently out of control. The report said it wasn't clear which of those events killed them.

February 1, 2003 seems like such a very long time ago...and yet I can remember it as if it was yesterday. The loss of the space shuttle Columbia was a horrific event no matter where you live in this country, but for those of us who were living in the Houston area at the time, it hit home in a way that can only be described as similar to losing members of your family.

I lived in Seabrook, TX, four miles from the Johnson Space Center when Columbia was lost. Almost immediately after the news broke, hundreds of people descended upon the entrance to Johnson Space Center at Nasa Road One and Saturn Drive. None of us knew what to do, but all of us who were there felt a shared sense of loss. Over the next few days, the JSC became an impromptu shrine, deluged with flowers and messages of condelence...some from around the world. The Columbia crew weren't just astronauts; they were members of the Clear Lake community. NASA has been woven into the fabric of Houston's Bay Area for a couple of generations now, so to say that losing the Columbia crew was like losing family is no exaggeration. This tragedy was no mere abstract concept; it hit home. Hard

As if losing several members of the community wasn't bad enough, now we get to find out exactly how they died. While I understand the need to understand from a process standpoint, this is not the sort of information that does anything to speed the healing process of those who lost a loved one. In terms of helping to ensure the safety of future shuttle crews, the detailed breakdown of the shuttle's final moments may be of some use. For the families of those who died, and for the Clear Lake community, I'm not certain how a blow by blow account of how the crew died adds anything to the healing process.

I'm not advocating that this report be censored or embargoed, but it would stand to reason that this is the sort of information best kept in-house within NASA. Yes, I understand the public's right to know, but what about the rights of the families of the crew? After watching your loved one scattered over east Texas, shouldn't you be allowed to grieve without being subjected to a grisly moment-by-moment accounting of their demise? The Columbia disaster was almost six years ago, and while NASA has a responsibility to future shuttle crews, it also has a responsibility to those left behind. Do their spouses and children really need to know the terror that likely dominated their final few moments? Isn't it time that we allowed the families of the fallen to get on with their lives without having the wounds left from that day ripped open once again?

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This page contains a single entry by Jack Cluth published on December 31, 2008 4:14 AM.

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