Ten years after the fact, it has come out that the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) knew that the Space Shuttle orbiter Columbia was damaged in orbit, but chose not to tell the astronauts.

ABC News reports,

Wayne Hale, who later became space shuttle program manager, struggled with this question after the deaths of the Columbia crew 10 years ago. Recently he wrote about the debate in his blog, recalling a meeting to discuss the dilemma:

"After one of the MMTs (Mission Management Team) when possible damage to the orbiter was discussed, he (Flight Director Jon Harpold) gave me his opinion: 'You know, there is nothing we can do about damage to the TPS (Thermal Protection System). If it has been damaged it's probably better not to know. I think the crew would rather not know. Don't you think it would be better for them to have a happy successful flight and die unexpectedly during entry than to stay on orbit, knowing that there was nothing to be done, until the air ran out?"

A bleak assessment. Orbiting in space until your oxygen ran out. The dilemma for mission managers is that they simply didn't know if the space shuttle was damaged.

The doomed astronauts were not told of the risk.

Interestingly enough, after the shuttle broke apart over Texas on re-entry in 2003, killing all seven astronauts, Flight Director Leroy Cain ordered doors locked and computer data saved.

Rodney Rochas was an engineer at the Johnson Space Center who knew about the problems and attempted to warn senior management, but was ignored. He is among several engineers that knew. "I made a phone call to the manager of the shuttle engineering office," he said. "The same person that had relayed the 'No" message to me from orbiter management. I was still pretty agitated and upset. Had he spoken to our engineering director about this? I wanted the director of JSC engineering to be informed. Had he been informed? And he said no. I was thunderstruck and astonished again."

For years NASA had accepted, as normal, foam that had been coming off of the external tank on liftoff and hitting the shuttle, causing damage. However, Wayne Hale is the only person at NASA who has publicly accepted blame for the "normalization of the abnormal."

He vowed never to let it happen again. "After the accident, when we were reconstituting the Mission Management Team. My words to them were 'We are never ever going to say that there is nothing we can do,'" Hale said.

I can say for Mr. Hale, at least he demonstrates that he has a conscience in the matter and has come out about it. Surely nothing can be done at this point, but at least the truth has finally come out.

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