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Overview of Anomalous Events

During Columbia's Reentry

Page A
Updated 10/12/2010

Breakup and Debris Field

Page Notes:
Because this site may be considered controversial by some people, out of respect for the astronauts and their families no
photos of the astronauts or attempted memorials will be posted on this site. The names of the astronauts will only be used
when absolutely necessary to the investigation.

Columbia's Reentry During STS-107

General reentry explanation:
The simplest explanation of what occurs during a Space Shuttle reentry is a careful balance of three things.


The rate of descent.


Aerodynamic heating.


Decreasing forward velocity.

If the shuttle descends too quickly through an increasingly dense atmosphere it will suffer extensive thermal damage that may burn
through the skin of the orbiter resulting in its loss. If its forward speed is not decreased sufficiently or if it has not descended to the
correct altitude at the right time, it will not be in the proper position for landing and will either have to land at an alternate site or
crashed into an unpopulated area after the crew has escaped.

Eqn. A1
Reentry Flight Control Parameters

1.) 1Heating Rate Equation

Qmax < 70 Btu / Ft.2-Sec.

= 4.4695199x10-9

=Gas Density (Slugs / Ft. )


V = Velocity (Ft. / Sec.)

2.) Normal Acceleration Equation

cos + D sin


3.) Dynamic Pressure Equation

an = L

= 1/2 V



< 2.5 G
< 300 psf

L = Aerodynamic Lift. See Eqn. A3-1

D = Aerodynamic Drag. See Eqn. A3-2

= Angle of Attack (Degrees)

=Gas Density (Slugs / Ft. )


V = Velocity (Ft. / Sec.)

1. Determined empirically during Space Shuttle flights and is based on a one dimensional adiabatic steady state heating model. It is the
heating rate for stagnation regions of the shuttles surface during high Mach number reentry atmospheric flight.

Eqn. A2
Six Degrees of Freedom Equations for Space Shuttle Reentry

rc = Distance from center of

Earth to vehicle C.G. (Ft.)

= Geodetic Longitude.
= Geodetic Latitude.
Vr = The Earth's relative
velocity. (Ft./Sec.)

= Flight path
angle. (Deg.)

= Velocity Azimuth
angle. (Deg.)

= Earth's rotation
rate. (Deg./Sec.)

= Vehicle bank
angle. (Deg.)
Eqn. A3
Lift and Drag Equations

L = Aerodynamic Lift.
D = Aerodynamic Drag.
= Gas Density (Slugs / Ft.3)
V = Velocity (Ft. / Sec.)
Sref = Shuttle reference surface area (2,690 Ft.2)
m = Mass of shuttle (203,000 lbs.)
CL = Coefficient of Lift. (Mach > 2.5)
CD = Coefficient of Drag. (Mach > 2.5)


CL0 = -0.14490


CL1 = -0.02924


CD0 = -0.07854


CD1 = -6.15920(10)



CD2 = -6.21408(10)


= Angle of attack (Degrees)

To help keep the aerodynamic heating to a minimum the shuttle has an extremely shallow rate of descent. A typical reentry starts
with the shuttle at an altitude of 76 miles and a distance of 5,063 miles from the landing site this is equal to a rate of descent of only
1.5%, see "Reentry Aerodynamics", in the document, Shuttle_Flight_Properties.pdf. However, simply flying with a constant shallow
rate of descent isn't enough due to changes in the properties of the atmosphere as you drop through it as well as local weather
conditions. To accomplish the feat of keeping temperature distance and velocity in perfect balance, the shuttle also has a suite of
complex guidance software that takes it through a few fairly simple flight maneuvers designed to keep all of those factors in perfect
balance. By taking sensor reading from different areas of the shuttle and the outside atmosphere for temperature and pressure, as
well as being fed other data such as current altitude and distance from the landing site, the shuttle's computers calculate the correct
time to perform the maneuvers. A human pilot can not take all this data and make all the calculations fast enough to control the
shuttle through the critical phases of reentry. It has been estimated that increasing the rate of descent just a few percent at the
wrong time could lead to a worst case scenario. This is why the shuttle must be on auto pilot for most of reentry and also why the

avionics system is so important that it has a total of five identical flight computers and no less than two backup units for every other
flight critical system.
Time Zones
Clicking on the image to the left will bring up an
enlarged map of U.S. Time Zones with a table
defining how to calculate the times for the different
A similar map showing time zones around the world
is also available.
Map of U.S. Time Zones.

World Time Zones

February 1, 2003 STS-107:

Eyewitness accounts of the Columbia's last few minutes indicate that the shuttle was losing material from very early on during
reentry. Some initial accounts report debris shedding being spotted by ground observers at 5:45 a.m. PST This was probably not
possible when the shuttle was high over the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Other accounts and at least one video tape made in
California at 5:53 a.m. indicated that debris was coming off the shuttle at that point. Some witnesses said it looked like the shuttle
was, "dropping flares", as it flew over California. At this time the shuttle was at an altitude of 233,450 Ft. and had just barely reached
its maximum temperature. This would tend to indicate that damage was being done to the shuttle well before 5:53 a.m. and well
before the maximum temperatures were reached. This is also the point where temperature anomalies and sensor problems started
to be noticed.

Deorbit burn:
At 08:15:30 a.m. EST (13:15:30 GMT) the Columbia initiated de-orbit burn for 2 minutes and 38 seconds to position itself for Entry
Interface (EI).

STS-107 Reentry Data

Pre De-orbit burn data

Orbit Inclination: 39
Location (latitude/longitude in degrees): -35.00000 S. / 85.0000 E.
Time: 13:15:00 GMT
Altitude: 929,016 Ft. (175.95 statute miles)
Velocity: 17,496 mph (25,661 Ft./Sec.)

Post De-orbit burn data

Orbit Inclination: 39
o No change
Location (latitude/longitude in degrees): -33.58333 S. / 98.1667 E.
o Change: 757.39 statute miles
Time: 13:17:38 GMT
o Burn duration: 2:38
Altitude: 929,016 Ft. ( 175.95 statute miles)
o No change
Velocity: 17,319.7 mph (25,401 Ft./Sec.)
o Change in velocity: - 176 mph

Entry Interface (EI):

Entry Interface then began at 13:44:09 GMT. Entry Interface is defined as the point when the shuttle has attained, or descended to,
an altitude of 400,000 Ft. per the Reentry document on the NASA Human Space Flight Website.

STS-107 Reentry Data

Entry Interface
Location (latitude/longitude in degrees): 30.83313 N. / -167.5564 W.
o Change 7580.00 statute miles
Time: 13:44:09 GMT
o Change 00:26:31

Altitude: 395,010 Ft. (74.81 statute miles)

o Change 534006 Feet
Velocity: Mach 24.56 x (speed of sound @ Alt. = 1,431 Ft./Sec.)
= 35,145 Ft./Sec. (23,963 mph)
Change +9,774 Ft./Sec. (6665 mph)
Reentry Angle setup between De-orbit Burn and EI = 0.7644
o After EI the angle is typically adjusted to between 1 and 1.5.

1. It is unknown why the increase in velocity between the end of the deorbit burn and EI is so great. If it is not an
error it may by a byproduct of the entry process. The value will be checked further until it is confirmed.

Reentry flight maneuvers:

The shuttle crew initiated the OPS 304 guidance program at 5 minutes prior to EI per the STS-107 reentry instructions, see the flight
documents Entry_check_list_STS-107_a.pdf and Entry_check_list_STS-107_b.pdf. OPS 304 is a closed loop guidance program
designed specifically to control the shuttle through the peak heating phase of reentry from EI+400 to EI+1200, see Fig. A10 for the
definition of the peak heating region. OPS 304 uses closed loop feedback to determine when and where to initiate the Roll / bank
maneuvers that reduce the rate of descent and bleed off the excessive forward speed. Because the RCS Roll jets are deactivated
at Qbar = 10 psf the shuttle uses the elevons and Yaw jets to perform maneuvers. The basic operation of the Orbital Maneuvering
System (OMS) and RCS are described on page Technical Overview of the Space Shuttle Orbiter.
Fig. A1
Fig. A1 to the left depicts a typical Space
Shuttle reentry. The area inside the red
rectangle represents the final approach
and landing phase shown in Fig. A3. If
Columbia had made it to this part of reentry it
would have had to make a 270 right hand
turn in order to land on Kennedy Space
Center's runway 33 at 9:16 EST. as was

Fig. A2

Fig. A2 shows the two typical flight paths across the United
States for landing at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) depending
on the shuttle's orbital inclination. For STS-107 the orbital
inclination was 39 and the associated flight path would have
been the Maximum Westerly Approach.
Based only on this diagram, it would appear that the Columbia
was significantly off course during the STS-107 reentry when
compared to what is considered to be the typical nominal
Maximum Westerly Approach flight path. However, it is unknown
if the Space Shuttle follows the exact same flight path every time

or if the path is dependent on the particular circumstances of the

flight. Therefore the Columbia may not have been off course at
all but the possibility is presented here only for discussion

Fig. A3

Fig. A3 shows how the Space Shuttle makes its final approach to
land at KSC on runway 33 which was the designated runway for
STS-107. What is most notable is the 270 right turn the shuttle
needs to make in order to land.

Fig. A2 & A3 are from NASA document FS-2000-05-30-KSC

(Landing the Space Shuttle Orbiter at KSC)

Detailed Description of Flight Maneuvers in the Entry Subphase of Space Shuttle Reentry
Taken from the NASA Space Shuttle reference manual section on reentry.
Also available here Space Shuttle Reentry.
Guidance performs different tasks during the 1Entry, 2TAEM and 3Approach and Landing subphases. During the 1Entry subphase, guidance
attempts to keep the orbiter on a trajectory that provides protection against overheating, overdynamic pressure and excessive normal
acceleration limits. To do this, it sends commands to flight control to guide the orbiter through a tight corridor limited on one side by altitude and
velocity requirements for 4Ranging (in order to make the runway) and orbiter control and on the other side by thermal constraints. 4Ranging is
accomplished by adjusting 5Drag Acceleration to velocity so that the orbiter stays in that corridor. 5Drag Acceleration can be adjusted primarily
in two ways: by modifying the 6Angle of Attack, which changes the orbiter's cross-sectional area with respect to the airstream, or by adjusting the
orbiter's 7Bank Angle, which affects lift and thus the orbiter's 8Sink Rate into denser atmosphere, which in turn affects drag. Using 6Angle of
Attack as the primary means of controlling drag results in faster energy dissipation with a steeper trajectory but violates the thermal constraint on
the orbiter's surfaces. For this reason, the orbiter's 7Bank Angle (Roll control) is used as the primary method of controlling drag, and thus
Ranging, during this phase. Increasing the 9Roll Angle decreases the vertical component of lift, causing a higher 8Sink Rate. Increasing the
Roll Rate raises the surface temperature of the orbiter, but not nearly as drastically as does an equal 6Angle of Attack command. The orbiter's
Angle of Attack is kept at a high value (40) during most of this phase to protect the upper surfaces from extreme heat. It is modulated at certain
times to ''tweak'' the system and is ramped down to a new value at the end of this phase for orbiter controllability. Using bank angle to adjust
Drag Acceleration causes the orbiter to turn off course. Therefore, at times, the orbiter must be rolled back toward the runway. This is called a
Roll Reversal and is commanded as a function of azimuth error from the runway. The ground track during this phase, then, results in a series of

Technical Footnotes:
1. Entry:
The first subphase of reentry from EI-5 min. to where vehicle is traveling at 2500 Ft./Sec. (83,000 Ft. altitude).
2. TAEM (Terminal Area Energy Management):
The second subphase of reentry begins at 2500 Ft./Sec. to altitude under 10,000 Ft.
3. Approach and Landing:
The third subphase of reentry from under 10,000 Ft. altitude and the shuttle lined up with runway and ends with orbiters
weight on nose gear after touchdown.
4. Ranging:
The process where the shuttle's guidance system continuously calculate the required altitude and velocity based on
distance to the runway.
5. Drag Acceleration:
The physical flight parameter adjusted to accommodate the results of the Ranging calculations, (Optimum value is
33_Ft./Sec.2 . Adjusted using either Angle of Attack or Bank Angle).

6. Angle of Attack:
Angle between an aircrafts longitudinal axis and its direction of travel.
7. Bank Angle:
Rotation about vehicle velocity vector (direction of travel).
8. Sink Rate:
An aircraft rate of descent into the atmosphere.
9. Roll Angle:
Rotation about vehicle longitudinal X axis.
10. Roll Rate:
Change in vehicle Roll angle with time.
11. Roll Reversal:
Turns shuttle back towards runway to correct Bank Angle error.

Critical Systems Failures During Reentry

NASA's STS-107-Timeline-Rev15.xls Excel file gives a detailed list of anomalous events as they occurred. That data was then used
to create a ground track presentation in STS-107 GTrack Rev 15.pdf.
Fig. A4

If we had to state a time and location where

Columbia's fate was sealed for the STS-107
mission, it would not be somewhere over the
Atlantic shortly after launch on January 16,
2003. It would instead be at 13:47:32
(EI+203) over the middle of the Pacific Ocean
at an altitude of 298,446 Feet during her
reentry, see Fig. A4.
What makes this location so suspect is that it
was the end of both Laurel Clark's crew cabin
video and marked the end of any and all

significant voice communications with Mission

Control Houston. The Space Shuttle had not
lost voice contact with Mission Control to such
an extent since the Tracking and Data Relay
Satellite TDRS system was put in place in the
early nineties. Typically the shuttle's avionics
system would find a suitable backup for the
voice transmitter and bring it on line, but that
didn't happen during STS-107.
By 13:50:00 data transmissions from the
shuttle were being affected as well. Within
two minutes after that the bits of data that
were getting through indicated off nominal
aero increments that were not being corrected
by Columbia's avionics systems.

Communication failures:
The first events were loss of communication from the external S-Band antennas. Fig. A5A and A5B show the location of all external
Antennas on the Columbia. The purpose and operation of the S-Band antennas is further explained in, Effects of hypersonic flow
during reentry of the Space Shuttle, Communications: and Technical Overview of the Space Shuttle Orbiter (Avionics and
Communications Systems), Communications Systems.

Fig. A5A

Fig. A5B

Table A1 lists all of the communication loss events between the shuttle and mission control which resulted in the missing data shown
in the Time Line documents. Each event includes the time, duration and what hardware was involved. What is not shown in the
chart is the complete loss of voice communication after 13:47:32. Although this was the most significant anomalous
communication failure none of the official investigation documents mention anything about it. It is unknown why the shuttle
continued to transmit telemetry data and not voice communications. A possible reason is that voice communications are carried on
the S-Band PM two ways system while data is typically carried on the S-Band FM system which transmits only and cannot receive.
Another possibility is that what ever affected electronic systems onboard the orbiter had a much greater affect on microphone
components than other systems. See, Technical Overview of the Space Shuttle Orbiter (Avionics and Communications Systems),
Communications Systems.
This news story confirms how uncommon such a loss of communications is at this point in our space program, "The Shuttle
Blackout Myth Persists".
The crew cabin video released by NASA is said to have come from a video tape in a camcorder which survived breakup and was
found in the debris field. This video is available for viewing on various news sites, CBS news Space Shuttle reentry video. It can
also be downloaded from Inside here Crew Cabin Video 100 MB.

Sensor failures:
The next events were the beginnings of sensor anomalies. The STS-107_Event_Sequence.pdf document from NASA contains
diagrams that show the time and location of the various sensor failures and off nominal readings. The document STS107_Sensor_Failure.pdf contains similar information but is an older version. Note that both documents were released before the
OEX data recorder was found and therefore neither contains the OEX data that has been determined to be questionable and most
likely fabricated. Because many of these events are mentioned during reentry by Mission Control personnel it may be possible to
verify the data by comparing the events to the transcript of voice communications in the STS-107_Reentry_Text_J.pdf document.
Fig. A6

Fig. A6 is a modified version of the image

that is published with STS107_Event_Sequence.pdf. The diagram
graphically shows the approximate X - Y
location of all the affected sensors grouped
and color coded by their associated wiring
cable harnesses.
Table A2 is a summary of sensor activity from
EI to LOS (Los Of Signal) that is taken from
the same document as the image. The
numbers on the sensors in the image
correspond to the numbers in the column
labeled Sensor Ref. No. and are the same
as used in, STS-107_Event_Sequence.pdf.
The numbers do not correspond to the order
of events.
The most puzzling of the sensor anomalies
were those monitoring the supply water
dump nozzles and the vacuum vent near the
forward fuselage. The suspected breach in
either RCC panels 8 or 9 is too far from these
to have effected the units or their sensors

Fig. A6 is from STS-107_ Event_Sequence.pdf released by the C.A.I.B. on 03/14/2003. The

image has been modified slightly to provide more information in a compact format.

and wiring.

Fig. A6 shows the temperature sensor cable harness for hydraulic systems 1, 2 and 3 return lines as having a close proximity to the
left wing leading edge near RCC panels 7, 8 and 9, the exact location of the wing breach that exists in the C.A.I.B.'s failure
scenario. This is why the investigators concluded that the wiring harness was attacked by heat which caused the anomalies that
were recorded, (see Table A2; Events 1, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 14).
It has been shown on this site that the Space Shuttle left wing wiring diagrams such as that shown above in Fig. A6 were
created after the Columbia disaster for use with the official investigation. These diagrams portray sensor cable routings
that are not accurate. The sole purpose of these diagrams is to further legitimize the existence of a breach in the leading

edge of the shuttle's left wing and point directly to it as the source of reentry sensor electrical anomalies. The differences
between the wiring diagrams doctored by the C.A.I.B. and the actual wire and cable routing used on all the shuttles is
clarified in detail in one of the Space Shuttle technical sections. See, Technical Overview of the Space Shuttle Orbiter (Wings,
Tail, Body Flap and Control Surfaces), Wiring harness routing.

Avionics failures:
Nothing is mentioned in either the STS-107 Timeline or STS-107 Ground Track documents about failures of the General Purpose
Computers (GPC's) or any other of the flight control systems or avionics equipment onboard the Columbia. The space shuttle has
five general purpose computers that are all identical. Four of the computers are loaded with the same software for guidance,
navigation and control which is produced by PASS. The PASS software is broken down into OPS programs that control everything
the space shuttle does from launch to wheel stop. The fifth computer is loaded with Backup Flight Software (BFS) that is produced
by a different company. This software is only used in the event that the four main computers are off line. The BFS can be initiated
either by another GPC or manually by the pilot.

Flight Control and Guidance Failures During Reentry

The final report on the Columbia disaster produced by the C.A.I.B. traces all anomalous events during the reentry of STS-107 to a
breach in one of the leading edge RCC panels of the left wing. This report states the breach as being in panels 7, 8 or 9 and
assumes that it is a 12 to 14 inch wide hole in the top part of the panel, see Fig. A6. It has already been shown that the official
investigation altered the location of sensor wires to help legitimize the breached wing scenario, see the Sensor failure section above
and the technical section on Wiring harness routing. The following detailed analysis of what was happening to Columbia's flight
control system between 13:47:00 and 14:00:00 also indicates extensive attempts to force the evidence to follow the breached wing
scenario. This is done by ignoring important data or distorting other data as well as the results of technical analysis. When all of the
data is considered and analyzed from an objective point of view, the cause of the Columbia disaster appears to lead in the direction
of multiple system failure rather than external damage.

Aerodynamic events and attitude corrections:

Any telemetry data referred to in the following section can be referenced from either STS-107 Timeline
(Rev15) or STS-107 Ground Track (Rev15).

The earliest know "off nominal" external event, (the nature of this event is never explained), during the STS-107 reentry occurred
at 13:51:19. Prior to this there was some type of multi system failure at 13:47:32, see Fig. A4. After this the reentry flight was
plagued by ever increasing off nominal Yaw and Roll aero-moments. At 13:51:46 the Time Line and Ground Track documents
contain the following entry,
Inertial sideslip angle (Beta) goes and stays Negative until LOS
While the magnitude of the observed Beta is not outside the flight history (41G & 42), the almost linear negative ramp prior to
the first Roll reversal is not consistent with other flights reviewed. This is consistent with a negative rolling and yawing torque
on the vehicle.
The interpretation of the above statement is that the value of this sideslip angle is no better or worse than what has been measured
in previous flights and is therefore considered to be within the nominal range. However, the fact that this negative Beta or negative
Yaw continues with no attempt by the shuttle's Digital Auto Pilot (DAP) to correct the flight path is not normal. The C.A.I.B.'s
explanation for the negative Yaw is that the breach on the leading edge of the left wing resulted in excessive aerodynamic drag on
the left side only, forcing the shuttle to turn in that direction. If we continue to follow the C.A.I.B.'s scenario, we can assume that the
only thing wrong with the Columbia when she reentered the atmosphere was the wing breach. Therefore all of the orbiters other
systems should be without damage and functioning normally. One could then only assume that the drag force related to the wing
breach went beyond the ability of the shuttle's flight control system to compensate and reestablish the correct flight path. However,
the fact is that the DAP itself made absolutely no attempt to reorient the shuttle.
An analysis of the control surface motions and RCS jet firings occurring between 13:51:46 and 13:59:30 listed in Table A3 do not
appear to be an attempt to correct the flight path. All of the events that occurred during that period of 7 minutes and 44 seconds are
brief, random and unrelated. The only real attempt to correct Columbia's attitude did not occur until 13:59:30 when the shuttle's
autopilot suddenly shut down and the RCS Yaw jets fired for a full 8 seconds in an obvious attempt to correct the negative Yaw angle
and bring the orbiter back under control. Unfortunately the calculations done in Technical Article TA-A2 shows that the 8 second
jet firing overcorrected the negative Yaw to a full 90 positive Yaw placing the shuttle with the left wing facing fully windward. The
error messages near the end of the Time Line referring to the Left RCS system, L RCS LEAK and L RCS PVT, would seem to
indicate that there was no chance of using the Left RCS Jets to re-correct the positive Yaw. The result of this calculation would not
be provable except for a close analysis of the Colony Video seen in Technical Article TA-A3 which appears to show the Columbia
for the few seconds between the Yaw jet firing and orbiter breakup flying sideways with the left wing still intact and facing windward
against the hypersonic flow.
The left wing disintegrated first because it was exposed to the hypersonic flow in a manner that exceeded its design limits,
not because a breach in the leading edge created a weak spot that became exploited. We also know that the Yaw and Roll

trends did not continue until LOS, and that the RCS jets were powerful enough to counter a drag force from the left wing if
it existed.
The inability of a space shuttle to make a simple course correction during any point in reentry is an indication that the full array of 5
General Purpose Computers GPC's failed simultaneously. It is also an indication of partial or full corruption of the main flight
software routines as well as the backup flight software. The design incorporating 5 identical GPC's as well as backup flight software
is in place to negate the possibility that a space shuttle is ever left without flight critical avionics. Something completely unexpected
and unaccounted for attacked the hardware onboard the shuttle so quickly and completely that not one of the astronauts or any of
the flight engineers at Mission Control were aware of the consequences. By observation it appears that whatever happened to the
Columbia began at approximately 13:47:30, see Fig. A4, with the severest extent of the damage complete between 13:50:00 and
13:51:00. That is the defining line between normal reentry flight operations and the complete breakdown of critical avionics
Fig. A7
Fig. A7 is a visual definition of sideslip. As the Space Shuttle
descends through the atmosphere it reaches a point where significant
increases in atmospheric density result in a much greater rate of
aerodynamic heating. This heating effect is controlled by slowing
down the rate of descent and bleeding forward speed as possible.
This is accomplished through the use of flight maneuvers.
The typical shuttle reentry involves 4 Roll maneuvers and 4 Roll
Reversals. The Roll maneuvers causes sideslip which results in the
orbiter being off course. The Roll reversal maneuvers are performed
to put the shuttle back on its proper flight path.
Fig. A8

Fig. A8 describes how the negative Beta is controlled and used to roll
into the first flight maneuver. Another method for slowing down the
shuttle's rate of descent and airspeed is by flying with a very large
Angle of Attack (AOA). The AOA must be maintained at 40 from EI
through the peak heating region. This angle is difficult to hold and is
part of the Digital Autopilot (DAP) reentry program. If the autopilot is
disabled the shuttle would level out very quickly resulting in a
faster descent.

Because of this extreme AOA the lower surface of the orbiter takes the
brunt of the heat load during reentry. Therefore the entire bottom of
the shuttle is covered with the heavy duty black tiles.

There is also a more natural and provable explanation for the negative Yaw trend which the official report attributes to the leading
edge wing breach. During reentry the Digital Auto Pilot (DAP) running the OPS-304 reentry flight control and guidance program
maintains the Angle of Attack (AOA) at 40 and calculates the correct time to initiate the flight maneuvers. The first flight maneuver
which is a Roll to the right was initiated at 13:49:32 and is started by lowering the left elevons a few degrees. Because the AOA is
different from any other aircraft, the result of this command to the aero surface is a negative Yaw rate and a positive Roll rate or a
roll to the right. The maneuver was initiated just after the multi system failure began at 13:47:30, and just prior to what seems to be
its completion at 13:50:00. Normally the Yaw and Roll would be controlled so the maneuver could be completed but the flight control
systems may have become too damaged. A good indication that the maneuver was not completed is that the time of completion is
missing throughout the final report and all associated documents. An incomplete Roll Maneuver would have left the Columbia with
the left elevon extended downward by a few degrees resulting in a constant negative Yaw rate and positive Roll rate as shown in
Fig. A9. Therefore it is a distinct possibility that the Yaw and Roll trends were the result of an uncompleted flight maneuver.
Another and far more serious problem resulting from the loss of flight control and especially the DAP that early in reentry would be
the inability to maintain the AOA at 40, see Fig. A8 above. The shuttle's natural aerodynamic tendency is to level out flat if nothing
is constantly maintaining the AOA at 40. If no flight maneuvers are performed during reentry and the shuttle flies with the AOA or
Pitch angle = 0 it will descend far too fast through the atmosphere and be subject to extreme thermal attack on the TPS. The
descent flight path of the space shuttle should look something like the altitude curve of the chart in Fig.A10. When the space shuttle
sets itself up for reentry it initially enters the atmosphere with an angle of descent that may seem very small but is essentially the
angle that would cause the shuttle to intersect the Earth at its landing location. The angle is usually around 1, STS-5 happened to
be 1.24. Without any additional input from the flight control system the shuttle will descend straight through the atmosphere without
stopping the descent to bleed off some of its forward speed. This is what is happening in Fig.A10 while the shuttle is passing

through the peak heating region. The official investigation didn't say much about the Angle of Attack except that it didn't seem like a
problem for them.
Fig. A9

Fig. A9 is a graphic from one of the C.A.I.B.

technical presentations that were held once or
twice a month to bring the press up to date on
the progress of the investigation. The graphic
has been altered slightly with the addition of the
red lines and text indicating event times and
descriptions. Because the chart has no units and
no detailed explanation in the accompanying
report text, its exact meaning and relationship to
Columbia's attitude are unknown. Its only value
is in showing Roll and Yaw trends over the
course of reentry.
Table A3 lists all of the RCS jet firings during
reentry along with changes in position of the
control surfaces, left and right elevons, bodyflap
and speedbrake, (blue text relates to control
surfaces and RCS Jet firings). All of the data in
Table A3 comes from STS-107-TimelineRev15.xls which also lists times when certain
flight maneuvers were made. These flight
maneuvers are also listed in the table for
comparison with other data.

Fig. A9 is from a C.A.I.B. press presentation on 04/26/2003 pb-20030408-01a.jpg.

The flight data used by the C.A.I.B. and which appears in the official final report also contains another glaring discrepancy. The Time
Line and Ground Track documents list a time that the first flight maneuver, a Roll to the right, was initiated as being 13:49:32, but a
time for the completion of the maneuver is not stated, see the preceding paragraph. The documents then list another flight
maneuver which is a Roll Reversal initiated at 13:56:30 and completed at 13:56:55. However, the chart in Fig. A9 indicates that the

off nominal Yaw and Roll trends continued throughout reentry including the period of time when the Roll reversal was performed.
Therefore these two statements from the official final report are in stark contradiction to one another. Either the Columbia
performed flight maneuvers during reentry, or, it continued yawing and rolling in the same directions as the chart in Fig. A9
below shows. Both statements cannot be true. The addition of the second flight maneuver was probably an early attempt
to make the STS-107 reentry appear more normal up to a point.

Eyewitness Accounts
Crossing over Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico:
Chris Valentine is another individual who has done a great deal of work combining and overlaying images to get a better idea of
what happened to Columbia during reentry. Some graphics he has created such as a compilation of the many amateur videos of
Columbia's breakup have been featured on news reports and have been used for official training purposes. Some of his data may
be able to tell us how the Columbia was flying through that period of reentry; analysis follows.

Crossing into Texas:

Chris Valentine's video tracks the Columbia through most of the shuttles travel across the United States from just East of the
California border to nearly where the orbiter enters Texas. Not only is this an important piece of evidence because he captured so
many events of debris shedding, but it also makes the transition from observing the Columbia crossing the dark night sky into early
morning light in Texas where many of the videos that captured the final breakup were shot. Unfortunately there does not seem to be
any video of Columbia from just before she entered Texas until just after LOS where several different videos all seem to capture the
same events. Among the many amateurs recording the Columbia's breakup after LOS that day were a pair of not so amateur Dutch
AH-64 pilots training near Fort Hood who kept the Apaches gun site camera trained on the Columbia debris for as long as possible.
It is unknown if the pilots who were in America for training knew what they were watching at the time. It is possible they were waiting
to catch the incoming shuttle on the attack choppers advanced FLIR sensor.

Sonic booms:
All eyewitness accounts of the shuttle disaster are virtually identical for those residents living within the area that makes up the last
3/4 of the debris field. The first odd occurrence that caught the attention of many residents of Jacksonville, Nacogdoches County
and Hemphill Texas very shortly after 8:00 a.m. CST on the morning of February 1, 2003 was a very loud twin sonic boom followed
by a rumbling that many of them described as feeling as if they were standing next to a freight train. The first person to produce a
written statement of what happened the morning of February 1 st, 2003 lives in Jacksonville Texas. The web page can be accessed

at This account states that the sonic booms started at exactly 8:01 a.m. CST with the
following rumble lasting for at least 30 seconds.
Another account written by John Frederick of Nacogdoches Texas is very similar to the first except he states that the sonic booms
began at 8:04 a.m. He described the sound as, "a large BOOM followed by a second smaller BOOM", which would indicate that
it was not the quick succession of two booms about a half second apart. This could be taken to mean that something was
happening to the shuttle at the moment the shockwave events occurred. The Space Shuttles twin sonic booms are similar to that of
any super sonic swept wing aircraft where the initial event is the shockwave from the nose of the shuttle and the second is from the
rear of the swept wings and or tail section. This is another personal account written by a Nacogdoches resident, Sharon Kasper.
The booms were followed by a loud rumbling event that is not at all typical of a shuttle landing. Again John Frederick's account
states that it was, "an extended rumble & roar that shook our house for at least 20-30 seconds". The time period of 20 to 30
seconds is probably accurate based on statements by many people who said they had time to run to different rooms of the house
and outside while it was happening. One possibility for what caused the loud rumble is the many separate shockwave that were
created as substantial pieces of debris broke away from the main body and passed overhead at supersonic speeds. From the video
compilation on Chris Valentine's website the three main engines can be seen quite clearly separating from each other and continuing
on to impact in Louisiana. The difference in the times when the sonic booms were heard can be accounted for based on the travel
distance from Jacksonville to Nacogdoches as well as a decrease in velocity of the debris itself. This is assuming that someone's
clock was not off the correct time by more than a few seconds. All of the sonic boom witnesses also reported debris falling in their
areas immediately after the event, perhaps within a minute
CNN animation: Columbia over Texas

Sonic booms during Space Shuttle reentry

This technical article from the NASA website, Shuttle_Reentry.pdf, explains how the Space
Shuttle typically reenters Earths atmosphere listing the various phases of flight etc. The
document states that the shuttle does not enter subsonic flight until it has reached an
altitude of 49,000 feet and is about 25 miles from the runway. When the shuttle is above
50,000 feet very little of the sonic energy reaches the ground.
Therefore people on the ground usually only hear the sonic booms when the shuttle is
between 80,000 and 49,000 feet. Even then you would only recognize it as a sonic boom
from the shuttle if you were listening for it. Much of the time at those altitudes the sonic
booms are barely audible and most people don't hear them at all. The fact that so many
people living near where Columbia broke up heard the sonic disturbance so prominently
would almost certainly mean that the Columbia was much lower than 200,767 feet when
she broke up, (see Table A4), and may have even been below 50,000 feet.

A more

complete explanation of shock waves

and sonic booms
Technical Article: TA-A4; Shockwave Formation and Sonic Booms

LOS, Orbiter Breakup and Debris Field

LOS and breakup:
UPDATE: 02/15/2004
It has since been determined that the spread sheet and graph of Table A4 and Fig. A10 do not accurately represent STS107. The true altitude data from STS-107 was replaced with either nominal data or data straight from another shuttle
mission such as STS-5. This was part of an effort to maintain a cover story that Columbia was flying normally for most of

All that can really be determined about the actions of the people involved in Columbia's reentry and breakup is that no one seemed
to be alerted to the impending disaster. The document, STS-107_Reentry_Text_J.pdf, is a transcription of all of the released verbal
communications between the Columbia and Mission Control at Houston Space Center as well as between the Columbia crew
members. The official final report leads us to believe that the foam strike and the possibility that the TPS somewhere on the orbiter
had been severely breached was widely discussed with great concern among NASA personnel as well as between flight engineers
and the shuttle crew. This is at odds with the crew cabin video, Crew Cabin Video 100 MB, from the first half of reentry that shows
smiling astronauts going through reentry checklists and commenting about the bright and colorful plasma forming outside the
windows. The transcribed communications between Mission Control personnel is also overly free of concern for the fate of the
shuttle. Although some statements do acknowledge the relatively minor temperature increases seen in the telemetry data
transmitted to Mission Control, no mention is ever made that the cause could be a breach in the TPS. There was also no mention of
the ever increasing Yaw anomaly depicted in the graphic from Fig. A9
Fig. A11
After the complete loss of communications occurred with
Mission Control at 13:59:32, a contingency plan was put in
place for what actions to take when the Columbia landed at
its prescheduled time of 14:16:00. It just didn't occur to
those tracking the shuttle that the worst had happened until
the reports of multiple contrails and debris falling all over
central Texas began coming in. No one in Mission Control
Houston ever used the words "breach" or "burn through"
anytime during reentry. Fortunately some of the best
accounts of Columbia's final minutes come from the
amateur videos that have been widely seen. If anyone
observing the events in Mission Control thought that a burn
through was happening as some later stated on television,
they didn't mention it at the time.

Page Notes:
Reference documents for this page are available in the Download page under STS-107 Time Line & Reentry.