Fwd = Shuttle Columbia Recorder has Strong Signal, Promising Data
- Forwarded by: fwestra@... (Frits Westra)
Original Date: Fri, 28 Mar 2003 13:52:21 -0800
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Shuttle Columbia Recorder has Strong Signal, Promising Data
By Jim Banke
Senior Producer, Cape Canaveral Bureau
posted: 03:00 pm ET
27 March 2003
This is an update to a story first posted at 11:25 a.m. EST.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A data recorder that survived the
disintegration of Columbia over Texas has a strong signal on its
magnetic tape and promises to provide new insight into what happened
during the shuttle's re-entry into Earth's atmosphere on Feb. 1.
"Everyone is very optimistic and very eager to take a look at it and
it appears extremely promising," James Hartsfield, a spokesman at the
Johnson Space Center in Houston, told SPACE.com on Thursday.
Although the actual data is still to be analyzed, the signal on the
recorder's magnetic tape was said to be very strong and workers at the
Kennedy Space Center, where the tape is being duplicated today, were
reported to be thrilled with what they saw.
Time-stamped coding on the tape, which engineers could see as they
copied it, showed that there is some kind of imprint of data until 18
seconds past 9 a.m. EST (1400 GMT), the independent board
investigating the tragedy said in a statement released Thursday.
That's about 14 seconds later than the final two-second burst of
telemetry radioed from Columbia, according to the latest official
timeline released by NASA.
"After that time, the tape is blank," the statement said.
After copying the tapes today, KSC workers are to ship the tapes to
JSC by tomorrow and work to analyze the data will begin this weekend.
"It will be Monday before we know whether or not it's giving us good,
valid data that is of a useable nature for the investigation,"
The data and the way it is handled is more complicated than the way
stream of information are radioed to Earth during a shuttle mission,
"In Mission Control we have flight controllers that can tell you in a
split second whether it's valid data and what it means. It's much more
tedious than that."
If all goes according to the anticipated schedule, it will be the end
of next week before the tape's data will be understood and deemed
valid enough to begin adding its contents into the official timeline.
Scott Hubbard of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board said
Wednesday that the OEX tape offered a potential "gold mine" of
information about the shuttle's last minutes.
Hubbard said that in "a perfect world" the recorder will have stored
721 various measurements from sensors that were installed all over
Columbia to support the ship's early test flights, which began in
The measurements would supplement those radioed to Mission Control
that come from a different set of sensors.
Unfortunately the sensor wiring in the left wing follows the same path
as the other sensors that stopped working in the minutes before
Columbia's loss, Hubbard said.
So it's possible the amount of useful information could be limited if
those wires also were melted by the breach in the wing.
"If all the data were there that I described of course this would be a
gold mine of information that could lead us to a much, much better
understand of what happened throughout the vehicle, and particularly
on the left wing," Hubbard said.
A breach of still unknown origin allowed dangerous hot gases inside
the left wing, which caused sensor wires and the aluminum structure
within the wing to melt. That, in turn, led to the loss of Columbia's
structural integrity and disaster ensued.
Late last week, the recently found recorder was taken to the Imation
Corporation's Discovery Technology Center in Oakdale, Minnesota -- a
firm specializing in data storage and handling. Throughout last
weekend, a team of NASA officials and company experts completed
cleaning and stabilization of the recorder's magnetic tape.
According to Imation, in opening the recorder it was found that most
of the tape was still intact on both the supply reel and the take-up
reel inside the device. The tape, however, had broken between the two.
A portion of the tape was stretched or wrinkled on both ends of the
take-up and supply reels.
According to Imation, most of the tape was in fairly good condition on
visual inspection. There was some contamination inside the recorder
from dirt and water that had accumulated on the tape from its impact
on the ground.
The tape is one-inch wide #799 instrumentation tape, which is a
magnetic data recording tape made specifically for aerospace and
The tape was mounted on two 14-inch reels, one supply reel of
unrecorded tape and a take-up reel for tape that had recorded
Using a non-destructive process, Imation experts were able to pinpoint
the place on the tape where it had stopped.
Working with a NASA-approved approach that would minimize any chance
of data loss, a team began cleaning the tape by hand-immersing the
tape multiple times in a filtered de-ionized water bath.
The tape was then dried with a lint free cloth and nitrogen, allowed
to air-dry overnight, and wound to the appropriate tension on the
original hub with new flanges.
The recorder and its tape were then shipped to Florida for copying.
SPACE.com Senior Space Writer Leonard David contributed to this
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