SpaceX’s massive Starship spacecraft was finally ready to take flight this Thursday after suffering delays due to a frozen pressurant valve; however, shortly thereafter it experienced an explosion before stage separation was achieved.
Frueh is currently working on a project using telescopes to improve how agencies catalog new objects in space, with hopes that doing so may avoid collisions with satellites and reduce collision risks. She has her own theories as to what caused Starship fragmentation.
1. Space Shuttle Challenger
On January 28th 1986, just 73 seconds after launch of Space Shuttle Challenger, it exploded fatally, claiming all seven lives of its crew and being seen live by many TV viewers–including students in schools all across the US. This tragic event marked the first fatal shuttle disaster.
Accident occurred when the rear of the right solid rocket booster (SRB) failed to separate properly, opening a hole in its external fuel tank and allowing hot exhaust gasses to escape through it. Rubber O-ring seals intended to keep them sealed together had become vulnerable due to temperature variations; their loss led directly to explosion.
At a congressional hearing held by the Rogers Commission to investigate the disaster, Nobel-Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman conducted an impromptu experiment in which he dropped an SRB O-ring material piece into an ice water glass, clearly showing how O-rings lose their resilience at low temperatures and thus provided definitive proof as to what had caused this disaster. This revelation put to rest any questions over its cause.
2. Space Shuttle Columbia
On February 1, 2003, space shuttle Columbia disintegrated during reentry from its 16-day science mission and crashed to Earth at 231,000 feet, 39 miles above, traveling at 23 times faster than sound speeds. Unfortunately all seven astronauts aboard died as they perished.
Engineers had noticed during routine analysis of launch films that a suitcase-sized piece of foam insulation had come loose from the shuttle’s external tank at about 82 seconds into flight, but did not believe this would significantly impede reentry as similar events had happened with previous shuttle launches without negative consequences.
As Columbia reentered the atmosphere, scientists at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Florida began receiving strange data from her sensors. She was quickly losing altitude and its temperature increased quickly. Ten minutes prior to landing, Mission Control declared an “contingency”, shutting down systems in order to preserve data for an investigation later – yet when radars failed to see her arriving for touchdown, Florida scientists knew something had gone catastrophically wrong.
3. Space Shuttle Columbia Accident
On February 1st 2003, Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated as it reentered Earth’s atmosphere, dispersing debris over an area 2,000 square miles in Texas and Louisiana. Seven astronauts including Israel’s first astronaut were tragically lost as superheated atmospheric gases caused major sections to melt off due to superheated gases within its core.
At 82 seconds into its flight, foam insulation had broken off of the shuttle’s external tank and struck its left wing edge, sparking engineer concerns but ultimately not taking any actions as there was little likelihood that such damage would impede reentry.
As the shuttle spun and tumbled through the atmosphere, its crew were powerless to regain control. From normal descent to disaster came quickly – so quickly that none of them even had time to close their helmet visors before it happened again. An investigation board later concluded that had NASA deployed a rescue shuttle within seven days after being hit with foam debris, possibly saving all seven of them alive.
4. Space Shuttle Columbia Accident Survivors
Space Shuttle Columbia was on its final 16-day mission, full of scientific experiments, when disaster struck on February 1st 2003. A devastating fire had broken out within seconds of landing.
An unknown piece of foam insulation had broken off Columbia’s external tank seconds after launch and struck Columbia’s left wing, gouging out a hole and dismantling a thermal tile. Engineers discovered this damage on an inspection video but were unable to access orbiter telemetry, crew videos and other data sources to assess it adequately.
On reentry, the shuttle disintegrated over northeast Texas and killed all seven astronauts aboard. Today it’s evident that this tragic failure could have been prevented: an investigation board later criticized NASA’s organizational culture and found engineers signed off on damaged wings based on flawed analysis – yet repairable damage would still have been possible had repair measures been in place at that time. Furthermore, NASA has since implemented safety enhancements into their shuttles including better seat restraints, pressure suits and helmets.