From Jim Oberg.
Myth 11: The extreme heating of bodies reentering from space (spacecraft, meteorites forming meteors) is the result of friction, as in the air rushing by the object, much like the heat generated by your car brakes from friction between the brake rotor and the brake pad.
Reality: Objects reentering are faster than the speed of sound, forming a shock wave in the air, a shock wave that travels with the speeding object. The air in the shock wave is subject to high levels of compression. The air reaches a high temperature from compression heating, much as air is compressed hot enough in a Diesel engine to ignite the injected oil on contact.
Another myth: NASA could have saved Colombia by ordering a RTLS abort as soon as they saw the foam strike. I’ve seen this one a lot.
There are tons of reasons why this is a myth, but the biggest is that they saw the video of the strike AFTER Columbia attained orbit. It was not seen in real time, but later.
I was disgusted to see the other day (as Jim Oberg points out) that the Daily Mail took a Wayne Hale blog post out of context and spun the story into “NASA knew the astronauts would die but kept it secret from them.” Sadly there will be plenty of people who go to their grave “knowing” that to be true. The UK media can be just as bad as the lame-stream media in the US.
I will add another myth. That NASA needed to wait over two years before launching another Shuttle.
1) The folks at NASA already had a good idea what the cause was, namely that after 20 years of debris hitting during launch one piece finally did hit a weak point that cause a mission failure which means the odds of it happening on the very next mission were no greater than any of the previous 113 missions. Less actually as the next flight to ISS was using a newer ET whereas Columbia had one of the few remaining older ETs too heavy for flights to the ISS.
2) Since the next one shuttle scheduled to launch, Atlantis I believed, was going to the ISS they had both a mechanism for checking its heat shield and a place to shelter in the low probability there was a problem, which leads to 3.
3) After over 2 years of research they really didn’t find any solution to prevent a second Columbia other than tighter quality control and checking the heat shield for damage before re-entry which would have been possible with the next launch to the ISS.
So from an operational perspective there was no reason not to launch the next mission on schedule except political fear…
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