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02/03/2004 Archived Entry: "Remembering Columbia"
Posted by CKL @ 05:45 PM PST

It's been just over a year since the Space Shuttle Columbia died, taking all seven crew members with her. A new book, Comm Check... : The Final Flight of Shuttle Columbia, claims to examine the tragedy in detail. An excerpt, as published on

Just before telemetry stopped, data from the backup flight system computer indicated one of the two cockpit "joysticks," used to manually fly the spacecraft on final approach to the runway, was moved beyond its normal position. That's one way for a pilot to deactivate the autopilot. But investigators do not believe Husband or McCool was attempting to take over manual control. More likely, one of the pilots inadvertently bumped his hand controller during those horrifying final few seconds. The shuttle's digital autopilot remained engaged through the final loss of signal.
Is it just me, or does that account seem incomplete? Why do investigators not believe one of the pilots was trying to disengage the autopilot? Maybe I'm more technical than most of the intended audience, but when you spend over three thousand words describing precisely how superheated air flowed through the left wing and melted the aluminum spar inside, I think you could spend more than one paragraph on the people in the spacecraft.

Maybe the excerpt is incomplete. Whether the writers or editors are to blame, it seems awfully disrespectful. Especially when you end by telling how "[o]ne of the crew members came to rest beside a country road near Hemphill [in Texas]. The remains were found by a 59-year-old chemical engineer and Vietnam veteran named Roger Coday, who called the sheriff and then watched from the porch of his mobile home as a funeral director drove by to collect them."

They're pandering to the public's morbid fascination with the gruesome details of death, I'm sure, just like the shameless rubberneck-o-rama that is CSI.

I hope I will rate a slightly more respectful obituary.

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