NASA today released flight-deck video, taken by members of the Columbia crew moments before the space shuttle disintegrated, killing all seven astronauts on board.
The video shows the crew in good spirits while working through routine checklist activities – even mugging for the camera – unaware of their imminent death. It stops before any sign of trouble.
Commander Rick Husband, Pilot Willie McCool and Mission Specialist Kalpana Chawla on flight deck (NASA photo)
The partially scorched and burned videotape was recovered near Palestine, Texas, during search and recovery efforts five days after the tragedy on Feb. 6.
The tape shows Commander Rick Husband, Pilot Willie McCool, Mission Specialists Kalpana Chawla and Laurel Clark who were on the flight deck during re-entry.
Mission Specialists Mike Anderson and Dave Brown, and Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon were on Columbia’s mid-deck during re-entry.
The video was shot with a small onboard camera mounted to the right of McCool, who then removes it and hands it to Clark for additional filming.
Clark played the camera on Chawla who is seen trying to put on her gloves which are bobbing about in the air. She then momentarily plays the camera on herself, smiling and waving into the lens.
Clark’s brother, John Salton, viewed the tape for the first time on Fox News and gave his reaction from the telephone.
“It definitely has obvious emotional impact, seeing the people you cared about at the end,” he said. “It also is nice to see that they were just going about the training that they had trained for really hard and … enjoying the moments before re-entry they could enjoy.”
“They were all not just dedicated to the mission, but I think it was remarkable how they dedicated they were to each other. They were a very tight group,” he said.
Crew of STS-107 (NASA photo)
Towards the end of the tape, the bright orange flashes of hot gases, or plasma, can be seen out the window.
“It’s a bright orange yellow, all over the nose,” one crew member remarked.
“You see sort of a swirl pattern,” said another.
“You definitely don’t want to be outside now,” Husband concluded.
The video, which runs approximately 13 minutes, charts flight-deck activity beginning about 8:35 a.m. Eastern Standard Time as Columbia passed over the south central Pacific Ocean at an altitude of approximately 500,000 feet.
It continues until approximately 8:48 a.m. EST, when Columbia was over the eastern Pacific Ocean, southwest of the San Francisco Bay area. It ends approximately 11 minutes prior to loss of signal between the orbiter and Mission Control.
NASA broadcast the tape on its television service earlier today.
Astronaut Scott Altman, who commanded the last mission of Columbia, introduced the tape.
Altman said more than 250 tapes were recorded of the disasterous flight. This footage is all that was recovered.