Columbia: accident or shootdown

by Jim Rarey


When a government agency suffers a catastrophic failure, one of the first reactions is self-preservation. In the case of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Columbia disaster, the cover-up began even before the event.

In the last several years NASA has seen increasing criticism from Congress as an expensive boondoggle with little scientific benefit. This is particularly true with the space station which some see as a financial fiasco that is little more than a PR program to trumpet US/Russia “cooperation” with U.S. taxpayers paying most of Russia’s share of the cost as well as our own.

As NASA expanded the number of shuttle flights, improvements in safety features were postponed as scarce budget dollars were reallocated. When a safety panel warned last year of problems, NASA removed five of the nine members and fired two consultants. A sixth member, Admiral Bernard Kauderer, was so upset he resigned from the panel.

In the immediate aftermath of the Columbia crash, attention focused on ceramic tiles that shielded the fragile body of the orbiter from the intense heat of over 3,000 F it experienced when it reentered the earth’s atmosphere. Ground readings of heat sensors on the shuttle had shown alarming elevation of temperatures on parts of the body. The logical inference was that the shuttle had lost some of the protective tiles.

It was then disclosed that a piece of insulation on the fuel tank had come loose on liftoff and hit one of the wings. A team reviewed videos of the takeoff and concluded the incident did not pose a safety hazard. This was reported to the staff of program manager Ron Dittemore. While Dittemore told a new conference he accepted full responsibility as program manager, he had not shown enough interest to actually attend the review meeting. He initially dismissed the falling insulation as a cause of the shuttles failure.

Two panels were set up to investigate the national tragedy. One comprised NASA officials and the other an “independent” panel, made up of military brass and representatives from other government agencies (More about the membership of the “independent” panel later.) The so-called independent panel at first was to work under the direction of the NASA Administrator, Bush appointee Sean O’Keefe. However, pressure from Congress and others forced O’Keefe to relinquish control to Admiral Harold W. Gehman, chair of the panel.

In the meantime, a steady stream of articles in the mainstream media, led by the venerable New York Times, exposed a litany of problems NASA has encountered over the last dozen years with both the insulation and the heat-resistant tiles. This in itself is curious as we are used to seeing the NYT and other media make excuses for government failures usual blaming under funding, lack of communication and low-level incompetence.

Veteran researchers know that the New York Times is a transmission belt (mouthpiece) for the elite power structure in Washington and New York. It prides itself as being the “newspaper of record” for the country with its motto, “All the news that’s fit to print.” A more fitting title is the one given his book by former Times editor Herman Dinsmore, “All the news that fits.” At any rate, the news that is emphasized in the Times is what the power structure wants the public to believe, whether or not it is t rue or merely diversionary.

NASA has admitted that, theoretically, loss of just a few tiles could start a reaction that would cause the shuttle to disintegrate. If that is true, it’s a wonder in view of the news articles about known problems how they convinced astronauts to make the trips, assuming they were informed of past problems with the tiles.

A total of about 24,000 tiles are used on each shuttle and each one is hand glued to the body. A “wiggle” test is made to see if the tile bonded which experienced technicians can only do properly. If not bonded properly, they are subject to coming off under intense heat. The same is t rue of the adhesive holding the insulation on the fuel tank. The tank contains fuel kept at a temperature of below minus 400 degrees Fahrenheit and formation of ice has been a problem that has come off and hit the tiles. Also, the extreme cold causes the adhesive to shrink once it has been applied.

United Space Alliance is the prime contractor for the NASA shuttle program. It is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin defense contractors who formed the company rather than compete against each other for individual contracts with NASA. It handles programs at both the Kennedy Center in Florida and the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The venture subcontracts work out to hundreds of other companies.

A 1995 study showed that 90 percent of all tile damage resulted from foam (insulation) on the fuel tank “debonding” during liftoff and smacking into the craft. In 1997 technicians found about 100 damaged tiles on the Columbia caused by loss of insulation unseen by launch cameras.

Although only one such debonding was reported in Columbia’s January liftoff, program manager Dittemore told a new conference that other cameras were “out of focus” and they didn’t get a clear view of the entire launch.

The flood of stories reporting significant problems in the program, of which the above is only a sampling, would lead one to believe that the Columbia disaster can be directly attributed to NASA’s failure to solve the quality and safety problems endemic in the shuttle program. That is unless the uncharacteristic openness of the government and media is meant to divert attention from another possible cause.

An amateur astronomer/photographer in California may have caught the actual cause of the demise of Columbia on film. The San Francisco man (whose name is being withheld) had set a camera up on a tripod and was shooting separate frames, about six to eight seconds apart, as Columbia streaked across the California sky.

As he shot the five frames, the photographer said he saw several fragments break away from the shuttle. However it wasn’t until he developed the film that he saw what has come to be called the “West Coast Anomaly.” The film revealed the space shuttle getting zapped by a purplish electrical bolt with an odd “L” shape. Two San Francisco Chronicle reporters, who viewed the photographs, confirmed the description. The photos were taken just seven minutes before the Columbia completely disintegrated over Texas.

The bay area man contacted the Johnson Space Center in Houston and former astronaut Tammy Jernigan was sent to collect his camera and the photographs to deliver to NASA. Her first reaction on seeing the picture is quoted as “wow.” Jernigan is currently a manager at the Department of Energy’s secret Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. The University of California, under a contract to the Dept. of Energy, runs the lab.

NASA is also interested in analyzing a video shot by Jay Lawson of the Fleischmann Planetarium at the University of Nevada at Reno. His video shows a burst of light at the shuttle just moments before NASA’s timeline shows heat sensors recording an unusual increase in surface temperature on the orbiter.

Before any analysis had been done, a NASA spokesman advanced two possible explanations for the phenomenon on the San Francisco photo. Although on a tripod he said the camera might have been jiggled while snapping the picture. Alternatively the apparent electrical charge could be what NASA calls a “sprite” which is an electromagnetic phenomenon in the upper atmosphere that jumps from clouds to the ionosphere or in the reverse direction. It is little understood (at least by NASA) although an expert in the field discounted that possibility from the description and the fact that the clear sky was cloudless at the time.

Regardless of source, such a blast of electromagnetic pulse (EMP) energy would do considerable damage to the shuttle perhaps destroying tiles or at least loosening the adhesives holding the tiles and insulation in place. The consequence is eerily similar to the effect of EMP weaponry developed by the U.S. Military in the general category of directed energy.

In that vein it may be instructive to examine the backgrounds of the seven-member “independent” panel appointed by NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe (who also appointed all members of the in-house NASA panel). Aside from two civilian safety experts from the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aeronautics Administration (FAA), the other five are top military brass.

Chairman of the panel (of which the official title is, “Space Shuttle Mishap Interagency Investigation Board”) is Rear Admiral (Ret.) Harold Gehman. Gehman was the first commander of the U.S. Joint Forces Command. His last assignment before retiring in 2000 was a dual one. He was Supreme NATO Commander, Atlantic and Commander of all military forces in the continental United States.

Gehman also headed the military investigation of the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen, competing with the FBI investigation headed by anti-terrorism chief John O’Neill. The U.S. ambassador to Yemen, Barbara Bodine, felt O’Neill was getting cooperation from Yemeni officials that the military was not and eventually declared O’Neill persona non grata and he was sent back to New York.

O’Neill retired from the FBI after clashing with FBI Director Louis Freeh over the bureau’s failure to investigate Saudi Arabia’s support of terrorist activities. Shortly after he took the position of Security Director at the World Trade Center, O’Neill died mysteriously in the 9/11 attacks. He had successfully evacuated the first tower that was hit, where is office was located, but his body was found under a stairwell in the second tower.

Rear Admiral Stephen Turcotte is commander of the U.S. Naval Safety Center at Norfolk, Virginia.

Major General John L. Barry is director of Plans and Programs, Headquarters Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio UFO researchers will recognize the base as the home of the notorious top-secret “Hangar 18” where relics from the 1947 Roswell, New Mexico. “UFO incident” occurred.

Major General Kenneth W. Hess is U.S. Air Force Chief of Safety, Kirtland AF Base at Kirtland, New Mexico. The base runs the Directed Energy Directorate of the AF Directed Energy Laboratory located 140 miles north of the base at the northern end of the White Sands missile range. The Directorate’s charter is to improve the Air Force’s ability to track missiles and then destroy them with laser energy through the atmosphere.

Last, but certainly not least, is Brigadier General Duane W. Deal. To insure no bias is inserted by this writer, a portion of General Deal’s official biography is reproduced verbatim from the Air Force website.

“Brig. Gen. Duane W. Deal is Commander, 21st Space Wing, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. The Air Force’s largest wing geographically and organizationally, the wing consists of a work force of more than 6,000 officer, enlisted, civilian and contract employees. This work force provides missile warning and space control for combat forces and the governments of the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom through its 35 units operating 14 space weapon systems at 20 worldwide locations in six countries spread across 10 time zones.”

That should put to rest any controversy over whether or not the U.S. military has operational anti-missile weapons in space.

According to a Feb. 6th article by Dan Feldstein in the Houston Chronicle, “A piece of debris classified “top secret” is somewhere among the thousands of shards of the space shuttle Columbia spread across Texas.” He is referring to a telecommunication device that handles encrypted messages between the shuttle and ground.

Although DOD payload specialist David Hess said the device was not used in the lone Defense experiment on the shuttle (an AF miniature satellite threat reporting system) might it be used to cloak the entire investigation in secrecy under the rubric of “national security?”

We shall have to wait and see if the openness so far displayed by the government and media extends to the analysis and explanation of the “West Coast Anomaly.”