Shuttle Columbia Disaster: Wrong Place, Wrong Time! Full Paper (Additional Information added Feb. 12, Feb. 19, Feb. 20, Mar. 14, Mar. 15, Mar. 16, April 28, April 29, May 1, May 3, May10, 2003, Jan 19, 2005 and July 4, 2005 after Conclusion)
by Guy Cramer
Shuttle's demise linked to an unexpected interaction of Astrophysics, Geophysics, Electrophysics and just bad timing.
Due to the technical nature of this paper I have linked to a shortened summary here in easier to read format.
I heard about the disaster while attending a conference, not having my computer available I was unable to check my web site(1) which displays the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Space Environment Center (SEC) (2) which provides real-time monitoring of solar and geophysical events, the dials which indicated space weather conditions from the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) satellite, situated far enough away from the earth towards the earth, upstream of the solar wind, to give us about one hour warning of solar disturbances headed our way.
The Mission Summary from one of the ACE (3) pages gives the following prophetic statement, note their last comment (emphasis added):
|From a vantage point approximately 1/100 of the distance from the Earth to the Sun ACE will perform measurements over a wide range of energy and nuclear mass, under all solar wind flow conditions and during both large and small particle events including solar flares. ACE will provide near-real-time solar wind information over short time periods. When reporting space weather ACE can provide an advance warning (about one hour) of geomagnetic storms that can overload power grids, disrupt communications on Earth, and present a hazard to astronauts.|
My first view of the dials later that day showed the Solar Wind was above 800 kilometers per second (in the Red zone) an average solar wind is 300-400 kilometers per second. Earth is protected from these high speed winds by the magnetosphere which is 4-10 times larger than the earth on the sunward side. These winds do interact with our magnetosphere compressing it more with higher speeds, the charged nature of the solar wind means that it should get deflected around the earth, only finding it's way through the polar regions where the magnetic field begins and ends which can lead to larger aurora (northern & southern lights) events.
The introduction on the official ACE web site (4) provides further prophetic statements, (emphasis added):
Geomagnetic storms are a natural hazard, like hurricanes and tsunamis, which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Space Environment Center (SEC) forecasts for the public's benefit. Severe geomagnetic storms cause communications problems, abruptly increase drag on spacecraft, and can cause electric utility blackouts over a wide area. The location of ACE at the L1 libration point between the earth and the sun will enable ACE to give about a one hour advance warning of impending geomagnetic activity.
Upon arriving back home a few days later I began to compile the data from these and other sources, I also waited a few days for the Media and NASA to release any information that might be relevant to these events.
Rare Solar Shockwave
I have established the following timeline of the disaster, including the rare solar wind event that coincided with the accident. This timeline starts just prior to the call from NASA for Columbia to start the de-orbit burn at the ACE satellite located at what NASA refers to libration point (L1) = 1,500,000 Kilometers from Earth, towards the sun. Times are provided in Universal Time and Eastern Standard Time Equivalents.
Time Feb. 1, 2003, 1306 UT = 8:06 AM EST
Location ACE satellite, libration point (L1) = 1,500,000 Kilometers from Earth towards the sun.
The following data (5) was transmitted by ACE between 1303-1314 UT = 8:03 AM and 8:14 AM EST, while everything appears normal there is an abrupt increase in speed 364.9 km/s - 491.3 km/s between 1306-1307 UT = 8:06-8:07 AM EST (emphasis added).
# Source: ACE Satellite - Solar Wind Electron Proton Alpha Monitor
# Units: Proton density p/cc # Units: Bulk speed km/s # Units: Ion tempeture degrees K
# UT Date Time Proton Bulk Ion
# YR MO DA HHMM Density Speed Temperature
2003 02 01 1303 0.6 402.6 9.37e+04
2003 02 01 1304 0.4 403.2 1.42e+05
2003 02 01 1305 0.5 399.1 1.08e+05
2003 02 01 1306 0.2 364.9 2.21e+04
2003 02 01 1307 0.5 491.3 1.80e+05
2003 02 01 1308 0.5 493.8 1.51e+05
2003 02 01 1309 0.5 496.4 1.22e+05
2003 02 01 1310 0.5 497.6 1.26e+05
2003 02 01 1311 0.5 499.6 1.39e+05
2003 02 01 1312 0.5 496.7 1.86e+05
2003 02 01 1313 0.5 519.6 1.58e+05
2003 02 01 1314 0.6 520.3 1.92e+05
While it may not sound like allot, remember the solar wind is given in kilometers per second, The difference in the speed is an extra 455,040 Kilometers per hour. We have a solar wind shock wave headed for Earth at 1,768,680 kilometers per hour from a distance about 1,500,000 kilometers away (it will arrive in less than one hour).
Time: Feb 1, 2003 1308 UT = 8:08am EST
Location: Mission Control in Houston (likely unaware of the solar wind shock
wave recorded only one minute prior by ACE) gives the OK to come home: “You are
go for burn.”
Commander Rick Husband: “OK, we copy a go for the burn right now.”
Even if NASA was aware of the impending shock wave little if any concern
would have been made. Since little is understood about the interaction of a
solar wind shockwave striking the earth at the same time a space shuttle is
ACE is not the only spacecraft monitoring the solar wind at libration point (L1) The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) is also located in the same region.
Time Feb. 1, 2003, 1310 UT = 8:10 AM EST
Location SOHO satellite, libration point (L1) = about 1,500,000 Kilometers from Earth towards the sun.
SOHO also picks up the abrupt increase in velocity.
A site that monitors SOHO data (6) points out the unusual aspects of this solar storm and solar wind as transmitted by SOHO. (emphasis added)
The geomagnetic field was quiet to minor storm on February 1. Solar wind speed ranged between 338 and 971 km/sec. An unusual solar storm arrived at SOHO near 13:10 UTC. This storm is unusual in that solar wind speed was very low at the time of its arrival and had some of the highest peak solar wind speeds recorded during this solar cycle. At the first solar wind shock the velocity jumped abruptly from 390 to 520 km/sec, then increased slowly to 600 km/sec. Near 14:30 UTC at SOHO there was another shock, this time speed increased to above 800 km/sec. By 16h UTC solar wind speed had peaked just below 1000 km/sec. The interplanetary magnetic field was mostly northwards for the remainder of the day. Early on February 2 solar wind speed has decreased to below 600 km/sec.
The differences in times of ACE (7) and SOHO (8) detecting the change in speed is due to the fact that they are orbiting L1 (see pictures below), which can change their distance from the Earth by more than 300,000 kilometers, so their distance at this point can be stated as 1,500,000 km +/_ 300,000 km.
ACE L1 Orbit
We can determine from this that the Shockwave would reach Earth somewhere between 45-55 minutes which would equal 1351-1401 UT = 8:51 AM - 9:01 AM EST
How do we determine or locate exactly how far away they were to calculate the precise time of shock wave arrival to Earth?
NASA has an online program (9) that will determine where a satellite is or was stationed at a given time. I have run the program for both ACE and SOHO below, on Feb 1 ACE was located 230 Earth radii on the sunward side of the Earth (typically abbreviated as "R" with a subscript "E" ) 1 RE=6371.2 km
|Feb 1, 2003 ACE located 230
km from Earth
If the first sign of the shockwave was transmitted at 1307 UT = 8:07 AM EST
A Shock wave traveling at 491.3 km/s would reach the earth 50 minutes later around 1356 UT = 8:56 UT
|Feb 1, 2003 SOHO located 200
km from Earth
If the first sign of the shockwave was transmitted at 1310 UT = 8:10 AM EST
A Shock wave traveling at 491.3 km/s would reach the earth 43 minutes later around 1353 UT = 8:53 UT
I have indicated below, with an arrow, the abrupt velocity increase (Shockwave) as measured by SOHO
2003/02/01 13:52:00 UTC = 8:52 AM EST Columbia enters California airspace, due to their altitude at 67 Kilometers High the Shuttle crew sees the sunrise, although the surface directly below is still in darkness
Earth as the daylight-darkness would have appeared (right) at 2003/02/01 13:52:00 UTC (11)
The following paragraphs (12) make reference to large sheets of electric current running through the morning side and evening side of the ionosphere, a region the shuttle was just passing through.
Dawn/Dusk Current Sheets
|In 1973 the navy satellite Triad flew
through the auroral zone region in a low-altitude orbit, its magnetometer
indeed detected the signatures of two large sheets of electric current,
one coming down on the morning side of the auroral zone, one going up on
the evening side, as expected. Because Kristian Birkeland had proposed
long before currents which linked Earth and space in this fashion, they
were named Birkeland currents (by Schield, Dessler and Freeman, in
a 1969 article predicting some of the features observed by Triad).
Typically, each sheet carries a million amperes or more.
But that wasn't all. Equatorward of each current sheet, Triad noted a parallel sheet almost as intense, flowing in the opposite direction: those field lines were no longer open, but closed inside the magnetosphere. It thus seemed that most of the electric current coming down from space (about 80%) did not choose to close through the ionosphere across the magnetic poles. Rather, it found an alternate way: it flowed in the ionosphere a few hundred miles equatorward and then headed out again to space, where the currents (presumably) found an easier path.
13:53:00 UTC (13)
a photograph taken by a
San Francisco astronomer appears to show a purplish bolt of lightning
striking the shuttle.
Streamers of static electricity can travel these realms at speeds 100 times that of ground lightning, or 20 million miles an hour.
Did the shuttle inadvertently fly through a current sheet as it passed through the morning side of the ionosphere into daylight? Was this current sheet pushed by the Solar Wind Shockwave which arrived around the first signs of problems on the shuttle?
Was there extra drag on the shuttle from the Solar Wind Shockwave?
If NASA is able to determine the Solar Wind Shockwave arrived 2 minutes later than the first signs of trouble the following must also be considered. When Solar Storms hit the aurora (northern & southern lights) usually spread further towards the equatorial regions. The solar wind strikes the magnetosphere about 2 minutes prior to striking the Earth. Could the solar wind energy compressing the magnetosphere translate into electrical energy that is now capable of traveling at over 5,000 km/s, now able to reach the shuttle within 11 seconds of hitting the magnetosphere. When the Shuttle reenters the atmosphere it becomes the most highly charged object on Earth, ionization is so high from the friction of the shuttle plowing through the atmosphere that no communication can take place between the astronauts and mission control for about 12 minutes. If the shuttle becomes more highly charged and/or the atmosphere becomes charged higher than normal a neutralizing effect occurs in the form of lightning.
Blue Jets, Red Sprites
The following passages from an article explain the interaction recently seen with Electrophysics research (13).
family of "transient" electrical effects occupy this part of the sky,
including sprites, which leap from the ionosphere to the tops of
thunderheads, and blue jets, which leap from thunderhead anvils to the
ionosphere. In 1989, an upper- atmospheric electrical strike "shot down" a
high-altitude NASA balloon 129,000 feet over Dallas. Originally, it was
thought that the electrical charges in the thin atmosphere 50 miles above
Earth were too dispersed to create infrasound. But Los Alamos National
Laboratories physicist Mark Stanley said that, on closer inspection, "we've
seen very strong ionization in sprites" indicating that there were enough
air molecules ionized to cause heating and an accompanying pulse -- a
celestial thunderclap, as it were.
Scientists have observed interaction between a blue jet and a meteor. And in December 1999, Los Alamos National Laboratories researcher David Suszcynsky and colleagues, including Lyons, published an account of a meteor that apparently triggered a sprite.
"It was a singular observation that had us all scratching our heads," said Lyons. In the strange world of sprite and elf research, scientists have documented one event in which some sort of high atmospheric event "shot down" a high-altitude balloon over Dallas.
On June 5, 1989, before the first sprite was ever photographed, a NASA balloon carrying a heavy pack of instruments suffered "an uncommanded payload release" at 129,000 feet, according to Lyons. It landed in an angry Dallas resident's front yard.
Investigators found scorch marks on the debris and considered it one of the first bits of solid evidence that sprites exist. As a result of the accident, NASA no longer flies balloons over thunderstorms.
Neutral Atoms precede Solar Shockwaves
Another area of investigation would be neutral atoms that would have penetrated the magnetosphere and ionosphere prior to the Solar Wind shock wave as explained in the article below (14).
|Electrically neutral atoms become the "free spirits" of the
solar wind because they do not feel magnetic forces, and thus can chart
their own paths through the solar system, ignoring the contours of the
ubiquitous magnetic fields in interplanetary space that their electrically
charged cousins must follow. Like free spirits everywhere, neutral atoms are
rare; for every 10,000 electrified solar wind atoms, there exist no more
than 10 neutral atoms. Nevertheless, this faint whisper of particles snubs
the Earth's magnetic field that blocks the electrified solar wind, offering
a rare glimpse of solar wind activity from within our magnetic shield.
This leads some solar scientists to propose that there should be a burst of neutral atoms at Earth shortly before the arrival of an Earth-directed CME cloud (about 2 - 3 hours before impact, on average).
Tile Damage During Takeoff
I wouldn't rule out missing tiles as part of the problem, but without other factors, the tile damage appears to be insufficient to create the problem. Increased drag on areas missing tiles due to a Solar Shockwave may have added to the problem.
Double Delta Wing Vortexes
The Double Delta Wing of the Shuttle with increased drag and resistance might have been prone to problems with increased ionization where the vortexes occur (the point where the wing angles as seen in wind tunnel testing of another Double-Delta wing aircraft in the picture below on the right).
|The orbiter is designed with a double-delta wing configuration in which the forward placed delta wing creates vortices that flow smoothly over the main delta wing which creates greater lift and reduces drag. Its purpose is to optimize hypersonic flight and still obtain a good lift-to-drag ratio for landing. With this lift-to-drag capability, the orbiter is able to maneuver from side-to-side at a range of 2000 km (1240mi ). In a typical reentry, the orbiter is 2000 km away from the path of the runway and must fly, to its right, at its capacity range in order to position itself in line with the runway. This maneuver occurs 52 minutes before landing, with the shuttle at its maximum bank angle of 71 degrees.|
Double Delta Leading Edge Damage
The description of a "purplish, luminous corkscrew in the San Francisco photograph" (13) indicates that the vortexes formed from the leading edge of the Double Delta could have become the ionized conduit back to the Shuttle for this high altitude lightning hitting the point of formation, the leading edge between the two deltas. Picture below released by NASA show possible damage to this area of the double delta 4-5 minutes after the first sensor indications in the left wing area showed something wrong.
|This image is a view of the underside of Columbia during its entry from mission STS-107 on Feb. 1, 2003, as it passed by the Starfire Optical Range, Directed Energy Directorate, Air Force Research Laboratory, Kirtland Air Force Base, N. M. The image was taken at approximately 7:57 a.m. CST (1357 GMT). This image was received by NASA as part of the Columbia accident investigation and is being analyzed. (17)||Contrast Enhanced with Black & White Inverted with Annotations (18)|
|The partial schematic (17) shows how close the wheel well is to the leading edge and angle change in the double delta, it was the left landing gear area that first exhibited sensor anomalies.||The next schematic from NASA shows the order of sensor anomalies or failures between 13:52:20 UT - 13:59:32 UT (= 8:52:20 AM - 8:59:32 AM EST) when NASA lost the Signal with Columbia, note how the majority of sensors skirt around the wheel well close to the leading edge.(17)|
|The orbiter at this time was in a 43-deg. right bank completing its initial bank maneuver to the south for initial energy dissipation and ranging toward the Kennedy runway still nearly 3,000 mi. away. (19)|
|Between altitudes of 81 and 49 km, a communications blackout occurs, when radio signals cannot penetrate the layer of ionised gas particles surrounding the spacecraft. This phase lasts about 16 minutes...At about 14:00 GMT, communications with the Space Shuttle were lost. At this time, the Orbiter was flying over Texas, about 15 minutes from landing and at about 18 times the speed of sound. It was at an altitude of 63 km, about 1400 km from the landing site at KSC. (20)|
The problems occurred during a peak time of heat and ionization.
The Soviets sought out to make their own reusable spacecraft they called the Buran, after years of testing they concurred with the research of the Americans to arrive at the Shuttle design. The Buran is almost identical to the Shuttle.
One of the mockup Burans (OK-TVA) used in acoustic testing showed characteristic flaws in design of the structure, heat shield, and hermetic seals these areas were redesigned after testing (21);
|The OK-TVA was then put in the TsAGI RK-1500 acoustic chamber. This had a floor space of 1500 square meters, and was equipped with 16 sound generators which would subject the spaceframe to 166 dB sound levels at frequencies of 50 to 2000 gHz. These environmental tests resulted in redesign in detail of the flight orbiters' structure and heat shield, especially hermetic seals and acoustic isolation.|
Electrophysicsts in the U.S. have tracked Shuttles landing from extreme distances by their subaudible signature high in the atmosphere, they have also tracked the sound (thunder) from high altitude lightning (13).
|we've seen very strong ionization in sprites" indicating that there were enough air molecules ionized to cause heating and an accompanying pulse... subaudible thuds... Sound waves of this nature are called "infrasonic" and are below the range of human hearing but travel unimpeded for extraordinary distances.|
If extra heat and ionization from a high altitude discharge to or from the shuttle (purplish, luminous corkscrew) is ruled out as a cause of tile, seal, wing breakdown or puncture, then the sound from the thunder of a high altitude strike may have affected the seals of the leading edge, landing gear doors... Because the Shuttle is the older twin of the Buran, the results of the acoustic tests from the Soviets must be reviewed and compared to the Shuttle as a possible cause of the accident.
The only orbital flight of the Buran came November 15, 1988 when it was launched unmanned, completed two orbits and was brought in to a landing facility a few miles from the Launch pad. The program later ran out of funding. Note the burn marks on the white tiles as seen on the Buran on its one landing from orbit.
According to NASA, Columbia automatically initiated the first scheduled banking turn at 13:49:26 (22,23) the first problems begin to show up at 13:52:20 UT
|The shuttle, in essence, fishtails through the atmosphere as it descends to dissipate its speed. The first couple of banks that the shuttle performs can often be very steep, as much as 80 degrees, that result in the shuttle's side facing toward the ground...It is important to understand that although the shuttle is performing these steep banks, its angle of attack -- the angle of its nose toward the oncoming air pressure -- is very high, at 40 degrees for much of the entry, to protect the spacecraft from the intense heat that is generated.|
Ionized Contrail Lightning Rod
With the shuttle flying through the ionosphere we must also remember that the contrail it leaves is not a normal contrail but an ionized contrail (24).
|As the space shuttle streaks through the upper atmosphere, it leaves a wake in the air just as a boat leaves a wake behind it in the water. The shuttle's wake becomes electrified. Lyons says some scientists are speculating that its electrified wake acted as an antenna and drew a blue jet to the Columbia.|
It may have well been a Blue Jet with a corkscrew pattern due to the Vortex from the airflow over the Double Delta wings. The concern is that most Blue Jets come from the tops of thunder storms, none of which were present in the California area at the time. However, given that a rare shockwave hit the Earth's atmosphere at this time I would suspect the catalyst was the input of energy into the ionosphere from the solar wind, no thundercloud was necessary which would mean this anomaly has never been seen before.
If it is indeed a new high altitude electrophysics anomaly, in keeping with the other dubbed high altitude anomalies; Red Sprites, Elves and Blue Jets, I would like to dub it a Hobbit (or Purple Hobbit). The most unlikely, unexpected and underestimated of Tolkien's cultures. A description of a hobbit would be a high altitude discharge during a solar wind shockwave event, not related to thunder clouds, striking either artificial or manmade objects ascending or descending throughout the ionosphere, mesosphere or magnetosphere.
Feb 1, 2003 23:10 UT = 8:10 AM EST: The Space Shuttle Columbia is a go from NASA for Deorbit landing procedures. Within minutes ACE and SOHO satellites, located upstream of the Solar wind detect a rare abrupt increase in solar wind speed known as a shockwave that will reach Earth 43 minutes later.
Columbia goes through expected communications blackout as it travels through the ionosphere.
At the peak the Shuttle experiences the highest heating and ionization from friction of the atmosphere, it automatically banks hard right to dissipate speed. The Shuttle Wing is a Double Delta wing, specifically used as the forward placed delta wing creates vortices that flow smoothly over the main delta wing which creates greater lift and reduces drag. In this steep bank, the left wing is now taking the brunt of the heat and ionization while the vortices from the double-delta of the left wing would be much greater than those on the right wing, everything to this point is within normal expected parameters.
In 1973 the navy satellite Triad detected current sheets running up and down the polar regions of the sunlight morning and evening boundaries, these sheets carries a million amperes or more. Solar shockwaves can push Auroral areas towards the equator. Columbia, due to its altitude enters sunlight over California. The Shockwave arrives, this increase in the solar wind compresses the magnetosphere, very little is understood about the interaction between shockwave events and high altitude effects.
Just as Columbia is over San Francisco within the ionosphere, entering sunlight, crossing a potential current sheet, while in a high right bank, with greater than normal vortexes created by the left double delta wing, as the solar wind shockwave hits the magnetosphere, an astronomer takes a picture of Columbia overhead and captures a luminous purple corkscrew object hitting the Shuttle.
The apparent lightning strike was probably following the highest charged area of the shuttle which may have been the vortexes coming from the left double delta where the two angles of the delta meet, due to the right banking of the Shuttle at the time. Whether ionization, heat or even sound from this apparent lightning discharge, the problem was small to begin with such as one of the airtight seals opening, sensors within the wheel well indicate only slight temperature rises at first. The Soviet shuttle Buran, made after but based of the Space Shuttle design, showed that the heat shield was prone to acoustic (sound) testing causing the Soviets to redesign their heat shield.
Once the internal structure was compromised, given the altitude and speed, little if anything could have been done to stop the ensuing damage from spreading to the point the thrust rockets could not compensate for drag and aerodynamics problems.
Had the Shuttle begun the deorbited a few minutes earlier or a few minutes later, had it not crossed into daylight, had the rare shockwave not happened at just that time...The shuttle happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Shockwaves detected by ACE and SOHO must be factored into future spacecraft landings and launching, any sign of a shockwave and the landing must be delayed. Landings and launchings should also take place when the landing path is not in sunlight so the spacecraft doesn't cross either the morning or evening sunlight transitions to avoid potential charged sheets in the ionosphere. The Russian results on acoustic testing of the Barun project should be reviewed for potential changes to the heat shield and structure modifications.
Additional Information added Feb 12, 2003
Former MIT research scientist, Steven Schwartz, contacted me last nights, he had also suspected geomagnetic causes and has been collecting NOAA SEC data since the accident, he has sent the following Alert issued at 1344 UT = 8:44 AM EST (8 minutes prior to problems on the Shuttle sensors) by the Space Environment Center that a "Geomagnetic Sudden Impulse expected" between 1345-1400 UT (8:45-9:00 AM EST) the IP (Interplanetary Shock) Passage was observed at 1305 UT = 8:05 AM EST from early warning satellites located at L1.
Alerts Issued by SEC in February 2003
WARNING: Geomagnetic Sudden Impulse expected
Further information Steven collected was on Auroral Activity
Estimates from a series of NOAA satellites that orbit Earth between the North
and South Poles. These Satellites can only monitor these Aurora when flying past
the North or South polar regions so the data is only sporadically given every
few minutes. The information shows the Auroral Activity Estimates
for Northern Hemispheric power at 1345 UT = 8:45 AM EST was at 55 gigawatts (level 8) just prior to the Shuttle problems, average expected levels are 12 gigawatts (level 5). This information may confirm that the dawn current sheet had indeed extended southward to the Shuttle location, or close enough for a discharge to take place between the million amperes or more current sheet and the shuttle.
I have taken the text data Steven obtained from the NOAA and placed it into a chart, (easier to understand). The white dashed line represents the time the Shuttle had problems (note their is a 26 minute gap in readings between 13:45 UT and 14:11 UT as their were no satellites within the Northern region of their orbits).
Of further interest is the 156.9 gigawatt spike which occurs at 11:25 UT = 6:25 AM EST in the northern hemisphere, which may be an interaction of the aurora and burst of neutral atoms at Earth shortly before the arrival of an Earth-directed shockwave (proposed to arrive about 2 - 3 hours before impact, on average).
Additional Information added Feb 19, 2003
New York Times Feb 18, 2003 Remembering a Spacecraft With Its Own Set of Quirks (25)
|NASA officials have said investigators are examining some
of the individual flight characteristics of the Columbia to determine
whether they may have contributed to its breakup on re-entry on Feb. 1. An
engineer with the agency, N. Wayne Hale Jr., said the Columbia was the most
likely of the four shuttles to suffer from a condition called asymmetric
boundary layer transition in which airflow over a wing becomes turbulent and
throws the craft out of control. However, Mr. Hale said, NASA did not have a
good basis for comparing the shuttles because each has different
The pioneering Columbia was, as one engineer put it, "overdesigned," at 178,000 pounds the heaviest of the fleet. It was a little more sluggish at launching and harder to put into orbit than the Discovery, which weighs 171,000 pounds, or the Endeavour, at 172,000. Its weight also caused it to come back to earth at slightly higher speeds than the others.
This flight of the Columbia (STS 107) had the heaviest payload landing weights in the history of the space shuttle. STS-107 Shuttle Press Kit (26)
Weight: 263,701 lbs.
Orbiter/Payload Landing Weight:232,788 lbs.
The Landing weight may have Exceeded the 233-thousand pound limit set by NASA
| Doctor Richard Jarvinen started working with NASA eight
years ago. His most recent work focuses on safer shuttle landings. So
Saturday's news really hit home.
He has already written NASA investigators--asking them to look at Columbia's weight after watching a pre-flight interview with astronaut Ramone.
"As well as he could see everything was going extremely well and normal except that when the shuttle would be landing it would come in the heaviest it had ever been in the history of the 107 flights," said Jarvinen.
Exceeding the 233-thousand pound limit set by NASA. Something that, Jarvinen says, could have set off a number of problems.
"As the shuttle comes in to the Earth's atmosphere, if it weighs a lot it will go further at a high speed than if it weighed less, that it will build up a higher temperature," stated Jarvinen.
High enough to make the whole shuttle or parts of it explode. Jarvinen also says the weight could've caused guidance computers to misunderstand the shuttle's center of gravity.
"The guidance system might have tilted the vehicle too much so that it would be belly up. This might have caused overheating and might have just lead to the break up," explained Jarvinen.
Steven Schwartz adds the following from the National Space Weather Program Implementation Plan, 2nd Edition, July 2000 (emphasis added) (28)
|Highly variable solar ultraviolet radiation continuously
modifies terrestrial atmospheric
density and temperature, affecting spacecraft orbits and lifetimes. Major geomagnetic
storms result in heating and expansion of the atmosphere, causing significant perturbations in low-altitude satellite trajectories. At times, these effects may be severe
enough to cause premature re-entry of orbiting objects, such as Skylab in 1979. It is
important that satellite controllers be warned of these changes and that accurate models
be in place to realistically predict the resulting atmospheric effects. The Space Shuttle is also vulnerable to changes in atmospheric drag; re-entry calculations for the orbiter are highly sensitive to atmospheric density, and errors can threaten the safety of the vehicle and its crew.
Steven also sent me the following on unusual oscillations as detected by infrasound monitors which track high altitude discharges and also track space shuttle landings (29)
| Earth monitors recorded
explosions on Columbia,
Experts won't say if infrasound readings
coincide with 'electrical zap' on camera
NASA is now examining a photo taken by an astronomer in San Francisco that shows what could be an electrical phenomenon zapping Columbia just before it disintegrated.
Shuttle program manager Ron Dittemore has said that NASA continues to study the unreleased photograph, and Bedard wouldn't comment on whether his sensors heard evidence of a TLE coinciding with the demise of the orbiter.
A second infrasound expert, Dr. Eugene Herrin of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said his sensors also detected explosions on Columbia. His infrasound array for the U.S. Air Force is located near Terlingua, Texas. ...
He says a preliminary look at data collected by another array of instruments outside Mina, Nev., show "unusual" patterns when compared to data from other shuttle flights.
"There was something about this one. I am not going to speculate. What we see are oscillations in the shock wave that we don't normally see. Whether that's diagnostic or not, that's a NASA call," Herrin said.
Given the heaviest shuttle landing weight which equals higher landing speeds which equals higher temperatures (higher ionization) at the point of de-orbit / landing where temperatures are expected to be at the highest, added to a rare abrupt solar shockwave that can cause changes in atmospheric drag and atmospheric density, unusual infrasound oscillations, let alone high altitude electrical current sheets at dawn and lightning discharges. Numerous factors appear to have coincidently contributed to the accident.
Additional Information added Feb 20, 2003
GPS (Global Positioning System) data dropouts may point to initial problem. National Space Weather Program Implementation Plan, 2nd Edition, July 2000 (emphasis added) (28)
|The Global Positioning System (GPS) operates by transmitting radio waves from satellites to receivers on the ground, aircraft, or other satellites. These radio signals are used to calculate location very accurately. However, significant errors in positioning can result when the signals are refracted and slowed by ionospheric conditions significantly different from normal. In addition, receivers can experience loss of GPS signal lock when the signal traverses an ionospheric disturbance (scintillation). Future high-resolution applications of GPS technology will require better space weather support to compensate for these induced errors.|
It is expected during reentry that the shuttle will have GPS data dropouts due to the heavy ionization built up around the shuttle.
On Feb. 12, 2003 NASA provided Ground Track and Events Summary based on GPS The symbol used for points from the trajectory data file is a red dot at 0.96 second time intervals, GPS data dropouts are areas between the track missing the red dots.
(Click Map to Enlarge) The first GPS data drop according to the plot appears just after 13:50, The second data drop occurs a few seconds prior to the initial sensor anomaly at 13:52:17. This second data drop appears only for a second or two and may indicate a short burst of ionization (lightning strike) versus the expected shock front ion buildup. Infrasound readings and photo evidence might be used in relation to this data drop to confirm or reject an atmospheric discharge event at or near this point.
I would expect if a seal was breached or a hole was created from liftoff insulation damage or space debris strike... prior to reentry, that sensor anomalies due to plasma heating would have been detected prior to13:52 as the shuttle had been undergoing atmospheric braking starting 5-7 minutes prior.
However, as the shuttle descends with it creates a shock front boundary layer around the shuttle with wings level, nose angled up 40 degrees to control heating (30). At 13:50:03 the shuttle begins the first of four planned banks to dissipate speed. During this turn the first GPS data drop out occurs, extreme ionization (expected) occurs in conjunction with the manuver. The right bank is at maximum bank by 13:50:56 at an angle of almost 80 degrees to the right. The shock front boundary layer may be compromised by the extreme atmospheric braking angles of the shuttle and any previous breach would be vulnerable to an interaction with plasma.
Additional Information added March 14, 2003
Columbia Accident Investigation Board releases Revision 15 of the Shuttle Timeline (31) indicating the first unexpected deviation (out-of-family) from all previous 102 shuttle flights took place between 13:50:00 / 43 : Five events of unexpected Return link communication drop-out. Event 1 - 13:50:00 (1 second); Event 2 - 13:50:04 / 06 (3 seconds); Event 3 - 13:50:16/22 (7 seconds): Event 4 - 13:50:25/28 (4 seconds); Event 5 - 13:50:42 (1 second)
Less than a minute later 13:51:19 Jets start firing to correct unexpected drag or torque, not expected compared to previous flights. Numerous irregularities begin to occur with the decent from this point on.
Event 6 out-of-family communication drop-out13:52:09 / 15 (7 seconds)
Two events of unexpected Return link communications drop-out
Event 7 - 13:52:25/26 (two seconds); Event 8 - 13:52:29/31 (3 seconds)
Unexpected Return link comm drop-out (Comm event 9) 13:52:49 / 55 (7 Seconds)
Unexpected Return link comm drop-out (Comm event 10) 13:53:32 / 34 (3 Seconds)
Debris #1 - First report of debris observed leaving the Orbiter. No evidence of RCS jet firings 13:53:44 / 48
Debris #2 - Second report of debris observed leaving the Orbiter. No evidence of RCS jet firings. 13:53:46 / 50
Debris #3 - Third report of debris observed leaving the Orbiter. Event followed by momentary brightening of plasma trail. No evidence of RCS jet firings 13:53:54 / 58
Numerous Debris observations occur after this point
Unexpected Return link comm drop-out (Comm event 11) 13:54:14 / 22 (9 Seconds)
Return link comm drop-out (Comm event 12) 13:55:33 / 35 (3 Seconds) While uncommon to have a drop out at this point, inconclusive if drop-out is off-nominal based on previous flt data.
Return link comm drop-out (Comm event 13) 13:56:00 / 03 (4 Seconds) While uncommon to have a drop out at this point, inconclusive if drop-out is off-nominal based on previous flt data.
Return link comm drop-out (Comm event 14) 13:56:55 / 57 (3 Seconds) While uncommon to have a drop out at this point, inconclusive if drop-out is off-nominal based on previous flt data. Note: No further comm drop-out events are listed in the timeline thru LOS, since they are not considered out-of-family at this time.
Communication drop outs are expected to occur during decent but they had never been seen as early as Columbia began experiencing them, in this case a full 5-7 minutes prior to expected. It is also noted that these drop outs occurred a few minutes before debris was seen leaving the orbiter. This may indicate a number of items; A) Maximum ionization was 20,000 feet higher than seen in previous flights (Due to shock wave event). B) Damage from lift off had changed the flow from the shuttle creating more ionization that periodically disturbed the aft antennas. C) Due to solar shock wave event, the Shuttle flying through the Dawn current sheet was getting hit (peppered may be more accurate) by High Altitude lightning which created the communication drop-outs and was causing damage to the Shuttle. The excess charge in the current sheet was dissipating through lightning, likely following the plasma trail as a conduit and attracted to the highest charged point on the shuttle during the first right bank, the leading edge of the left wing.
A) Doesn't explain the Debris without factoring in previous damage to the Shuttle.
B) Unless the damage greatly affected the leading edge the extra ionization would initially be on the underside of the shuttle and would not interfere with the antenna on the back.
C) Given the current evidence this should be the leading candidate.
Additional Information added March 15, 2003
While NASA has sent the photo to be analyzed, they have yet to release the photo to the public. Understandably the photo would be perplexing to the scientific community, never had there been any evidence that high altitude lightning had ever struck a Space Shuttle during landing, the photographer didn't even notice it during his snapshot, only after he looks at the picture does he see it. It was probably assumed by many that the photo was manipulated or there was a reflection or other technical problem with the camera. There weren't even thunderclouds in the vicinity, associated with natural high altitude lightning.
Earlier in this paper we discuss why this particular unknown form of lightning wouldn't need a thundercloud. The solar shock wave hitting the atmosphere at approximately this time would pump energy into the ionosphere, particularly the current sheets which follow the dawn and dusk, the shuttle happened to be passing through from darkness into the dawn at the time of the out-of-family (not consistent with past flights) communication drop outs.
High altitude lightning can take place in microseconds which may indicate why the photographer never witnessed it when he took the picture, the shutter may have opened at just the right time.
Given the new information on the communication drop outs we can see from the tracking evidence that the Go to Page 7 with the map, http://www.caib.us/news/timeline/STS-107-GTrack-Rev15.pdf(32) zoom in and you can see the missing GPS points occur right over the coast of California, the photograph, was taken from Bernal Heights in San Francisco by an amateur astronomer. Page 8 shows Licks Observatory (slightly east of Bernal Heights) Acquisition Of Signal was at 13:53:29
I believe the Bernard Heights photo captured either the unexpected communications drop out event 10 or a GPS drop out- either of which is likely a lightning strike.
Given that the shuttle was repeatedly suffering from these off-nominal drop outs, the fact that someone possibly photographed during one with a high-speed shutter isn't as perplexing as it initially appeared to be. Standard Video at thirty frames per second may miss these microsecond events.
Additional Information added March 16, 2003
The photo from Bernard Heights was one of five he took of the shuttle as it passed overhead, he would have only had Acquisition Of Shuttle for about 45 seconds and he states below(33) that on each shot he left the shutter open 4-6 seconds for each shot. This now makes more sense how he could capture the event.
|Jernigan reportedly asked the astronomer about the f-stop
setting on his lens, and how long he kept the shutter open – apparently
some four to six seconds. A tripod was used to steady the camera, and the
shutter was triggered manually.
"In the critical shot," states the Chronicle, "a glowing purple rope of light corkscrews down toward the plasma trail, appears to pass behind it, then cuts sharply toward it from below. As it merges with the plasma trail, the streak itself brightens for a distance, then fades."
"I couldn't see the discharge with my own eyes, but it showed up clear and bright on the film when I developed it," the photographer previously said. "But I'm not going to speculate about what it might be."
Given that the other 4 shots showed nothing out of the ordinary I would hedge with this photo, the shutter was open during the same time Comm drop out #10 occurred at 13:53:32 / 34 (3 Seconds).
Additional Information added April 28, 2003
|Doug Kohl, a former Shuttle program engineer and
materials scientist for the same Lockheed group that developed the
Shuttle’s tiles, is already convinced that an electrical event at high
altitude during re-entry that was the reason for the suspected RCC (Reinforced
Carbon Carbon) panel failure.
Kohl worked for more than 10 years at KSC in several roles, including test conductor, pad leader and part of the team that prepared Columbia for its first post-Challenger-era flight in 1989. Commenting on the possibility of some sort of electrical discharge having damaged the Shuttle, Kohl responded “I still think that the RCC saw something such as a large static discharge that damaged it and the surrounding thermal protection system tiles, and that the problem progressed from there.”
“If an electrical event caused the damage it will be readily evident to any materials person familiar with electrical damage in composites, as the fibers will look like a blown out steel belted radial tire where the charge exited the structure,” Kohl said. (34)
Additional Information added April 29, 2003
Further information on the R.C.C. (Reinforced Carbon Carbon) panels only on the left wing shows an anomaly which doesn't match expected localized damage from liftoff strike from foam insulation striking leading edge although the large number of panels affected could be an indication to a high altitude lightning strike on the left wing leading edge.
|HOUSTON, April 8 —
Investigators said today that most of the recovered U-shaped panels from the
leading edge of the Columbia's left wing had been split along the middle.
They said the finding was significant, but they did not know what it meant.
"We don't right now have a good answer for why we seem to see this fracture pattern, where not all, but most of R.C.C. panels seem to have broken right at that narrow neck there," Adm. Harold W. Gehman Jr., chairman of the independent commission in charge of the investigation, said of the reinforced carbon-carbon wing panels. "It could be they were all put under some torsion or some tension and they all cracked that way." (35)
Further information in the article below indicates that the composite materials such as the R.C.C. panels are prone to electrical discharge damage.
|As is well known in the aviation industry and many golfers
who use graphite clubs, composites are extremely sensitive to electricity
and react to lightning strikes or static electricity discharges in a violent
The files of the National Transportation Safety Board are filled with examples of aircraft that were struck by lightning and the only damage was with parts made of composites. (36)
Additional Information added May 1, 2003
A new article details sensor anomalies which investigators cannot yet explain:
Two board investigators also said they were continuing to analyze sensor data, some transmitted to the ground during the Columbia's re-entry and some captured by an on-board recorder. There is a mass of information, some of which has engendered doubts, the investigators said.
For example, some sensors show temperature spikes that cannot be taken literally, an investigator said.
"Some of these are so abrupt that they're nonphysical," he said. "The temperature is 50 degrees, and in the very next second it's 500 degrees. There's no physics that can do that."
Abrupt changes can result from damage to wiring, or limits in the sensor's ability to measure, he said. Sometimes groups of sensors go dead simultaneously, a sign that their wiring runs together and has been burned at some point. (37)
The speed and heat could be an indication of lightning strikes which fits the temperature anomalies as measured by the sensors. The temperature of the main bolt of lightning can exceed 50,000 degrees F as seen in the table below (38), secondary channels (which branch of the main channel wouldn't be as hot. The sensors may have been measuring heat at their location behind the panels and tiles and not at the initial point of contact.
|Lide, David R. Handbook of Chemistry and Physics. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1996: 14-33.||"The rapid release of return stroke energy heats and leader channel to a temperature near 30,000 K"||30,000 K|
|McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology. McGraw Hill, 1997: 74.||"The rapidly rising return stroke current heats the channel to a peak temperature near 55,000 F (30,000 K)"||30,000 K|
|Lightning. National Weather Service Office, Newport North Carolina.||"The air near a lightning strike is heated to 50,000 degrees F hotter than the surface of the sun!"||28,000 K|
|Weather and Climate. Alexandria, Virginia: Time Life, 1992.||"Striking 1000 times a second somewhere on the planet and packing temperatures up to 50,000 °F"||28,000 K|
Further information in the New York Times article (37) below indicate at some point two sensors near the front of the shuttle also recorded temperature increases.
Their job becomes increasingly complex as they try to add detail to the basic idea of a hole in the wing that lets in a fatal dose of hot gas. In its statement today, the board said NASA had given it "evidence supporting multiple scenarios."
In fact, one investigator said, many of the data findings, including sensor failures and sensor readings showing temperature changes, could fit neatly together, including one that shows falling temperatures on the side of the fuselage, probably because the flow of air over the wing had been disrupted by the damage. But far forward of any postulated damage area two temperature sensors near the front of the orbiter recorded a temperature increase.
As the investigator put it, "It's still being difficult to fit in to a working hypothesis that covers all the facts."
Lightning is attracted to objects which have higher surface charges, the nose of the Shuttle on re-entry has one of the highest surface charges which may indicate lightning strikes on different high charge areas of the Columbia.
Given the numerous communications and GPS dropouts and temperature anomalies which happen to occur at the same times it is increasingly likely that multiple electrical events (static, lightning) occurred during these times.
Additional Information added May 3, 2003
Wickman Spacecraft & Propulsion Company (WSPC) has begun work on developing a Spaceplane based on NASA's SHARP thermal protection system (39). Currently they are testing new composite materials and comparing them to the current Shuttle tiles.
The video below shows the current shuttle tiles are prone to melting with temperatures of 5,200 degrees Fahrenheit. The video raises the question, what happens if the shuttle tiles are exposed to 50,000+ degrees F from lightning strikes?
The key to maintaining the sharp edges of the vehicle during reentry is the revolutionary SHARP thermal protection material. It can withstand heat and aerodynamic forces that will destroy Space Shuttle tiles.
Windows Media Player Videos
Additional Information added May 10, 2003
The data recorder discovered in the wreckage displays an altitude of 270,000 feet (82 Kilometers) when internal shuttle sensors detected the first signs of abnormal heating (40) five minutes after re-entering the detectable atmosphere.
High altitude lightning (named Sprites and Elves) occurs at heights up to 90 Kilometers (41). This height limit on lightning may account for the delay between EI (Entry Interface) with the atmosphere and the detected anomaly five minutes later.
The 13 minute crew video(42)(43), also recovered from the accident was taken during re-entry but ends 8:48 EST one minute prior to the first anomaly when Columbia was just under 288,000 feet (87 kilometers) just near the height limit for lightning. The video clearly shows the plasma build up outside the windows that occurred on all shuttle re-entries, a few minutes before the video ends. The comments from commander Rick Husband on the video "Looks like a blast furnace,''..."You definitely don't want to be outside now," While the tape doesn't show or indicate anything different from previous shuttle entries it does show that expected heating was taking place on and around the shuttle. If there was a breach (hole) in one or more of the RRC panels or T-seals prior to re-entry, wouldn't the heating within the breach have been detected by the data recorder prior to the 8:49 EST?
|Given Columbia's altitude when the first sign of trouble was detected during its return to Earth the shuttle was 270,000 feet high and traveling about Mach 25, or 25 times the speed of sound Gehman said air pressure would not have been enough to dislodge a protective carbon panel or anything else on the shuttle's wing. (40)|
Additional Information added January 19, 2005
This paper above was reviewed by atmospheric experts appointed by the CAIB (Columbia Accident Investigation Board) in 2003 and discounted as the anomalies we theorized had never been observed without thunderstorm activity present. Now in a strange twist of coincidence, new data from a research experiment on high altitude lightning on board the Space Shuttle Columbia days before the accident, captured a new never seen before anomaly that they have called a Transient Ionospheric Glow Emission in Red, or TIGER, event.
|The unusual discharge was recorded on Jan. 20, 2003 by the Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, using an infrared video camera from the Mediterranean Israeli Dust Experiment (MEIDEX). The TIGER event sets itself apart from the typical TLE by its shape and the fact that it was not directly related to any thunderstorm activity. On the night of the TIGER event, the closest lightning strike was more than 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) away and occurred almost a quarter of a second before the bizarre flash recorded by the Columbia shuttle. In comparison, sprites tend to occur about 30 milliseconds after cloud-to-ground lightning, at an average distance of 24 miles (40 kilometers) from the strike. (44)|
Previous in this paper I had put forward the idea of a Hobbit anomaly: Hobbit: a high altitude discharge during a solar wind shockwave event, not related to thunder clouds, striking either artificial or manmade objects ascending or descending throughout the ionosphere, mesosphere or magnetosphere.
Given the evidence of the TIGER event - the Hobbit event is no longer an idea of fiction.
Additional Information added July 4, 2005
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4) ACE Real Time Solar Wind http://www.sec.noaa.gov/ace/
5) Data_list: 20030131_ace_swepam_1m.txt http://www.sec.noaa.gov/ftpdir/lists/ace/20030131_ace_swepam_1m.txt
6) SOHO Recent activity http://www.dxlc.com/solar/old_reports/2003/february/20030202.html
7) Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) Mission Overview http://www.srl.caltech.edu/ACE/ace_mission.html
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9) SSC Locator Graphics Form http://sscweb.gsfc.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/sscweb/Locator_graphics.cgi
11) Earth View http://www.fourmilab.ch/cgi-bin/uncgi/Earth
12) #25. Electric Currents from Space http://www.phy6.org/Educatcc/Sconct17.htm
13) Cosmic bolt probed in shuttle disaster Scientists poring over 'infrasonic' sound waves http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2003/02/07/MN200326.DTL
14) Solar wind find may help space weather forecasting http://spaceflightnow.com/news/n0105/28solarwind/
15) NASA Quest http://quest.arc.nasa.gov/space/frontiers/activities/aeronautics/a.html
16)Vortex flow on wings with highly swept leading edges http://www.gj.net/~nmasters/vortex-lift/delta.html
18) STS-107 "Columbia" Loss http://www.io.com/~o_m/columbia_loss_faq_x.html
19) SpaceFlight Now http://spaceflightnow.com/shuttle/sts107/030207avweek/
20) ESA Portal http://www.esa.int/export/esaCP/Pr_2_2003_i_EN.html
21) Buran http://www.astronautix.com/craft/buran.htm
22) Automated Deorbit Landing PAD For STS-107 http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/realdata/groundtracs/sts-107/ksc255/DOL.html
23) Deorbit and Landing Preliminary Advisory Data (DOL PAD) http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/realdata/groundtracs/dol_pad_faq.html
24) USA Today: Upper atmosphere may hold clues in Columbia mystery http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2003-02-06-atmosphere_x.htm
25) New York Times Feb 18, 2003 Remembering a Spacecraft With Its Own Set of Quirks http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/19/national/nationalspecial/19FLIG.html
(26) STS-107 Shuttle Press Kit Page 17 http://www.shuttlepresskit.com/STS-107/STS-107_SPK.pdf
(28) National Space Weather Program
Implementation Plan, 2nd Edition, July
(29) Earth monitors recorded explosions on Columbia Experts won't say if infrasound readings coincide with 'electrical zap' on camera http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=31066
(31) Timeline – Revision 15 Latest version of space shuttle timeline, Columbia Accident Investigation Board
(35) Shuttle Findings Deemed Significant, but Inconclusive http://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/09/national/nationalspecial/09SHUT.html
(36) Step-by-Step: How Columbia's Wing Might have Failed and Why http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/sts107_theories_030219.html
(37) Shuttle Breakup Theory Remains Elusive http://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/25/national/nationalspecial/25SHUT.html?fta=y
(38) Temperature of a Lightning Bolt http://hypertextbook.com/facts/1999/DavidFriedman.shtml
(39) SHARP Spaceplane http://www.space-rockets.com/sharp.html
(40) Tape Shows Gases Inside Shuttle Wing http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/sts107_plasma_030401.html
(41) Identification of Sprites and Elves with Intensified Video and Broadband Array Photometry http://sprg.ssl.berkeley.edu/~cpbl/publications/Barrington-LeighFeb01.pdf
(42) NASA Releases Video of
Columbia's Last Minutes
(43) Watch the shuttle’s last video http://22.214.171.124/news/881295.asp?cp1=1
(44) High-Altitude Mystery Flash Recorded by Space Shuttle http://www.livescience.com/forcesofnature/050118_tiger_flash.html
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