On February 1, 2003, as the Space Shuttle Columbia was making its re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, the craft began to disintegrate and tear apart. All seven crew members were killed. The tragic demise of Flight STS-107 immediately brought back traumatic memories of the Challenger explosion in 1986. How could something like happen again? Space Shuttle: The Human Time Bomb presents a probing investigation as it seeks to identify the true culprits behind the disaster.
The official explanation offered by NASA involved a broken piece of foam installation, and a heat shield that was too compromised to withstand the fury of scalding atmospheric gases. But this was no freak accident. The film attempts to go beyond this explanation to uncover the fundamental design flaws, cost-cutting measures, and ignored warning signs that inevitably doomed the flight from the start.
According to the insights contained in the film, the imperfections of the shuttle design are numerous, and they include a close proximity to the fiery blasting mechanisms and no ejection system. Many of these flaws increase the shuttle's inefficiency and potential for calamity. From the earliest days of the space program, several ambitious plans were drafted to combat some of these defects, but were ultimately tossed out due to their prohibitive costs.
The film presents several interviews with key figures close who have intimate knowledge of the shuttle's design, function and operating protocols. They share a moment-by-moment account of what went wrong during the shuttle's re-entry, and what the crew members likely experienced in the final seconds of their lives. Archived new clips are edited alongside a series of harrowing amateur video clips that captured the shuttle's disintegration as its fireball descended from the sky.
Are these simply the risks we take when we embark on space exploration? What do we as a society deem acceptable in regards to accountability for this disaster? Space Shuttle: The Human Time Bomb offers an admirable and exhaustive dissection of the disaster. In the process, it examines larger questions about the risk versus reward aspects of space travel, and recommends a remedy to limit those risks in the future.
Directed by: Alex Hearle