Robert Stephens Reveals
16 NASA Shuttle 'Close Calls'
From Robert A.M. Stephens
Note - STS-50 deals with a genuine UFO encounter as detailed by Mr. Stephens in his radio appearance with Jeff on 12-4-98. Program is available in Archives.
Jeff, Some addenda for your NASA shuttle story:
Actually, Tommy (Tommy Holloway - space shuttle program manager) is incorrect since he is new and took over launch prep management from Bob Crippen, who in turn took it over from Tom Utsman many years ago.
There have been 16 close calls since the first launch of a shuttle, Orbiter Columbia, on April 21st, 1981. These exclude the most recent events.
They are: (all flights numbered by launch count, not the old NASA numbering system up to STS-41D, which would have been STS-12 (NASA did NOT want to use the number '13' and still won't since Apollo 13 did what it did)) --I 'can' attest to this odd fact: [Robert A.M. Stephens]. No '13'.
1. STS-1 Shuttle Columbia. Maiden flight for it and the shuttle program. When arriving into orbital insertion, it was discovered many many missing tiles on the OMs pods--both sides. These were on the upper surfaces of the orbiter. If they had been on the shuttle's underside, Columbia would have burned up on re-entry. ***
2. STS-4 Columbia. Lost four 'batches' of tiles on the way up in space on the right and left OMS pods. Had more tiles been torn off, Columbia would have burned in near space upon re-entry.
3. STS-10 Challenger. Aborted at T-3 seconds after main engines were firing. Shuttle stack could have exploded on PAD
4. STS-12 Discovery. Aborted at T-4 seconds with a faulty fuel feed sensor. It was never determined, oddly, what the real problem was. Discovery went on fly successfully on August 24th, 1984.
5. STS-14 Challenger. Experienced a near catastrophic burn through of main engine number 2, 94 seconds into flight. This was a criticality one item - meaning, a failure of 'Crit-1 Items' * which means loss of vehicle, mission and crew.
6. STS-16 Discovery. Had many missing tiles on the right OMS Pod it was discovered after it reached orbit. Any of which could have caused the shuttle to burn through had they been missing from the shuttle's underside.
7. STS-17 Challenger. Aborted again at T-6 seconds. Faulty fuel line feed system sensor.
8. STS-20 Discovery. Experienced another burn through as Challenger had earlier on main engine number 1. Failure could have been loss of vehicle, mission and crew.
9. STS-22 Columbia. Experienced a severe 'Crit-1' shutdown of two APUs after orbital insertion. Mission duration was aborted and shuttle brought back after only three days of a 14 day mission.
10. STS-23 Challenger. Began sending back 'Crit-1' shutdowns and warnings after only 40 seconds of flight. Everything was shutting down, or threatening to do so. As the tense minutes unfolded as the shuttle climbed higher, the sensors kept announcing that everything was failing on the orbiter. Both KSC and JSC stayed in the 'loop'...not just JSC who oversees mission management after the 'bird' clears the tower. The seconds rolled on.
A sharp young woman, a technical launch engineer, had enough of her feminine side intact--her 'intuition', to decide that in fact, Challenger was 'lying' to everyone. She then, without consulting anyone else, manually overrode ALL shuttle warning downlinks forcing Challenger to fly on up into orbit on its own anyway. After orbital insertion, it was discovered she was correct in every way: It was a software problem. In fact, everything on the orbiter was perfect. But it is THE MOST hair raising launch event of all time for NASA's history of space flight.
11. STS-24 Discovery. Had 22 of its 54 RSC system motors become non functional after orbital insertion. Orbiter could have been marooned in space had not the redundancy of software protocols been installed since STS-23.
12. STS-25 Challenger. Loss of vehicle, mission, and crew.
13. STS 32 Atlantis. DoD mission. Failure of the OMS pressure pod sensors could have resulted in a ATO--Abort to Orbit. Another words, the launch was a failure but the orbiter has passed ATE (Abort to Earth) parameters, and thus, 'aborts' by going on up into space and orbital insertion.
14. STS-42 Atlantis. It is discovered at T-14 minutes that several of the huge hardware bolts on the pad holding the orbiter stack in place before launch are flawed.
15. STS-50 Columbia. Anomalous events of unknown origin came to visit the shuttle in flight. All data has been turned over to the NRO. Cause: unknown by NASA at this time. NRO will not brief NASA at this time.
16. STS-66 Discovery. Shuttle suffered several 'Crit-1' warning for failure calls after orbital insertion regarding the RCS.
ERRATA ____________
Addenda: on 13 of the first 25 shuttle launches and flights, the Morton Thiokol built solid rocket boosters had potential catastrophic burn throughs in the casings at field joints, which ultimately destroyed Challenger. Inexplicably, for reasons I still cannot fathom, my beloved NASA 'waived' these potential failures and flew the orbiter stack anyway. Many protested, myself included. Those responsible with this heinous act are no longer with the agency, thank goodness.
* 'Crit-1' or Criticality-1 items: there are 700 of these items on board the shuttle and its stack as it sits on the pad before launch and after launch. A failure of any one of these items will result in loss of vehicle, mission, and crew.
*** Few remember this. After STS-1 got into orbit and several tiles were missing on both the right and left OMS pods, which could be seen clearly on camera and through the rear cargo bay-crew module cabin, and reported by crewman Bob Crippen and John Young. The question was, were the even more critical tiles on the shuttle's underside missing too. There was no way to find out. On national news NASA asked everyone with a telescope to look up and find the orbiter and see if they could see anything. They asked everyone, anywhere, all people, all nations to help.
On the third day of the flight NASA at JSC received a 'secret' message, the equivalent of modern day emails, from the Navy and Air Force with a clear photograph of the underside of Columbia in space: all tiles were in place, perfect. It was never divulged 'how' those photos were taken - they would not tell us at NASA! Those of us on the 'inside' found out, however, with a little bit of sneakiness. (Proof again, NASA does not know what the military is doing 99.99% of the time)
The NAVY and the AF with the NRO had moved one of the pre-Silver Veil look down satellites, down to low Earth orbit. From a distance of 1100 nautical miles away from Columbia--so the crew wouldn't see the 'bogey'. They then secretly took clear pictures of the shuttle's underbelly. And Behold, all was fine and well.
Rascals, them.
Think about this when there are ones that talk about secret UFO landings. Not so fast. Nothing can get through the NORAD/Fence. Period. This was public news for many weeks after the successful launching of America's very first shuttle flight - everyone pondering how those pictures were taken of the shuttle in space like that. But, now you know how the photos were taken.
Tommy won't mind this post addition.
Robert A.M. Stephens
Contractor, NASA
Shuttle Documentation Program
Stillwater Mills
KSC-PIB/PA-code MSF/shuttle