TOO STRONG IS NEVER WRONG
Seeing is believing, but whether it’s 9-11, or the Columbia disaster, it can take months to comprehend what takes seconds to witness .The more you replay the slow motion video of NASA’s test gun shooting a hole in a space shuttle wing, the harder it is to accept what a chunk of glorified Styrofoam did to Columbia. It's as though one of the Titanic’s lifeboats rammed and sank the iceberg. But watch we must--to avoid future disasters it is vital to understand past ones.
The space shuttle may look like a flatiron clad in firebrick, but it’s really a flying soufflé. Its wing tiles have the density of Balsa wood, and the insulation on its liquid hydrogen tank makes cork look heavy. What punched a hole in the wing weighed just two pounds per cubic foot- so light that the 1, 600-mile an hour air stream screaming by stopped it almost cold. Whereupon the oncoming wing hit it at 500 miles an hour.
Copyright 2005 Russell Seitz & Dow Jones Inc.