Raumfahrt - Die Mythen der NASA Raumfähre Columbia Katastrophe-Teil-3


Fortsetzung von Teil2:

He never doubted he would be an astronaut. ``I can't remember ever thinking that I couldn't do it,'' Colonel Anderson said in an interview with the University of Washington alumni newsletter in 1998. ``I never had any serious doubts about it. It was just a matter of when.''

But on the eve of his last flight, Colonel Anderson did talk about the risk of space flight.

``There's always that unknown,'' he said to reporters just before the Columbia lifted off on Jan. 16.

Colonel Anderson's parents, Bobbie and Barbara Anderson, live in Spokane. The family moved to the area about 30 years ago, friends said, because Bobbie Anderson was assigned to the Fairchild Air Force Base about 25 miles from Spokane. Michael Anderson went to school in Cheney, a farm town next to the base.

Today, inside Cheney High School is a plaque and picture of Colonel Anderson, the astronaut who never wavered in his dreams.

``Michael's always been an amazingly strong, focused guy,'' said the Rev. Freeman Simon, who has known the family for about 25 years, and attended the same church with them. ``He is strange in one respect: he was the guy who always seemed to know what he wanted, and could translate his thinking into action.''

After Cheney High School, Colonel Anderson got a bachelor of science degree in physics and astronomy at the University of Washington, in Seattle. He earned a master's degree in physics in 1990 at Creighton University.

In 1994, while stationed at Plattsburgh Air Force Base, he was chosen for the space shuttle program, one of 19 candidates selected that year from among 2,962 applicants.

He was on the Shuttle-Mir docking mission in 1998, when the crew transferred more than 9,000 pounds of scientific equipment and other hardware from the Endeavour to the Mir.

He was married to the former Sandra Lynn Hawkins.

While Colonel Anderson was a role model in Spokane as one of the few black astronauts, he would have stood out even if he had never gone to space, friends said.

``If you know what the character of an eagle is like, that is Michael Anderson,'' said Mr. Freeman. ``He was an eagle among chickens.''

--[From the New York Times, Feb. 2, 2003]
Loss of the Shuttle: The Astronauts; the Columbia Space Shuttle's Crew of 6 Americans and 1 Israeli
(By Alan Feuer)
Seven astronauts, six Americans and an Israeli, died aboard the shuttle Columbia yesterday. Of the crew of five men and two women, four had never flown in space before.
Cmdr. William C. McCool: Carrying a Memento Of Home on Mission

When Cmdr. William C. McCool of the Navy, the pilot of the space shuttle Columbia, took off on Jan. 16, he carried a piece of his hometown with him: a spirit towel for the Coronado Mustangs, his high school football team in Lubbock, Tex. Commander McCool, 41, had always been a football fan. He told The Associated Press in an interview that he was rooting for the Oakland Raiders in last Sunday's Super Bowl, having grown up in San Diego.

He was an athlete--a runner, swimmer and a back-country camper--and played the guitar and chess. He was even known to play chess via e-mail with crew members of the international space station.

He was also something of a cutup, those who knew him said.

``Willie had one of the best senses of humor of any kid you'd ever seen,'' said Ed Jarman, who taught Commander McCool's high school chemistry class. ``He could rig up the most comical ways of explaining scientific principles.''

Mr. Jarman said Commander McCool was highly dependable. ``If I needed trash picked up on the school grounds, I'd make him a committee of one.''

He had always been interested in joining in the Navy, Mr. Jarman said; his father was a chief petty officer in the Navy.

Commander McCool graduated second in his 1983 class at the Naval Academy, where he ran with the cross-country track team.

The commander of his mission, Rick D. Husband, was also from Lubbock, and the town was in mourning yesterday.

The Columbia mission was Commander McCool's first trip into space. He was an experienced test pilot, one of the Navy's elite airmen, and had logged more than 2,800 flight hours.

Commander McCool was chosen by NASA for its astronaut program in 1996 and completed two years of training. He was scheduled for a shuttle mission in June 2001, but it was delayed.

Asked then by The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal if the scratched mission troubled him, he was optimistic.

``From a rookie point of view, the delays are probably good,'' he said. ``I feel like going through the training flow essentially a second time a little less like a rookie and a little bit more like a veteran.''

In the same interview he said one of the hardest parts of his mission would be working on a split-duty around-the-clock schedule: half of the shuttle crew members worked, while the other half slept.

``I think it's going to be very difficult,'' he said. ``That's why we're focusing now in advance on doing everything very efficiently on time. We hope we can do whatever measures are necessary to get us into bed.''

Commander McCool was married and had three sons.


Ms. SNOWE. Mr. President, America and the world watched with equal measures of shock and sadness on the morning of February 1, as the Shuttle Columbia was lost and seven heroes perished in the skies over Texas.

At this most somber of times, we pray for the souls of the seven astronauts, as well as the families of those who gave their lives to advance humankind. We also extend our most profound sympathies to all Israelis as they mourn their fallen countryman, the first Israeli astronaut. Their boundless joy has turned to the deepest sorrow, and we share in their terrible loss.

Today, we remember Rick D. Husband, commander; William C. McCool, pilot; Michael P. Anderson, payload commander; David M. Brown, mission specialist; Kalpana Chawla, mission specialist; Laura Blair Salton Clark, mission specialist; and Ilan Ramon, payload specialist. Their names are no longer of the pedestrian Earth, they now belong to the ages, forever etched in the halls of history.

We can scarcely comprehend the dangers which they accepted daily as the price for making a difference in the world. For most of us, we could not imagine a life so punctuated by peril. For them, they could not imagine life in any other form, and it is we who are the beneficiaries of their courage.

For those who exist on the vanguard of human endeavor, we reserve our highest regard and greatest respect. For it is they who set new standards by challenging old limits. It is they who embrace the ultimate risk in exchange for mapping the realm of possibility. We can no more place ourselves in their minds and hearts than we can imagine what it is like to stand on a street corner in a city we have never seen. We occupy a different space in the world. But we know and can appreciate the fruits of their extraordinary labor, and that is probably all they would ever ask of us.

The Space Shuttle Columbia, on mission STS-107, was dedicated to research in the space, life, and physical sciences. The seven astronauts worked around the clock, for 16 days, to carry out studies in the areas of astronaut health and safety, advanced technology development, and Earth and space sciences. It is true they carried with them experiments designed to expand the store of human knowledge. But they also carried with them the pride of the United States and Israel, and the hopes of the people of our two great nations for a brighter and better tomorrow.

Our hearts are now heavy, but our pride and our hope are not diminished, far from it. Indeed, the spirit represented by Columbia cannot be vanquished by such crude and earthly instruments as physics or fire. Rather, the spirit embodied by her and her crew is of a higher, infinitely more durable plane, where the finest of human ideals and pursuits never die, but only grow stronger with the passing of the days.

In moving forward, we must now ascertain what went wrong, and take every conceivable step to ensure it is never repeated for the sake of those who, in the years ahead, will once more ride into the breach of space. As President Bush has said, ``The cause in which they died will continue. Mankind is led into the darkness beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand. Our journey into space will go on.'' Perhaps that is best way for us to honor the memory of those seven astronauts who never returned from Columbia.

Robert F. Kennedy once said, ``There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why ..... I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?'' That is the credo by which the seven astronauts of Columbia lived their lives, and their legacy will be remembered as long as greatness is revered.

Again, I join with my colleagues and all of America in expressing my deepest appreciation, and my most sincere condolences to the families. Our thoughts and prayers are with them. May God grant them strength and comfort as He welcomes home the crew of Columbia.


Mr. FEINGOLD. Mr. President, I rise today with a heavy heart to mourn the loss of a fellow Wisconsinite, a wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend. This extraordinary woman, Laurel Clark of Racine, WI, was a physician, a Navy Commander, and an astronaut who was flying her first space mission aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia. When that craft broke apart over the blue Texas sky on Saturday morning, we lost this incredible woman and her six crew mates. I extend my deepest sympathy to Dr. Clark's husband and son and to her family and friends.

Dr. Clark, the oldest of four children, was born in Iowa and grew up in Racine, WI. She graduated from William Horlick High School in 1979 and went on to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied zoology and was an active member of Gamma Phi Beta Sorority. She earned her undergraduate degree in 1983, and her medical degree, also from the University of Wisconsin, in 1987.

Dr. Clark joined the U.S. Navy after medical school and became a diving doctor, participating a number of submarine missions. She was selected to train as an astronaut in 1996, and she and her husband relocated to Houston, TX, home of the Johnson Space Center.

Dr. Clark's first shuttle mission was postponed several times, and after years of training and anticipation, she and her crewmates lifted off from Cape Canaveral on January 16 for a 16-day microgravity research mission. Aboard the Columbia, Dr. Clark was a mission specialist who conducted numerous medical experiments, often using herself as a test subject.

An e-mail message that Dr. Clark sent to her brother from space noted that she enjoyed looking down on her home planet and seeing familiar sights such as Wind Point on Lake Michigan.

Dr. Clark's professional journey took her from the depths of the Earth's oceans to the vast reaches of outer space. She truly reached for the stars and made incredible contributions to our country. Dr. Laurel Clark and her crewmates were tragically taken from us too soon, and we will always treasure her legacy of scientific exploration and discovery and her commitment to her family, friends, and country.


Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I rise today to pay tribute to the men and women who lost their lives on the space shuttle Columbia and offer my condolences to their families and to the entire NASA community. Like all Americans, they are in my thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.

Early Saturday morning, the crew of the Columbia was preparing to reenter the Earth's atmosphere after a 16-day mission to conduct scientific experiments. Five of the seven astronauts were on their first space flight. By all accounts, the mission had been a success, and some of the astronauts jokingly complained to mission controllers about having to come home. The crew included Dr. Kalpana Chawla, a mechanical engineer and Indian immigrant, William McCool, a Navy test pilot, Dr. David Brown, a Navy physician, COL Ilan Ramon, an Israeli fighter pilot, Laurel Clark, a Navy flight surgeon, and two veterans of the space program, Mission Commander Rick Husband and Payload Commander Michael Anderson. Fourteen minutes into reentry, as the shuttle passed through the upper atmosphere and reached temperatures as hot as 2,000 degrees, it broke apart above northern Texas, taking these seven remarkable individuals down with it.

This was a world tragedy as much as it was an American tragedy. The crew of the Columbia reflected our diverse planet as much as it did a cross section of America. Dr. Chawla was a hero in her native India, as was COL Ramon in Israel. Both were on their first space flight. Millions of people around the world reacted in horror as they watched footage of the Columbia streaking across the Texas sky. They share in our deep sense of grief.

I am confident we will complete an exhaustive investigation to determine what went wrong. All questions need to be answered before we send our best and brightest back into space. However, I firmly believe that we must press on. We must continue the exploration of space. I have always supported the space program because I believe it is in the best interests of mankind to unlock the mysteries of life on earth and beyond. The shuttle missions have helped us understand global warming, weather patterns, and the effects of weightlessness on the human body, aided in the understanding of disease, and exponentially increased our understanding of the universe. It would be impossible to quantify the knowledge we have gained from sending men and women into space.

Space flight brings out the best in us. It challenges us to think big, to strive for greatness, and to work together to achieve the most important goals. There is no doubt in my mind that we should continue these missions and prepare the next generation of astronauts for the challenges that lay ahead. To be sure, there is great risk. However, if it weren't difficult, if it didn't promise to improve the quality of our lives and our understanding of the world, then it wouldn't be worth doing. Yesterday the families of the Columbia 7 issued a statement expressing that sentiment: ``Although we grieve deeply, as do the families of Apollo 1 and Challenger before us, the bold exploration of space must go on.''

This tragedy has touched each and every one of us. These selfless heroes were dedicated to a cause greater then themselves. They were passionate about space flight, passionate about their mission, and were committed to making life better for all of us. They will be missed, and they will never be forgotten.


Mr. CONRAD. Mr. President, I would like to include a few words for the RECORD about the horrible tragedy that our Nation suffered on Saturday morning. Our Nation grieves for the brave astronauts that lost their lives on the Space Shuttle Columbia. My thoughts, and the thoughts of all North Dakotans, are with the families and friends of the seven crew members who died in the skies over Texas and Louisiana.

Rick Husband, Michael Anderson, Laurel Clark, David Brown, William McCool, Kalpana Chawla, Ilan Ramon. These men and women came from around the country and around the world to risk their lives, and ultimately give their lives, for human space flight and all that it can offer. Mr. Ramon was a colonel in the Israeli Air Force. Dr. Chawla was an American born in India. The others came together from across the United States. Their mission was one of cooperation, research, and discovery. In these troubled times when we talk of war every day, their mission was, significantly, a mission of peace.

I have always said that, when done right, space exploration can be of tremendous benefit to those of us on the ground. The cutting edge research that NASA conducts in space, including the research performed by these seven brave individuals on Columbia, simply could not happen on the surface of the Earth. Now, we are reminded not only of how difficult and how important this research is, but also just how dangerous it is.

In my State, we understand this first hand. In North Dakota, we are proud to say that we have more astronauts per capita than any other State. James Buchli, Tony England, and Richard Hieb all hail from Noorth Dakota. One of them, Mr. Hieb, flew on Columbia back in 1994.

In North Dakota, we are grieving over the loss of the seven members of Columbia's last mission. But, I am confident that human space flight will continue even in the wake of this disaster. Across this country, and especially at NASA, there is a ``can-do'' attitude that will allow us to forge ahead. It is this spirit that will allow us to move forward with resilience after this horrible tragedy.


Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, like many of my colleagues, I wish to discuss the national tragedy that occurred on Saturday morning and to pay tribute to the seven brave men and women who lost their lives in the space shuttle Columbia disaster.

Just like people around the country, I was beginning my day on Saturday and tuning into the news programs when I learned that NASA had lost contact with the Shuttle Columbia. I was riveted to the developments as they unfolded on television and was devastated when our President addressed the Nation, announcing what we all suspected at that point, ``The Columbia is lost; There are no survivors.''

My heart and prayers go out to the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia and their families. While space travel has in some ways become routine to the American public, this tragedy is a vivid reminder of the inherent risks these brave men and women undertake to pursue the boundaries of space and science. On this day, and in the future, they deserve to be remembered for the lives they lived and I hope we will do that.

In the days that have followed the tragedy, we have all become familiar with the backgrounds of the Columbia astronauts. They were men and women of such accomplishment and capability that it begins to make the extraordinary seem ordinary, but such a characterization is not fair to them. Our astronaut corps continues to attract the best of the best, and to require an unparalleled standard of achievement and excellence. For many shuttle astronauts, the opportunity to participate in a shuttle mission is the dream of a lifetime and for all of them, it is the culmination of a lifetime of hard work.

I remember my excitement as a child, clipping articles about the Mercury missions and hanging them on the bulletin board in my bedroom. Today, Idaho's school children do the same with articles about the International Space Station and the missions of our space shuttle fleet. Many kids follow the progress of various NASA missions in their classrooms. NASA considers this educational outreach a critical, core mission and a major purpose for its existence as an agency. In fact, in a recent meeting I had with NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe, he spent much of our time together discussing the ways that NASA is working to excite students about math and science. This is vital work. It must continue.

Although Congress and NASA are now getting on with the business of investigating what went wrong, nothing should deter us from the important missions of our national space program. I join with my colleagues today in saluting the Columbia astronauts and those at NASA who make it possible for us to explore our universe.


Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Mr. President, I rise today to commemorate the lives of the seven astronauts who gave their lives Saturday when the spacecraft Columbia was lost as it returned to Earth. The names of those manning the shuttle will be ingrained in our minds and in our hearts: CDR Rick Husband, CDR William McCool, LTC Michael Anderson, CDR Laurel Clark, CAPT David Brown, Dr. Kalpana Chawla, and COL Ilan Ramon, of the Israeli Air Force.

The crew of the Columbia shared a love of flying and a sense of adventure that spurred each to strive for excellence and reach for space.

CDR Rick Husband knew from the time he was 4 years old and watched his first shuttle launch that he wanted to be an astronaut.

He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Air Force and attended pilot training at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma. He later served as a test pilot for all five models of the F-15. Commander Husband logged more than 3,800 hours of flight time in more than 40 types of aircraft.

Commander Husband studied mechanical engineering at Fresno State University in California through an extension program at nearby Edwards Air Force Base. On the flight, Commander Husband carried a Fresno State Bulldogs sweatshirt, as a memento. He graduated with a master's degree in 1990. Four years later, NASA selected Husband as an astronaut candidate.

He leaves behind his wife, and his two children.

Born in San Diego, CA, CDR William McCool was the son of a Navy and Marine aviator who built model airplanes as a youngster.

Commander McCool studied aerospace engineering at the U.S. Naval Academy, and was elected captain of the cross-country running team his senior year. He graduated second in his class from the Naval Academy.

Commander McCool received a master's degree in computer science from the University of Maryland in 1985 and a master's in aeronautical engineering at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in 1992.

He attended flight school in Pensacola, FL, and worked as a test pilot at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in southern Maryland.

Commander McCool leaves behind a wife and two children.

LTC Michael Anderson always dreamed of space flight and once said that he could not remember a time when he did not want to be an astronaut.

He graduated from the University of Washington in 1981 with a degree in physics and astronomy and, following in his father's footsteps, was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Air Force.

While stationed at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska in 1990, Anderson earned a master's degree in physics from Omaha's Creighton University.

In 1994, he was selected to join NASA as a potential future astronaut. In January 1998, he made his first flight, aboard the space shuttle Endeavour, traveling 3.6 million miles during 138 orbits of the Earth to reach the Mir space station.

LTC Michael Anderson leaves behind his wife and two daughters.

CDR Laurel Clark always excelled at school, and her classmates remember her for her fun-loving and adventurous spirit.

After Commander Clark graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she joined the Navy to pay her way through medical school, but stayed with the Navy for the series of adventures it offered her in her career.

While in the Navy, Commander Clark became a submarine medical officer, dove with Navy SEALS in Scotland, and earned her flight surgeon's wings before finally applying to NASA for astronaut training.

While orbiting the Earth, Commander Clark remarked on the beauty of watching sunsets from space.

She leaves behind her husband and her son.

CAPT David Brown loved to fly kites as a child, and would gaze at the stars with friends from a backyard telescope.

Captain Brown grew up in Arlington, VA, and earned a bachelor's degree in biology from the College of William and Mary, where he worked two jobs so he could take flying lessons.

He then earned a medical degree from Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, before joining the Navy.

Captain Brown served as a flight surgeon in the Navy and joined NASA in 1996.

His family and friends remember him as a person who ``grabbed life,'' saying that he could and did accomplish anything he set out to do.

Dr. Kalpana Chawla fell in love with the idea of flying as a young girl in India.

She graduated from the Tagore Bal Niketan School in her small hometown of Karnal and then got a bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering from Punjab Engineering College.

She left India for the United States, earning a master's degree from the University of Texas and a doctorate in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado.

Dr. Chawla then worked as a scientist at the NASA Ames research laboratory in California before joining the astronaut program in 1995.

Dr. Chawla was a member of the West Valley Flying Club in Palo Alto who loved doing aerial acrobatics over the Bay Area.

She leaves behind her husband.

COL Ilan Ramon was a bona fide combat hero in Israel, flying missions in the Yom Kippur War in 1973, and the Lebanon war in 1982.

In recent days, he lifted the spirits of his country, becoming a national hero as the first Israeli in space.

As a pilot, Colonel Ramon clocked more than 4,000 hours in combat aircraft, and was an F-16 squadron commander.

Aboard the Columbia, one of Ramon's scientific experiments involved tracking sandstorms in the Sahara Desert, and studying their impact on climate and environment.

He leaves behind his wife and four children.

Each of the astronauts knew the risks involved in space flight. But they took those risks willingly in order to follow their dreams, knowing that their mission was a noble one of science and discovery.

What remains for us, as a nation, is to determine the cause of this tragedy, make adjustments so that it will not happen again, and continue the exploration of space.

NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe has already assigned several internal units to investigate the loss of the Columbia, including a ``Mishap Response Team'' and a ``Contingency Action Team.''

In addition, Administrator O'Keefe announced the formation of an independent board led by Harold W. Gehman, who cochaired the probe of the October 2000 terrorist attack on the USS Cole in Yemen.

I think that the way NASA has acted in the past few days is a marked improvement to the way the investigation into the 1986 Challenger explosion was handled.

Information has been disseminated quickly, which gives me hope that a fair and prompt investigation will yield the causes for the loss of the Columbia.

The space program must continue. The American legacy is filled with stories of exploration, and the desire to push new frontiers to the limit.

There is so much to learn from space. This tragedy will not stifle the desire to acquire all the potential knowledge we could gain as a country, and as a planet, from exploration beyond Earth.

The risks, however, will always be present. In a way, space exploration means continually breaking new ground, and taking those risks.

The hardest part of these losses, is the human loss. The astronauts aboard the Columbia were men and women at their prime. They put their hearts and souls into this mission, were the best and brightest of their peers, and still this catastrophe befell them.

My heart goes out to the families that the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia left behind. As we search for the reasons this tragedy occurred, it cannot be forgotten that each member was a son or daughter, a mother or father, a brother or sister, a dear friend. The thoughts and prayers of the American people, and of the world, are with them as they endure the pain of this loss.

The crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia embodied the human desire to explore, to reach, and to dream. Their courage, idealism, and enthusiasm for discovery are hallmarks of the American spirit which should be remembered and celebrated, even as we grieve their loss.

(At the request of Mr. DASCHLE, the following statement was ordered to be printed in the RECORD.)


[Begin Insert]

Mr. GRAHAM. Mr. President, twice now we have witnessed the horror of vapor trails separating in the sky.

Twice now we have gazed in shock at photographs of the optimistic faces of seven young heroes, captured as they stood at the brink of one of mankind's greatest adventures.

Twice now we have endured the loss of a space shuttle and its valiant crew: First, Challenger on January 28, 1986, at the start of a landmark voyage dedicated to teaching a new generation about space. Now, 17 years and 4 days later, Columbia on February 1, 2003, at the conclusion of a successful scientific mission.

Both incidents remind us that space exploration is fraught with risk, but also with limitless possibility. Even as we mourn the loss of Columbia's crew of seven brave heroes, including the first astronaut from Israel, we must rededicate ourselves to continuing to pursue knowledge of the heavens and the benefits we derive from our research.

We in Florida feel the losses most intensely. My State is home to the Kennedy Space Center and thousands of the dedicated professionals who work for NASA as well as its contractors. Floridians consider ourselves part of the special family that makes up the space program. We launched the Columbia on its 16-day mission, and we were ready to welcome her crew home.

Now, Floridians are firm in our belief that, just as we did in the 1980s, we must fully explore the causes of Saturday's disaster. We must identify what went wrong and fix it. We must ensure the safety of the remaining three orbiters and future astronauts.

But then we recommit ourselves to returning to space, to resuming launches, to continuing to build the International Space Station, and to forging ahead with missions to Mars and other planets.

We are already hearing cautious voices calling for spacecraft to be piloted by robots, or even insisting that no new money be spent on space. I say that is wrong. On May 25, 1961, when President John F. Kennedy declared it a national goal to land a man on the Moon, he did so with these words: ``If we are to go only half way, or reduce our sights in the face of difficulty, in my judgment it would be better not to go at all.''

In the spirit of John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, and our other space pioneers, astronauts must once again be sent soaring through the Earth's atmosphere to explore and discover.


Myth - NASA won’t permit shuttles to reenter over the United States anymore

With all of the debris falling in East Texas many wondered whether NASA would ever allow shuttles to fly over populated areas again and whether or not that would put an end to shuttle landings in Florida. There are three primary landing sites – the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Edwards AFB in California, and White Sands in New Mexico. White Sands is normally considered a backup backup site and has only been used once, the STS-3 mission in 1982. But what many people don’t realize is many of the reentry paths to Edwards go over heavily populated areas in the Los Angeles basin. CAIB chair Hal Gehman said, “When NASA calculates its entry path they do not take into account what’s under it. We felt in the future, all things being equal – they still have to keep the shuttle safe - we do need to think about what’s under it.” Almost every shuttle mission since 1999 goes to the International Space Station. When reentering the shuttle can take a northwest to southeast path over the continental United States or a southwest to northeast path which passes over Mexico or Central America, Cuba, and Florida before landing in Florida. NASA almost always selects the later, not because of risks to the public, but because of a variety of reasons including high altitude ice particles in high latitude clouds and the crew’s sleep cycle. The astronauts have to be awake for launch, landing, docking, and undocking. That drives the rest of the mission’s events and the best landing times occur on the landing passes from the southwest. Some of those reentry paths do go over heavily populated areas, including Mexico City, Orlando, and Sarasota. When it won’t interfere with the mission’s objectives the flight dynamics engineers plan shuttle reentries to avoid populated areas, but only when it doesn’t affect anything else.

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