Local Aeronautics Expert Theorizes on Crash

Aeronautics expert Chuck Watson.
Aeronautics expert Chuck Watson.

It is early in the investigation, but there is a lot of speculation about what happened to the pace shuttle Columbia. To help us decipher what may have happened, WTOC found someone who works with NASA every day. Chuck Watson's job has him working with the space agency and satellites. He even has a NASA feed in his house, so he saw and heard everything the control room heard and explained to us what may have happened.

Watson was watching the feed from his office, and when he saw the control room lose contact the space shuttle, he knew something was terribly wrong.

"The whole control room went quiet as soon as they lost transmission, everyone just froze," he said.

Watson, an aeronautics expert, says at the last transmission, the shuttle was traveling 18 times the speed of sound, and explains what may have caused the shuttle to crash. In every shuttle launch, ice forms on the fuel tank, and when the tank vibrates during takeoff, the ice breaks off. During this take off, it is speculated a piece of ice may have hit the left wing of the shuttle, damaging the imperative thermal tile.

Watson says the astronauts wouldn't have noticed the problem in space because there is no atmosphere.

"In space you can have all the dings and cracks you want, but when you reenter is when it heats up and there is danger," he said.

And upon reentry the shuttle crashed just 15 minutes before it was supposed to land.

"The last transmission said the temperature of the tires was rising," Watson said. He said that could be an indication of a problem with the tile, but right now it is all speculation.

"Everyone who touched or designed anything with that is banging their head on the wall wondering if it something they did," he said.

Watson says the shuttle Columbia was just refitted and that is one thing investigators will look into. He says it will take weeks to find the cause, but he wants people to know the research these astronauts were doing saved thousands of lives.

Reported by: Kim Angelastro, kangelastro@wtoc.com