WASHINGTON -- A top NASA official wrestled with what he thought was a hypothetical question: What do you tell the astronauts of a doomed space shuttle Columbia?
When the NASA official raised the question in 2003 just days before the re-entry accident that claimed seven astronauts' lives, managers thought, wrongly, that Columbia's heat shield was fine. They told astronauts they weren't worried about launch damage.
But after a managers meeting, mission operations chief Jon Harpold told flight director Wayne Hale that if something was wrong, it was hopeless and maybe they shouldn't tell the crew.
Hale wrote about the conversation 10 years later. He said NASA would have tried to save the crew had engineers realized the problem's true severity.
He said the lesson from Columbia is: Don't give up.