( Before you form any conclusions do a little investigating. Listen to the official NASA audio on this page or from other sources...then read my opinion)
A Question of Perception
Why I think Commander Husband suspected Columbia had a problem and why is his last statement missing from the official transcript?
Let us move forward to 2003 and the reentry of STS-107. I think the general perception is that the crew was unaware that anything was amiss until Columbia was moments short of breaking up. I don't believe that was the case and a clue to this fact may reside in the audio recordings.
Already riding the unnerving razor's edge of the reentry process, the crew and more importantly, Commander Husband had the foreshadowed knowledge of the foam strike. He and the other crew members had in fact been alerted to and viewed the foam strike via uploaded video days before. What exactly caused the bright flash over Nevada we'll never know, but based on its luminosity, it could have easily marked a moment for the crew. A moment in which the knowledge of this foam strike suddenly had new and ominous meaning towards their survival. A sharpening of the razor's edge of that already edgy reentry process could have felt just that much less forgiving to fault...and that much more life threatening.
I feel quite sure that the flash ( debris 6... "the Nevada flash") lit up the crew cabin (via the rear/top windows of the cabin) with a noticeable unusual quality. Then a minute or so later debris 14 slowly lifted up and behind the shuttle. Again, possibly blaring its light into the cabin at least to a point of being noticed by the crew as perhaps "outside of the norm". Husband and Chawla had been there before, so these flares or flashes could have been very troubling signs if they were seen. They would have suspected these events were anomalous, and if anything is wrong on reentry you’re dancing with the Devil. It is also hard to believe Commander Husband was not fully aware Columbia was experiencing “stress” and specifically on the left side with the elevon setting numbers more than suggesting a battle to maintain proper attitude. Not to mention what we know was an asymmetrical plasma envelope. To assume he wouldn't have some sense, some suspicion his left wing/side was a point of concern due to Columbia's readings and possible damage seems counter intuitive...at least to this amateur. The Shuttle's RCS system was galliantly keeping Columbia "inline", but hard to believe this RCS "fight to keep it right" was going unnoticed by Husband.
Most people who have followed the details of this story know that Rick Husband's final words at 8:59:32 were "Roger, uh, bu...". His words were cut off as Columbia experienced a communications drop out and shortly there after, Columbia’s break up began. I absolutely believe those were Husband's words! But for me, the last cogent thought, the last complete sentence expressed by Husband happened on his previous call down. Unfortunately, this statement by him received almost no attention by the media or the public...and sadder still is that I believe his words were transcribed incorrectly by NASA.
At 8:58:48 (44 seconds before he said Roger, uh...bu…) it is officially transcribed that Husband said "and uh Hou...". That seems to me an odd transmission for the commander to start a thought in mid sentence, as if he were trying to finish a previous thought. Commander Husband hadn't made a call down for more than 12 minutes prior to this statement based on the audio recordings. I do think this was an odd transmission, but not for the reason I just mentioned. Perhaps "unusual" is the better word to describe it, and I think therein lies the reason Houston then called back "...and we did not copy your last", because Husband's words fell outside of the lexicon for reentry communications. "Unintelligible" is how Husband's "58:48" communication is sometimes described, but in my opinion "unbelievable" was probably closer to the truth.
I arrived home from my trip to videotape Columbia’s reentry around noon on February 1st. I along with my son and my brother watched and listened to the recorded NASA TV broadcast of the reentry. We all heard Husband’s statement and pretty much agreed that his haunting 3 word statement would more than likely be forever attached to this tragedy. Very much like “Go! At throttle up” is attached to the Challenger disaster. A few days later I was very surprised to see his words had been transcribed totally different than what we had heard. The 4 syllable statement was even reduced to just 3.
We can certainly never know for sure, but for me, Husband's words may have represented and still would represent an acknowledgment that he was aware they had (or might have) a problem. Columbia’s crew had received the first indication of a problem at GMT 13:58:39 when the first of four fault messages was annunciated on the on-board Backup Flight Software monitor. These messages were accompanied by an audible tone. 8 seconds later Husband made the call down to Houston that I believe is mistranscribed.
Perhaps it was just an uncomfortable quip by a concerned CMD Husband. I will guess that had the crew cabin videotape survived to a point after some of the major debris events occurred, a much less jovial mood would have been apparent with the crew members.
So what do I hear Husband say? Well I don’t hear him say- "and uh Hou..." I hear him say- "feelin' the heat". That, I feel was his and STS-107's equivalent to Apollo 13’s "Houston, we've had a problem". Absolutely and highly subjective as all of this is, I suspect Husband's brief blurt was a product of him being a good pilot. That if his "bird" was in trouble…that it may in fact go down; It was going down with him tuned in to the possibility. It was a "note" if you will to Mission Control that he had a sense something was not right despite the good data. A note to convey he could tell Columbia (specifically the left tires) was feeling the heat...that it was being unusually effected. The data does show that Columbia was performing remarkably well, but perhaps he sensed there was a real problem. It could have been a statement for the record...not for any temperature condition in the cabin (we know cabin temperatures were normal), but rather for his pilot's sense of the overall reentry conditions.
Sadly, I feel that lost now, is the correct and possibly more courageous perception of the final minutes for this crew and their mission, in large part due to this misunderstanding...this "mishearing" of Husband. I do not view this as any type of cover-up, but just an honest mistake that needs to be looked at, if simply for history's sake. There is a possibility that this is intentional. That NASA didn't want Husband's use of the word "heat" published, taken out of context and then sensationalized, so it wasn't transcribed into the official record. If that was the case, they should have carefully put the word in context for the public and then released the transcript.
Some people question me on the value of raising this issue even if I'm right. If I am right, Rick Husband said what he said for some reason and to transcribe his words inaccurately or to simply discard them is disrespectful. If corrected it would at least open the window to a grace under pressure. We're dealing with history here and there are no good excuses for not getting history recorded correctly.
Is anyone out there in professional voice/audio analysis? Take the case!
Perhaps you're of the opinion that an Astronaut wouldn't or do not use casual speak such as "feelin' the heat". For you, here are a few transcribed statements from the Challenger crew seconds before they died...
Pilot..... Go you Mother.
MS 2 (Resnik)... (Expletive) hot
Pilot..... Feel that mother go…Woooohoooo
THE AUDIO FILES...You be the judge
*Here is the audio flight loop beginning at 8:58:39. Again, the quote in question occurs at 8:58:48 or 9 seconds after play starts. I ran the audio out to loss of signal at 8:59:32, but removed some silent periods. To put this audio into better context, please download my Real-time reentry video.
*To make it easier (not scientific) here is the quote in question. I have it repeated 9 times. 3 times at normal speed, 3 at 115% speed and 3 at 85% speed. The last run at each speed has the upper and lower frequencies taken down, so that the mid-range is clearer... the voice range.
*The commander's :58:48 transmission, tempo slowed/pitch held/repeated 5 times HERE
*Here is the complete STS 107 audio flight loop from February 1 2003 that was available at NASA.gov for a time after the accident. (audio begins 30 minutes before break-up...the audio in question begins at 27 minutes and 17 seconds elapsed time) Currently there is only a condensed file of the audio loop available online from NASA. (see NASA link below)
*Here is every call down from Columbia that morning. There are considerable time gaps between most of these bites...12 minutes of silence from Columbia before the "and uh Hou.../feelin' the heat" call.
*Here are the times Husband used the words "houston" or "and houston" juxtaposed to the quote in question (sequence repeated 3 times)
*Here are the "houstons"/"and houstons"/"and uh hou..." juxtaposed in a different way
*Here is the sound bite in question after hiss reduction and a noise reduction profile applied (Adobe Audition)
*This is a big one...Here is a link to the 2008 NOVA program about the disaster. There is a curious editing of the official NASA audio that is displayed early in the 3rd section. The editor has taken Rick Husband's :58:48 call, moved it 30 seconds later and nested it within the MMACS call of- "we just lost the tire pressure on the left outboard and left inboard, both tires". I believe this audio editing by NASA was intentional. I think that it was done to try to bring better context to Husband's words...to show he said "feeling the heat" in response to the first audible alarms that alerted him to the left side tires blowing out. The tires were ..."feeling the heat". Unfortunately, Husband didn't elaborate why he used those words. Seems very possible NASA is trying to link his use of the word "heat" to the tires losing pressure. I agree with NASA, but they shouldn't rearrange the recording to contextualize his words. Just explain the context to the public.
If you want to see that editing decision right here, right now, here it is... (sorry, but I had to record it off my monitor) Watch ...Why? Why was effort made to create a time space within that MMACS call in order to insert Husband's :58:48 statement on the conditions as he saw it? This was edited with a purpose in mind...it can not have been an accident. Trust me, I am an editor and I know editorial intention when I see or hear it.
So...why was this audio-
at 08:58:48 a.m. - HUSBAND: "And uh, Hou" or "feelin' the heat"
Pushed back 30 seconds by NASA, in order to make this?-
at 08:59:18 a.m. - MMACS: "We just lost the tire... HUSBAND: "feelin' the heat" ...MMACS:pressure on the left outboard and left inboard, both tires."
Oddly, there isn't a transcription of Husband's inserted sound bite on the page. I'd like to ask the NASA editor why he or she arranged the sound this way. (See the link below for further evidence that this editing came from within NASA)
*HERE is another usage of that NASA editing from an independent film. The Houston MCC video clip was given to filmmaker Mike Welt by NASA as is.
NASA official recordings- http://www.nasa.gov/columbia/foia/ (wav./Netshow/RealAudio)...about 2/3rds down the page
Webpage contains: Discussion on a possible error in NASA transcript of Columbia's audio. Opinion on Columbia crew, STS 107 astronauts, mp3 of apollo 13, foam strike on Columbia's left wing, crew cabin video, the quote "roger, uh, buh...", loss of signal, shuttle break-up, shuttle damage, possible NASA cover up or conspiracy theory and NASA mission control. It deals with NASA timeline, was crew aware, Apollo 13, astronaut deaths, space deaths, space tragedies, the end of Columbia, Colombia final minutes, shuttle pilot audio, what killed the Columbia astronauts, what did the astronauts know, did the Columbia astronauts suspect, what happened to the Space shuttle columbia in detail, CAIB final report, astronaut conversations, home video of shuttle, voice analysis specifically Commander Rick Husband. There is audio from space shuttle crash, links to NASA audio files, NASA mp3, Apollo 13, famous last words, voice recognition.