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By Jessica Berman
Washington
31 December 2008 

Shuttle Columbia crew
Shuttle Columbia's crew
The US space agency NASA issued a report on the 2003 Columbia space shuttle disaster Tuesday, concluding that nothing could have been done to save the shuttle's seven crewmembers. The report outlined a series of failures during the last moments of the ill-fated mission that investigators say need to be addressed to make future space flight safer.

The 400 page report offered a grim picture of the last few moments as Columbia's seven astronauts reentered the Earth's atmosphere on February 1st, 2003, when the space shuttle broke apart.

Shoulder harnesses that were supposed to hold the astronauts in place failed and they were tossed around like rage dolls, while the helmets that were supposed to protect their heads instead battered their skulls.

In a teleconference with reporters, astronaut Pam Melroy, who served on the safety investigation team that wrote the report, was asked whether she was relieved that the astronauts died quickly.

"On behalf of certainly my colleagues and I know the families feel this way too that of course we were relieved that they were discovered this, and it is a very small blessing," said Pam Melroy. "But we will take them where we can find them."

The so-called Columbia Crew Survival Investigation Report offers 30 recommendations to improve future space flights following a top to bottom review of safety, equipment and procedures.

The space shuttle broke apart during its reentry into Earth's atmosphere because of damage caused by a 0.75-kilogram piece of foam that struck the spacecraft's left wing upon lift off.

Investigators say it's unlikely the Columbia crew would have survived even if with all of the recommendations were in place. But NASA officials says the measures might help astronauts in less dire circumstances.

Investigator Wayne Hale says the goal of the report is to help future space travelers.

"I call on spacecraft designers from all the other nations of the world as well as the commercial and personal spacecraft here at home to read this report and apply these hard lessons which have been paid for so dearly," said Wayne Hale.

Investigators say they're now implementing some of the report's safety recommendations with NASA's soon-to-be retired space shuttle program and the next chapter in the space agency's exploration program, the Orion missions to the Moon.

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