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'Chawla, other Columbia crew had only 41 seconds to respond'

File photo of astronaut Kalpana Chawla (foreground) and Laurel B Clark, STS-107 mission specialists, working in the SPACEHAB Research Double Module aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia in January 13, 2003. NASA photo

HOUSTON (PTI): India-born Kalpana Chawla and six other astronauts of the ill-fated shuttle Columbia, who perished in one of the worst US space mishaps in 2003, had just 41 seconds of consciousness to respond to the impending disaster, according to a NASA report on the tragedy.

Narrating Columbia's final moments on February 1, the 400-page report said the astronauts were unaware that their re-entry was compromised.

The Columbia crew's first warning of trouble was a cabin alarm seconds earlier that signaled a problem with the shuttle's control jets.

The astronauts had just 41 seconds of consciousness to respond. In a vain attempt to get the spaceship back on course, William McCool, the pilot, pushed several buttons on a control panel and tried to restart systems as the vessel its heat shield shattered violently spun, pitched and rolled some 200,000 feet above Texas, a little north of Dallas.

The compartment housing the astronauts broke apart over a 24-second period as it plummeted to 105,000 feet.

Things happened so fast that none of the crew were able to close the visor of their helmets -- one astronaut was not even wearing one, the report said.

The crew performed courageously, trying to problem-solve their way to safety. But the accident was not survivable, NASA's Spacecraft Crew Survival Investigative Team said.

Apart from Chawla and McColl, Columbia's crew members were Rick Husband, Mike Anderson, David Brown, Laurel Clark and Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon.

They succumbed to violent trauma as the crew compartment snapped away from the shuttle's body, and the life-sustaining oxygen inside rushed out through small but growing breaches in the walls above and below them.

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