Columbia Crew Survival Investigation Report (16.2 MB PDF)
Details of the conditions of the astronauts bodies are redacted. This is both to be expected… and wholly appropriate. Those who *need* to know, know. The last thing the familes – and familes of *other* astronauts – need is to see such photos plastered all over by the scumbag media.
Still, a few bits of extreme disturbishment are present. Such as this paragraph describing the conditions of the crews helmets, from page 3-53:
The hold-down cables on each neck ring were severed at the attach points to the cable guide tubes due to
mechanical overload (figure 3.2-24). Most cable guide tubes experienced significant plastic deformation.
The guide tubes display evidence of external contaminants (i.e., melted metal and suit material) and thermal
effects on top of the fractures and localized deformation. This indicates that mechanical loading preceded
exposure to the thermal environment. Rotation of the helmet relative to the normal forward position was
observed on all neck rings varying from 90 to 180 degrees. Major cable guide tube deformation and
helmet rotation indicates that a significant loading event occurred where helmets were removed via
a mechanical (nonthermal) mechanism.
The translation here: something happened *before* the crew were tossed out of the exploding spacecraft into the hypersonic airstream. That something was so bad that it caused helmets to be yanked from 90 to 180 degrees around, and ripped off the space suits.
Draw your own conclusions as to what happened to the crew subjected to forces like that.
One conclusion that can be drawn here is that an escape capsule, no matter how well designed, no matter how automatic, would not ahve done a damned bit of good here. If the forces involved – I’m guessing here, but I’m thinking sudden rotation and decelleration as the Shuttle wing snapped off – are so hard and so fast that they would actually rip helmets from suits, there’s *no* way to survive.
Space is dangerous. This should not be forgotten.