Space Boo Boos

Tile Damage

Despite NASA’s many accomplishments like the moon landing, the Space Shuttle and the Space Station, there were bound to be errors and mistakes, large and small along the way. Want to hear a few that I was aware of?

During one of the Shuttle flights one of the females got her long hair caught in a piece of equipment and it pulled a bunch of her hair out. Ouch! NASA bosses (all men at the time) made a rule that all the women had to restrain their long tresses – or cut their hair short.


On one of my husband’s flights, there was some concern that debris had hit the bottom of the Orbiter on launch. Mission Control asked the Atlantis crew to swing the robot arm over and look at the Shuttle’s underside. The crew was stunned. They sent pictures to the ground of the black tiles which had white patches indicating damage. Mission Control said they thought it was just light and shadows; but the crew was very concerned they would burn up during reentry.

On landing everyone could see that there were significant chips in some of the tiles. The problem was that Mission Control had received faulty information due to the downlinked “encrypted” camera footage which sent poor images. Luckily, the crew made it back safely.

Shuttle on the Pad at night

On my first flight, I thought I had made a big mistake. When we launched our first satellite, it didn’t seem to be working. I had a terrible fear that I had somehow failed to power it up. My crewmate, Jeff Hoffman, had watched my every step and assured me I had done everything correctly. As it turned out there was a problem with the internal electronics and a crew later was able to grab the satellite and “hot wire” around the internal wires.

Another incident happened to one of the “Cape Crusaders” who were Astronauts assigned to assist workers at Cape Canaveral. One late night shortly before a launch, one them was babysitting the Shuttle cockpit ready to flip switches or adjust dials. The Shuttle had a control stick that could steer the vehicle in flight. It had a button on the front that allowed voice transmission and a button on the top that sent commands to the on-board computers.

Shuttle Hand Controller

A call came from Mission Control that required a reply. Unfortunately, the drowsy Astronaut pushed the wrong button and instead of answering, sent a command to reconfigure the computers to the Back-up Flight Control System, the BFS. Ugh…Getting back to the regular set up required hours of work. Fellow Astronauts of course nick-named our friend “BFS”.

Errors large and small will occur in any large endeavor or as they say “Stuff Happens”. We can only select a great team, train hard, practice often and do our best. — Rhea





Your Cart