Forty miles over Texas, six years ago

The suit protects the crew in many scenarios; however, there
are several areas where integration difficulties diminish the capability of the suit to protect the crew. Integration issues include: the crew cannot keep their visors down throughout entry because doing so results in high oxygen concentrations in the cabin; gloves can inhibit the performance of nominal tasks; and the cabin stow/deorbit preparation timeframe is so busy that sometimes crew members do not have enough time to complete suit-related steps prior to atmospheric entry.

As Columbia entered the atmosphere, one crew member was not yet wearing the ACES helmet and three crew members were not wearing gloves. Per nominal procedures, the crew wearing helmets had visors up. There was a period of about 40 seconds after the orbiter loss of control (LOC) but prior to depressurization when the crew was conscious and capable of action. Part of this short timeframe was undoubtedly employed in recognizing that a problem existed, as the indications of LOC developed gradually. The crew members could have closed their visors in this timeframe but did not. The SCSIIT attributed this to the training regimen, which separates vehicle systems training from emergency egress training and does not emphasize the transition between problem resolution and a survival situation. Once the cabin depressurization began, the rate of depressurization incapacitated the crew so quickly that even those crew members who had fully donned the ACES did not have time to lower their visors.

Source: Columbia Crew Survival Investigation Report, p. 28 (via).

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