NASA employee Wayne Hale has revealed that the Columbia crew had not been told that their shuttle was damaged and that they might not survive re-entry.
This Friday marks the 10th anniversary of the disaster, where seven astronauts died after heading home from a 16-day science mission. The shuttle broke apart over Texas on February 1, 2003 because its left wing was damaged.
Experts at NASA's mission control knew the wing was damaged, and debated over whether they should tell them or not.
They decided it would be best if the crew did not know about the damage, as nothing could have been done. The crew was too far from the International Space Station and did not have the equipment to perform a repair. It also would have taken too long to send up another shuttle for rescue.
Hale, who became space shuttle program manager, wrote on his blog details about the tragic day.
"When possible damage to the orbiter was discussed, he (Flight Director Jon Harpold) gave me his opinion: 'You know, there is nothing we can do about damage to the TPS (Thermal Protection System). If it has been damaged it's probably better to know. I think the crew would rather not know. Don't you think it would be better for them to have a happy successful flight and die unexpectedly during entry than to stay on orbit, knowing that there was nothing to be done, until the air ran out?'"
The seven astronauts, David Brown, Rich Husband, Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson, William McCool and IIan Ramon were dead in minutes following the crash.
After an investigation, it was revealed that a piece of foam the size of a briefcase was the physical cause of the accident. It damaged the shuttle's wing during take off, leaving a hole in the tiles.