It is surely true that Space Shuttle Columbia was not equipped for making tile repairs or even for retreating to the International Space Station. Nonetheless, one can at least imagine possible rescue scenarios. I propose a thought experiment. Supposed that, while Columbia was in orbit, NASA concluded that the shuttle’s tiles were fatally damaged, and the shuttle could not return successfully to earth. Do you think that Mission Control would have sent the shuttle into its re-entry on schedule anyway?
If you haven’t done so, you may want to read my poem on the Columbia disaster, “Columbia Homecoming.”