Could we have saved the crew of Columbia? In Captain Dan Burbank’s opinion, yes. In space, had we taken a close look at the wing of Columbia where the foam struck we probably would have seen a gaping hole. But how can you save people that are orbiting Earth?
Connecting up with the space station never would have worked. There wasn’t the fuel available to change the space shuttle’s trajectory. But, had they dropped the shuttle into ‘sleep’ mode they would have had the energy to last about 30 days. The carbon dioxide levels would have made life very uncomfortable on the shuttle, but no one would have died. In those 30 day’s it’d be possible to rig up the space shuttle Atlantis and send it up with more oxygen. Atlantis could refresh the O2 levels, and then cart a few of the 7 member crew back to earth.
Then they could have sent up a second shuttle to bring back the remaining crew.