The audacious rescue plan that might have saved space shuttle Columbia | Ars Technica:
That's the way events actually unfolded. But imagine an alternate timeline for the Columbia mission in which NASA quickly realized just how devastating the foam strike had been. Could the Columbia astronauts have been safely retrieved from orbit?
During the writing of its report, the CAIB had the same question, so
it asked NASA to develop a theoretical repair and rescue plan for Columbia
"based on the premise that the wing damage events during launch were
recognized early during the mission." The result was an absolutely
remarkable set of documents, which appear at the end of the report as
Appendix D.13. They carry the low-key title "STS-107 In-Flight Options Assessment,"
but the scenario they outline would have pushed NASA to its absolute
limits as it mounted the most dramatic space mission of all time.