The Science from Columbia

Ten years ago today, my younger self sat down on a bean bag in front of the telly. I tuned into BBC News 24. A Space Shuttle was about to land, and I was going to watch it live.

I was only 12, and had recently been captivated by the Space Shuttle Program. I’d get up in the middle of the night, watch, and record on VHS, shuttle launches. They were enthralling. Now I sat down to watch, what I think should have been, my first shuttle landing. The date: Saturday 1st February 2003.

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

Everything seemed to be going smoothly, but as it progressed there were no pictures of the shuttle passing through 200,000ft. Still, I didn’t know any better. A few minutes later the time remaining to landing hit zero. Then the horrific pictures started to come in. The Space Shuttle Columbia had been lost.

Unlike the majority of Space Shuttle missions at the time, to develop the International Space Station, this mission was purely scientific. It carried the SPACEHAB module, where all of the experiments would be conducted. There were biological sciences, life sciences, combustion sciences, atmospheric sciences, physical sciences experiments and more to be conducted on this mission.

A lot of data was lost when Columbia disintegrated, but some data was downlinked during the mission, some of which is helping us down here today. Some include:

  • Combustion chemistry experiments have helped to develop cleaner burning engines
  • Experiments involving soot and how it can be used as a useful industrial product
  • An atmospheric experiment discovered a new atmospheric phenomena called Transient Ionospheric Glow Emission in Red
  • An experiment looking into the use of fine water mists to aid firefighting techniques
  • An experiment into the development of prostate cancers

The results of these experiments have benefited us down here on Earth, and so I’d like to thank the crew of STS-107 for their efforts to further the human race.

Per Ardua ad Astra

Sources: NASA Space Research, Freestar ReportScience Gained from STS-107

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Book Review: Riding Rockets

Riding Rockets by Astronaut Mike Mullane.

I had just watched Space Shuttle Atlantis land for the final time. I was incredibly sad, but happy. The great ship that inspired my love of science and space had come to a final stop. I knew a bit about the shuttle program, or so I thought. It was time to read someone’s first hand experience of this mighty spaceship. Riding Rockets was the obvious place to look.

At T-6 seconds the cockpit shook violently. Engine start. This is it, I thought. In spite of my fear, I smiled. I was headed into space. It was really going to happen.

5…4…The vibrations intensified as the SSMEs sequentially came on line. Then, the warble of the master caution system grabbed us.

This superb read takes us all through Mike Mullanes life. The horrors of the initial astronaut medical exam, flying in Vietnam, his childhood and the shocking bureaucracy and management at NASA.

This book had me in fits of laughter, and I mean extreme laughter! It bought a tear to my eye, the pages discussing Challenger are particularly heart-wrenching. It had me shocked and in immense curiosity. His descriptions of life at NASA are honest, sometimes jaw-droppingly honest. This book made me appreciate the space programme a lot more, the sacrifices that have to be made, the lessons that need to be learnt.

If your interested in spaceflight, get this book, it’s a no brainer. If you want a laugh and understand what these great people do, buy this book. It is an utterly superb read. 5 stars from me! (If you want to buy it, click here, it’ll take you to the page on Amazon).

If you need some inspiration. Watch this:

My next book – My Life on Mars: The Beagle Diaries by Prof Colin Pillinger

When We Left Earth – What the Shuttle Meant to Me

I was reading through the Radio Times to see if there was anything cool on the telly soon. It was a warm, sunny day in July 2002 and I found a programme that had caught my eye. I highlighted it and said to my dad “can we record this please?” I was 11 and cable had yet to be introduced to our lonely corner of the village. A good friend and neighbor however had more money than the rest of us in the cul-de-sac and had this thing called Sky along with a funny dish stuck to his house. He could record it for me, and he did!

The programme was called ‘Rocket Men of Mission 105’ and the description in the Radio Times had read something like ‘the story of a mission to space’. The next day the neighbor bought up the programme recorded onto VHS for me (Yes VHS) and I sat down to watch it with an un-blinked glaze in my eyes for just under and hour. Here, I think, my obsession with space began.

Since then I’ve missed maybe only two or three launches. I managed to persuade my parents to let me wake up in the early hours to see some night launches. I recall one time getting up at something like 3am to see the launch of Endeavour. In the time before YouTube existed I recorded the launches onto VHS so I could watch them again and again.
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