On January 16th, 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia STS Flight with seven crewmembers on board departed earth on a sixteen-day research mission. More specifically, the crew of Columbia was charged with conducting research in physical, life, and space sciences, conducted in approximately 80 separate experiments, comprised of hundreds of samples and test points. The mission also known as FREESTAR (Fast Reaction Experiments Enabling Science, Technology, Applications and Research) was the 28th flight and the 113th mission for the shuttle Columbia. This much anticipated flight gave more than 70 international scientists access to the micro gravity environment in space. This paper will explore the lives of the crew of the Columbia as well as provide some insight into the fascinating history and missions of NASA's oldest shuttle.
History of Columbia
Space shuttle Columbia was ordained with the name Columbia from a sailing boat named Columbia that successfully completed the first circumnavigation of the globe. More apparently, the name Columbia is the feminine version of the explorer Christopher Columbus, who has been credited with the discovery of America. Other notable explorer vessels bearing the name "Columbia" include the first U.S. Navy ship to circle the globe and the command module for Apollo Eleven, the first U-S spaceship to land on the moon. The name "Columbia" carries a tradition of excellence, exploration and honor. Nonetheless, high expectations were set for NASA's veteran shuttle that had been charged with some of the most important tasks during is time.
Columbia's premier mission was on April 12,1981. The crew of two was tasked with demonstrating safe launch into orbit and safe return of the orbiter and crew. They were to verify the combined performance of the entire shuttle vehicle including the orbiter, solid rocket boosters and external tank. It orbited the earth for two days and flew more than one million miles. The shuttle landed on April 14th after successfully completing the mission. Since the Columbia's maiden voyage the vessel had been launched a total of eight times in the 1980's and nineteen times in the 1990's. Prior to its most recent mission the shuttle Columbia had launched on March 1st, 2002 carrying 7 crewmembers that visited and serviced the Hubble Space Telescope, the crew successfully landed following an eleven-day mission on March 11th of that year.
Columbia's Final Flight
On February 1st, 2002 the world suffered a serious and devastating set back in space exploration. Mission control had no reason other than to believe that shuttle Columbia's latest mission would result in a happy ending until just minutes before the shuttle burst into flames. Red flags arose when signals from the left wings' heat sensors ceased. Upon re-entry, three left main landing gear brake line temperature sensors detect a rise at this time the shuttle is flying over California. Within just minutes of the first mishap, sensors on the left wing failed and a remarkable rise in temperature from the left wing was recorded. At 8:59 A.M., mission control lost all signals with the shuttle at the time the shuttle was 207,000 feet high and moving at an unimaginable 12,000 miles per hour. Columbia was declared "lost" soon after pictures and fallen debris as well as eyewitness accounts had confirmed the most awful of suspicions, the shuttle Columbia and her crew had perished. The true cause of the accident remains unknown, an investigation committee has been charged with the tasks of putting the pieces of the puzzle together. A significant part of the investigation now hinders upon new revelations that NASA was aware of some potential dangers and damage of the shuttle. Internal emails between NASA engineers point to such concerns.
There were seven heroes aboard Columbia, men and women from diverse backgrounds, who were united for one common cause, who did not fear the unknown but embraced it. These heroes risked their lives today to pursue research that would make a better tomorrow. Who are the seven men and women who gave their lives for humanity? This latter part of this essay presents brief biographies of the world's newest heroes.
Yearning to be an astronaut since the tender age of four, Commander Rick Husband made his second venture into space aboard Columbia at the age of 45. A graduate of Texas Tech University Husband was committed to achieving his boyhood dream. Husband went on to join the U.S. Air Force where he served as a pilot and also earned his masters degree in mechanical engineering from California State University just 13 years ago. After applying four times and after two grueling interviews, Rick Husband was finally offered a position as an astronaut for NASA in 1994. Of his adventures in space husband commented, "It's been pretty much a lifelong dream and just a thrill to be able to get to actually live it out." Commander Rick Husband, the native of Amarillo, Texas leaves behind a wife and two children. The Commander was an accomplished man, having logged over 230 hours in space.
Second in command was the charismatic, intelligent William McCool. The married California native enjoyed outdoor activities but nothing could surpass his total awe of space. Pilot McCool received his bachelor of science degree in applied science from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1983, a master of science degree in computer science from the University of Maryland in 1985, and a master of science degree in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in 1992. NASA selected McCool in 1996; he was 41 when he embarked his first space flight as a member of the Columbia crew. When asked what has been the most enjoyable experience in his life so far the pilot revealed he really couldn't pin point just one but he was quick to point out that "going out with my wife and my boys back country backpacking in the Olympic Mountains or, you know, the canyon lands in Utah and just enjoying life without outside distractions" was something he loved to do.
With already one space flight under his belt, Payload Commander Michael P. Anderson was the lead scientist for on his latest missions abroad Columbia. The lieutenant Colonel of the United States Air Force received a B.S. from University of Washington in 1981 in physics and astronomy and his Master of Science degree in physics from Creighton University in 1990. Four years after receiving his Masters degree Anderson was selected by NASA and in another four years Anderson found himself embarking upon his first mission. Like his fellow crewmembers, Anderson was definitely in awe of space but he was well aware of the dangers. "I understand the serious nature behind a rocket launch." there are a million things that can go wrong. And, I think, when you really sit down and you study the space shuttle and you really get to know its systems, you realize that this is a very complex vehicle. And even though we've gone to great pains to make it as safe as we can, there's always the potential for something going wrong," Anderson stated. Anderson was 43 when he left for his final mission he leaves behind a wife and children.
NASA selected Mission Specialist 1, David M. Brown, 46 in 1996; the Columbia flight was his first. Born in Arlington, Virginia Dr. David Brown attended the College of William and Mary where he received a Bachelor of Science in biology in 1978. Brown went on to Eastern Virginia Medical School where he received a doctorate in medicine. Dr. Brown was assigned to Columbia, which was his first foray into space.
The recipient of a bachelor of science in aeronautical engineering from Punjab Engineering College, India, in 1982, a master of science in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas-Arlington in 1984, as well as a doctorate in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado-Boulder in 1988 the aerospace engineer Kalpana Chawla, 41, was a veteran of space when she made her second ascent into the unknown aboard Columbia. In Punjabi, Kalpana means imagination however, Chawla was able soar past her imagination and make her dreams reality by logging over 370 hours in space. Chawla leaves behind her husband, freelance flight instructor Jean-Pierre Harrison.
An accomplished medical doctor, wife and mother Laurel Blair Salton Clark was looking forward to her role as Mission Specialist 4 as a crewmember of Columbia. STS-107 was Dr. Salton-Clark's first space flight. Laurel received her Bachelor of Science degree in zoology in 1993 and a doctorate in medicine four years later from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dr. Clark was also commander in the U.S. Navy as well as a Naval flight surgeon. Laurel Clark sent an email to family and friends describing her experience while she was aboard Columbia, she wrote "I have seen some incredible sights: lightning spreading…