STS-107: Remembering the accomplishments of the Columbia crew

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It was a Space Shuttle mission like none other in the 21st century. It was a mission that went nowhere near the International Space Station or the Hubble Space Telescope. It was a mission of pure science. It was a mission five years in the making, a mission of international inspiration. It was the STS-107 microgravity research mission of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

STS-107/Columbia – Launch Day/Flight Day 1:

January 16, 2003.

A familiar sight was on Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL: The Space Shuttle Columbia – the pioneer orbiter and flagship of the Shuttle fleet.

Twenty-two years to the day earlier, the Columbia sat on the same launch pad undergoing her very first processing flow toward the inaugural launch of the Shuttle Program.

Since that January morning in 1981, Columbia had flown 27 missions to space.

Columbia Pre-LaunchOn January 16, 2003, she was fully-fueled with 536,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, ready for her long-delayed 28th voyage to space – the STS-107 microgravity research mission.

By the time launch day finally arrived, STS-107 was already a storied mission with NASA – suffering a near-record number of delays/postponements to make way for “more important” missions to the International Space Station and the Hubble Space Telescope.

The original launch date, when STS-107 was announced in March 1998, was May 2000. Two and a half years later, with STS-107 having being scheduled for launch (between 2000 and 2003) in every month except March, Columbia and crew were more than ready.

At 10:28am EST, Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach finished polling his team. All was go.

Turning from his team, Leinbach called Columbia’s Commander, Rick Husband. “If there was ever a time to use the phrase ‘all good things come to people who wait,’ this is the one time. For you and your crew, best of luck on your mission. And from the many, many people who put this mission together, good luck and Godspeed.”

At 10:30am EST, the countdown resumed from the T-9min hold, and the Ground Launch Sequencer computer took control of the countdown.

The Orbiter Access Arm swung away. The APUs (Auxiliary Power Units) started. The GOX Vent Arm swung away.

At T-31seconds, Columbia’s five General Purpose Computers took control of the countdown and vehicle.

STS-107 LaunchAt 10:38.53.4am EST, Columbia’s three Space Shuttle Main Engines roared to life, and 6.6seconds later, the Solid Rocket Boosters lit.

It was 10:39.00am EST when Columbia left launch pad 39A on a national and international scientific research mission.

After executing a pitch/yaw/roll maneuver to place herself into a heads down, wings level configuration on course for 39 degree inclination orbit, Columbia climbed gracefully out of the Kennedy Space Center.

After 8mins 23.4seconds of powered flight, Columbia’s engines cut off, she separated from her External Tank, and slipped into her preliminary orbit.

Immediately, Commander Husband, Pilot William “Willie” McCool, and Flight Engineering/Mission Specialist 2 Kalpana Chawla readied Columbia for her first in-space engine burn with her Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) engines.

The OMS-2 burned, performed half-an-orbit after liftoff, boosted and circularized Columbia’s orbit to that of 177×170 statute miles.

Unlike most Space Shuttle missions, Columbia’s flight was designed to be one of 24-hr scientific operation. As such, the seven member crew was split into two shifts: red shift and blue shift.

Blue shift consisted of McCool, Mission Specialist Dave Brown, and Payload Commander Michael Anderson. Red shift was comprised of Husband, Chawla, Mission Specialist Laurel B. Clark, and Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon.

With Brown taking charge of opening Columbia’s Payload Bay Doors (PLBDs), Clark, Ramon, and Anderson set to work reconfiguring Columbia from her launch configuration as a rocket to her much-needed living configuration that the crew would use throughout the mission.

PLBDs open on STS-107In comparison, Brown’s task of getting the PLBDs open was a much more pressing procedure than Clark, Ramon, and Anderson’s as the inside (as seen from Columbia’s payload bay) of the PLBDs contained the critical radiators needed during on-orbit operations to disperse heat from Columbia’s electrical systems and crew.

During launch and reentry operations at the beginning and end of the mission, Columbia’s Flash Evaporator System handled heat dispersion – but could not do this throughout the entire mission.

Brown got the PLBDs open without incident.

With this complete, Mission Control radio up to Husband that Columbia and crew were “go for on-orbit ops.” Columbia was cleared to begin performing her mission.

FREESTARAt this point, Brown performed the necessary steps to activate the FREESTAR (Fast Reaction Experiments Enabling Science, Technology, Applications and Research) experiment – an experiment in NASA’s shuttle special payloads project. FREESTAR generally flew whenever space was available on a Shuttle science mission, and space was available on Columbia.

Meanwhile, McCool installed film into the CEBAS (Closed Equilibrated Biological Aquatic System) experiment – which was a 2.6 gallon aquarium carrying 16 swordtails, 50 small yellow-belly cichlids, snails, and plants – to complete its activation.

After this, McCool, Anderson, and Brown began their first sleep shift in space.

With blue shift in bed, red shift set to work gaining access to the SPACEHAB double module in Columbia’s payload bay – which would serve as the platform for a vast majority of Columbia’s 80 science experiments.

SPACEHABBy the end of FD-1, SPACEHAB was up and running. Columbia and crew were set for their marathon 16-day, ’round-the-clock science mission.

FD-2: After waking up, the blue team began setting up the MEIDEX experiment in Columbia’s payload bay.

The experiment was designed by the Israeli Space Agency to look for dust storms and lightning along an area of interest in the Middle East and Africa.

More importantly, though, it was the first in-space experiment to be flown and operated aboard the Space Shuttle by Israel.

Due to the unique nature of the multiple delays Columbia experienced prior to lift off, the MEIDEX experiment now carried a significantly lower percentage change of actually observing a dust storm over the primary region of interest in the Mediterranean because of the time of year the Columbia actually lauched.

January is typically the least-active month of the year for dust storms along the Mediterranean.

Ramon STS-107Nonetheless, set up of the MEIDEX experiment proceeded nominally, and Brown and Ramon spent much of FD-2 setting up and operating the experiment in the hopes of finding something in the area of interest.

With the MEIDEX experiment all set up, other activities on FD-2 included the activation of the Commercial Instrumentation Technology Associates Space Factory, the zeolite crystal growth experiment, Astroculture, protein crystal growth, the bioreactor, the moss plant experiments, and Earthquake research experiments.

By 0942 EST, 23 hours after Columbia’s launch, Columbia performed a maneuver to align her Inertial Measurement Units, or IMUs, and orient the Miniature Satellite Threat Reporting System experiment into its proper position.

As the flight day continued, the astronauts aboard Columbia began four experiments that would run continuously throughout the flight. These experiments where the protein turnover during spaceflight experiment, the calcium kinetics during spaceflight experiment, the renal stone risk during spaceflight experiment, and the incidence of latent virus shedding during spaceflight experiment.

These experiments, respectively, were designed to examine why the body does not absorb as much protein in space as it does on Earth, why bones change during spaceflight, why spaceflight tends to result in dehydration and calcium loss from the bones, and why there is an increase in the herpes virus reactivation and shedding into saliva and urine during spaceflight.

Crew on STS-107During the course of FD-2, the crew also began the Sleep-Wake Actigraphy and Light Exposure During Spaceflight experiment to evaluate how well the astronauts slept during the course of the mission.

This experiment was based on the theory that as a spacecraft orbits the Earth and passes through 16 day-night cycles every 24 hours an astronaut’s circadian rhythm is naturally disrupted and therefore affects his or her sleeping patterns.

For this experiment, the astronauts wore Actilight wristwatches that contained light sensors and motion detectors.

In addition to these NASA sponsored payloads, the crew also began Europe’s ARMS (Advanced Respiratory Monitoring System) experiment.

This experiment was designed to help answer the question of whether human lungs work better when one is lying on one’s stomach for on one’s back. The real world applications for this experiment could be used in hospitals for seriously ill patients to determine whether or not the person should be rolled on to their stomach if they’re on a respirator.

Yet another experiment began on FD-2 was an experiment from Denmark that focused on the displacement of the heart in the chest cavity and what effect if any the heart’s placement has on the circulation of blood throughout the body.

Mike Anderson also activated the STARS educational experiment which investigated how ants would live and tunnel in the microgravity environment of low Earth orbit and how spiders and fruit flies spin webs and hatch, respectively, in space.

STS-107 CrewFD-3 for the flight crew was spent primarily with the calcium kinetics experiment and performing interviews with the press.

In terms of the calcium kinetics experiment, each of the four crewmembers who were participating in the experiment ingested calcium-44, which is a naturally occurring and harmless radioisotope of calcium. One hour later, they injected themselves with another harmless radioisotope called calcium-42.

This ingestion and injection was performed to study how the microgravity environment of space affected the absorption of the calcium-44 and calcium-42 radioisotopes into the body.

Also worked on this day was the moss experiment. During the course of FD-3, the crew turned off the lights in the experiment to allow the moss to grow without any light source or gravity for the remainder of the mission.

FD-4 saw the start of fire experiments operations aboard Columbia.

As with many things, fire behaves differently in the microgravity environment of space than it does on the surface of Earth.

Flying aboard the shuttle Columbia for STS-107 were three separate experiments, within the Combustion Module 2, designed to study how fire behaved in space.

The first such experiment was the Laminar Soot Process experiment which examined the process of soot generation for the purpose of understanding how cleaner burning engines that can result in reduced exhaust emissions can be created here on Earth.

For these combustion experiments, the Space Shuttle Columbia was reoriented into a gravity gradient free drift attitude – with her engines pointed toward the center of the Earth, her nose pointed toward deep space, and her thrusters deactivated.

SPACEHAB from the middeckDuring the fourth flight day of the mission, the first technical issue with SPACEHAB presented itself: Both water separators in the dehumidifiers, which use centrifugal force to separate water from the air, failed.

This caused an unsafe buildup of water in the module. There was no way for the SPACEHAB module systems to remove the water vapor from the air anymore.

Always wanting to think of potential issues ahead of time, a workaround was quickly implemented that would involve exchanging the air in the SPACEHAB module with the air in the main crew module of Columbia. This would then allow the Space Shuttle Columbia’s dehumidifiers to remove the excess water from the air.

To accomplish this, the temperature within the SPACEHAB module was raised above that of the dew point while the air temperature in Columbia’s crew cabin was lowered.

The warm environment air of the SPACEHAB module was then pulled naturally into Columbia’s crew cabin where the excess water vapor could then be safely removed.

This workaround procedure resulted in a flight deck temperature of 70 degrees F and a nominal SPACEHAB module temperature of 78 degrees.

FD-5 was a day that helped future International Space Station crews with the water problem in space.

Flight Day 5 saw the first of three days of continual use of the Vapor Compression Distillation, VCD, experiment.

The VCD was a prototype water purifier that converted wastewater, such as urine, into viable drinking water or water that could be used to create breathable oxygen.

The VCD experiment flown aboard the STS-107 mission was a prototype, one that would only remove about 97 percent of urine solids from the final water product.

VCD was a prototype to the eventual distillation assembly that currently serves as the primary mode of water generation aboard the International Space Station.

Unlike the follow-on technology now used aboard the International Space Station, which uses actual urine from the astronauts onboard for conversion into drinking water, the VCD aboard Columbia used imitation urine: deionized water with some salt added to make an equivalent of diluted urine.

While water distillation technology was already in use on Earth and was theorized to be able to work in space, NASA saw the STS-107 Columbia mission as an excellent way to actually test the system in a microgravity environment before integrating it as a major life-support component aboard the International Space Station.

During the course of its operation, the astronauts aboard Columbia noted the clear nature of the samples after each run of the VCD, and onboard telemetry also confirmed low electrical conductivity through the processed water, which indicated that the device was working as expected and removing most of the contaminants from the original sample.

Also started on this day was the microbial physiology flight experiments suite which studied how bacteria grew and reacted to various antibiotics in space.

The experiment was designed out of concern that bacteria became resistant to antibiotics while in space, something that poses a serious issue for astronaut health both during long duration missions and after return from the microgravity environment.

RamonFD-6: While experimentation with the already up and running experiments continued, FD-6 saw a flurry of activity with in-flight interviews.

Particularly, FD-6 saw the in-flight communication between Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Education Minister Limor Livnat.

FD-7: Flight Day seven saw the commencement of one of the more unique experiments flown aboard the Columbia, an experiment designed to study Earthquakes. The experiment worked by simulating how fine sand reacts in microgravity to Earthquake-like conditions.

The experiment, called the Mechanics of Granular Materials (MGM), contained approximately one quart of fine quartz that was mixed with water and placed within a latex cylinder that was specially marked with a grid pattern for precise measurements of the sand-water mixture movement.

A single experiment run of the MGM canister took as long as an hour and a half so that scientists could study in great detail how the sand/water mixture reacted as pressure was gradually applied to the cylinder and the shape of the cylinder changed under that pressure.

Despite an initial issue after the first run (sand clumped together), a total of 10 successful runs were conducted on the MGM experiment, one more than originally planned.

Photo taken during STS-107During the course of the experiment, scientists were able to observe how solid ground could act like a liquid during an Earthquake, giving incredible insight into infrastructure development for Earthquake protection.

FD-7 also saw the astronauts perform the Astroculture experiments, a payload designed to test new flavors and fragrances for perfumes.

The experiment involved growing flowers in space to see if the oils they secreted carried different aromas than their counterparts on Earth.

FD-8: Inside the SPACEHAB module, the soot experiment in Combustion Module -2 was completed, thus freeing up the combustion module for reconfiguration for the SOFBALL (Structure Of Flame Balls At Low Lewis-number) experiment.

This experiment was designed to specifically examine how the tiniest-ever flames, producing less than a watt of energy at a time, form under extremely unusual circumstances, specifically in the case of spaceflight within a microgravity environment.

These tiny flames provided scientists with information on the fundamentals of all forms of combustion.

The experiment produced the weakest flame ever observed today at just half a watt and produced the leanest flame ever burned, which burned with 8% fuel and 92% air.

The experiment was run 39 times and produced a total of 55 flame balls, during which a mysterious drift was noted of the flame balls inside the combustion chamber.

Work during STS-107This drifting event was observed when the flame balls appeared to float to the side of the combustion chamber. The experiment runs with the SOFBALL experiment proved the theoretical predictions that the flame balls would oscillate, a prediction that was made 15 years prior to the flight of Columbia and STS-107.

FD-8 also saw the commencement of operations with the Commercial Instrumentation technology associates Biomedical Experiments -2, or CIBX-2.

For STS-107, the CIBX-2 module contained two Dual Materials Dispersion Apparatuses, DMDAs, that contained a total of 480 different tubes that were filled with a variety of different chemical mixes.

Also aboard the CIBX experiment suite was the Planetary Society’s Growth of Bacterial Biofilm on Surfaces during spaceflight.

The experiment was designed to test bacteria’s ability to attach to asteroid surfaces in microgravity. Specifically, the results of the experiment could have lent support to the argument of Panspermia, the idea that life on Earth began through asteroidal bombardments that deposited the simplest living organisms on the planet.

Also flown aboard to CIBX experiment suite were an anticancer drug experiment and microencapsulated antitumor drugs and antibiotics that were used to test new time release capsule technologies, an experiment to study bacterial reactions in milk, and an experiment to study the regeneration of nerve cells.

Ramon on STS-107FD-9: The ninth day of Columbia’s voyage saw payload specialist Ilan Ramon performing standard maintenance and experiment check up on the STARS experiment.

Over the course of the day, Ramon searched the STARS experiment for fruit flies, after a request from the Australian team was put into NASA to do so.

Ramon also performed work on the Israeli chemical garden experiment and collected spider’s webbing from the STARS experiment for post-flight analysis.

During this day, while the hands-on experiments inside the SPACEHAB module continued, Columbia’s external payloads on the FREESTAR platform continued to collect data, in large part independently from crew’s other activities.

In particular, two of these crew-free experiments were the SOLSE, the Shuttle Ozone Limb Scattering Experiment, and the SOLCON, SOLar CONstant, experiments.

Another crew-free experiment on FREESTAR was the Low-Power Transceiver, LPT, experiment that tested the ability to transmit data to the ground without any concern about the route taken by the data to reach its destination.

This experiment, in particular, carried future applications for space-based travel as it helped prove that off-the-shelf software and hardware could be used for spacecraft-to-ground communications, thus eliminating the need to create costly, customized software and hardware for spaceflight.

STS-107 On OrbitRounding out the FREESTAR experiments that did not require crew interaction was the SEM experiment, Space Experiment Module.

This module contained numerous passive experiments from school children from around the nation.

Particularly, a large number of SEM experiments were from school children from New York City – in an attempt to do something to help the children of New York deal emotionally with the September 11th terrorist attacks by giving them an uplifting thing to look forward to: having their experiments flown in space aboard the Space Shuttle.

However, not all of the FREESTAR experiments were devoid of crew interaction. The MEIDEX experiment was used during FD-9 as Columbia passed over Australia.

FD-10: Throughout the course of FD-10, the crew continued to interact with the moss experiment, supplying fixative to the moss at certain points to arrest its development so that researchers could study the moss at different stages of growth throughout the flight after Columbia returned to Earth.

The day also saw interaction with the Bioreactor Demonstration System, BDS, which was used to grow artificial prostate cancer tumors.

This experiment was designed to study the growth relationship between bone marrow and prostate cancer cells in an attempt to determine the role that bone marrow plays in the development and growth of prostate cancer.

Also worked on this day were two complimentary payloads designed to study osteoporosis.

The Canadian and European experiments specifically looked at how bone cells could be treated with estrogen in an attempt to combat bone loss, how sleep deprivation serum could be used to treat bone loss, and how bone gene regulation patterns change in when exposed to a microgravity environment.

FD-11 brought further work and experimentation with human adaptation to the microgravity environment of space.

Clark on STS-107Included in these experiments, which were started at the beginning of the mission, were the Leukin experiment that studied immune system changes during spaceflight.

Also studied, via the use of the biopack machine, was the BONES experiment, which examined how bone cells and skeletal tissues react to the microgravity environment, and STROMA experiment, which examined how bone marrow stromal cells are altered by the non-gravity environment.

Using biopack, the crew also conducted the REPAIR experiment, which attempted to determine how DNA repaired radiation-induced damage during spaceflight.

Gene expression in human cells as well as bacteria was also studied via the CONNECT experiment.

However, by FD-11, a problem had developed with the biopack experiment: it unexpectedly shut down after the cooler freezer door was open.

Experiments contained within the freezer were quickly transferred to the Passive Thermal Cooler Unit; however, problems with the biopack experiment continued.

Troubleshooting activities on the biopack hardware revealed little, and full operation of the biopack experiment was never restored during the final days of the mission.

Biopack experiments that had to be altered included BACTER, BIOKIN, and YSTRES.

These experiments, respectively, included the growth of bacteria typically found in water, the study of bacterial cultures, and the effect of Baker’s yeast on cell cultures in a microgravity environment.

Anderson on STS-107FD-12 for the crew of Columbia saw the continuation of numerous experiments that had been started on previous flight days.

This included interaction with the FRESH experiment, an experiment which sought information on the how rats’ balance organs and cardiovascular systems are affected by the microgravity environment of low Earth orbit.

Furthermore, in a change from the normal course of events of the mission, the Columbia crew got the unique opportunity to talk with their colleagues aboard the International Space Station during FD-12.

FD-13 for the crew of Columbia began with the request from Australian students using the STARS experiment to release a “backup” spider into a chamber in the hopes that this spider would actually weave a web that the primary spider had not.

After this, the crew worked on reconfiguring the combustion module from the now-completed SOFBALL experiment to the water-mist fire suppression experiment.

The purpose of the mist experiment was to study how a very fine spray of water could be used to extinguish a fire, thus reducing water damage that occurs on Earth when attempting to put out a fire.

McCool on STS-107While the real world applications for the mist experiment are wide reaching, a problem with setting up the experiment soon presented itself on orbit and threatened to delay most of the Mist experiments scheduled for the now-rapidly concluding 16 day scientific mission.

In short, set up of the mist experiment failed because of the failure of a vacuum pump that was necessary to remove all of the air from the flame chamber.

And O-ring seal in the experiment chamber was found to be the cause of the vacuum failure; however, replacing the O-ring did not fix the issue.

Finally, the team on the ground came up with a solution to fix the experiment, but since FD-13 was a half off-duty day for the crew, the fix would have to wait until the crew came back on duty.

However, something quite unexpected occurred: mission specialist Kalpana Chawla offered to give up her off-duty time, time that could have been spent for personal reflection, looking at the Earth, or interacting with her family members, to conduct the fix for the mist experiment.

Ultimately, it took the combined effort of five of Columbia’s astronauts and two days of repairs to get the experiment running.

Conversely, one experiment that was not started until this flight day involved the growth of flax seeds in an experiment designed to examine how magnetic fields affect the growth of plants.

STS-51LHowever, perhaps the dominant moment of the day came at 11:38am Eastern when the crew of Columbia and many on the ground across the world paused for 73 seconds to mark the 17th anniversary of the loss of the shuttle Challenger and the flight crew of STS-51L.

As related by Columbia Cmdr. Rick Husband “It is today that we remember and honor the crews of Apollo 1 and Challenger. They made the ultimate sacrifice: giving their lives in service to their country and for all mankind.

“Their dedication and devotion to the exploration of space was an inspiration to each of us, and still motivates people around the world to achieve great things in service to others.”

As mission experiments continued on FD-14, the crew took time out of their busy schedules to talk with members of the media located at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and NASA headquarters in Washington D.C.

By FD-15, scientists responsible for the MEIDEX experiment were fortunate enough to have a dust storm form over their primary target area of the Mediterranean.

Even more fortunate was the fact that the dust storm formed at a time that allowed Columbia astronaut Ilan Ramon to use the MEIDEX camera during orbit 188 of Columbia’s mission – exactly one orbit before the flight plan called for the experiment to be shut down in preparation for reentry.

Flight day 16 was the final day for science aboard the shuttle Columbia.

One of the final experiments performed aboard Columbia was the culmination of the European experiment called Facility for Absorption of Surface Tension, FAST. The experiment used bubbles to study surface tension and elasticity in microgravity.

Throughout Columbia’s 16 days in space, 2,000 FAST tests were completed.

However, a vast majority of the day’s activities were spent preparing Columbia for her reentry the following day.

Final preparations and deactivation were made in the SPACEHAB module of many of the experiments that had been conducted throughout the course of the mission.

Husband on STS-107On the flight deck, Cmdr. Rick Husband and Pilot Willie McCool used flight simulator programs to practice the reentry and landing strategies that would be employed as Columbia descended to the runway at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Moreover, Columbia’s Auxiliary Power Units were tested to ensure proper hydraulic flow to the vehicle’s aerosurfaces that would be needed during the reentry sequence.

Columbia’s Reaction Control System was also tested to ensure that all was working properly for reentry.

At 15:20.22 EST (3:20:22pm) on January 31, 2003, Columbia reached an impressive milestone: 300 cumulative days in space over her 28 missions.

FD-17 – Reentry: Mike Anderson and Dave Brown were awakened for FD-17 just after 1630 EST on 31 January.

They spent most of their day configuring Columbia from an in-space home into her reentry configuration – setting up crew seats, making sure all equipment was properly stowed for entry, and getting the crew’s seven orange launch and entry pressure suits out and ready.

By 0139 EST on 1 February, Columbia’s entire crew was awake.

FCRThe Entry Flight Control team, led by LeRoy Cain, came on console at Mission Control at 0230 EST.

The only unexpected item the Entry team was briefed on was Columbia’s weight. The obiter had functioned more efficiently than expected, and as a result, Columbia was 11lbs heavier than pre-mission planning estimates.

This would not be an issue for landing.

The hatch between Columbia and the SPACEHAB was closed at 0400 EST, and Columbia’s payload bay doors were closed for landing soon thereafter.

Weather at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, looked promising, with just a slight concern about low-level fog.

Mission Control initially discussed holding off the landing by one orbit to let the fog burn off, but the fog began burning off quickly after sunrise – thus eliminating the need to delay landing.

Just before 0800 EST, Commander Rick Husband and Pilot Willie McCool positioned Columbia into a tail-first, heads down orientation relative to the Orbiter’s direction of travel.

At 0800 EST, LeRoy Cain polled the Entry flight control team. All was “go.”

Columbia was given official “go for deorbit burn” at 0810 EST by CAPCOM Charlie Hobaugh.

Husband, McCool, Clark, and Chawla were seated on Columbia’s Flight Deck. Anderson, Brown, and Ramon were seated on Columbia’s Middeck.

Columbia on orbitColumbia began her deorbit burn at 0815.30 EST. The burn lasted 2mins 38secs and was performed on Columbia’s 255th orbit while the vehicle travelled 17,500mph at an altitude of 175 miles above the Indian Ocean.

In the following minutes, Mission Control verified the deorbit burn parameters as Columbia began to maneuver into her Entry position – belly first, nose pitched up 40 degrees to the ground.

At 0844.09 EST, Columbia’s aerosurfaces registered first contact with the atmosphere. Columbia had reentered the atmosphere, a moment known as Entry Interface.

At Entry Interface, Columbia was 400,000 feet above the central Pacific Ocean to the northwest of the Hawaiian Islands.

It was here that she began, as all 111 Shuttle missions that attempted reentry had before her, her fierce battle with the Earth’s atmosphere.

STS-107 CrewAll of the energy expending into the vehicle at launch to reach orbit now had to be bled off in 31mins to drop Columbia from 17,250mph to 212mph for touchdown on the runway at Kennedy.

To accomplish this, Columbia began a highly complex and choreographed series of RCS jet firings, aerosurface movements, and roll maneuvers to drop as much energy as possible and manage the lift produced by her wings to limit the rate of descent while maintaining a heading toward the Kennedy Space Center.

Fifteen minutes after Entry Interface, at 0859.32 EST, Columbia – 16mins away from Kennedy – was 207,135 feet above central Texas traveling 12 times the speed of sound.

Mission Elapsed Time was 15 days 22 hours 20 minutes.


Ten years ago today, Space Shuttle Columbia and her seven international crewmembers perished in the skies over Texas.

Reflection on STS-107For a decade, many have paused on February 1 to remember the sacrifices of the Columbia seven and repeatedly vow to never repeat the mistakes that led to the accident.

This kind of remembrance is vital.

But so too is a remembrance of something we have consistently overlooked for 10 years.

Seldom do we remember an important fact: The Columbia crew’s actual mission was an outstanding success. The reason they flew was performed with bravery and dedication admired by many the world over.

The science of the STS-107 mission was used. The International Space Station currently enjoys a waste water recycling system that was first tested in space by the 107 Columbia crew.

Cancer research was advanced.

Knowledge of human adaptability to microgravity was increased.

People were inspired.

The cause for which the Columbia astronauts flew was realized.

Today, we honor the crew of Columbia (Rick Husband, Willie McCool, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, Michael Anderson, Dave Brown, and Ilan Ramon) by taking pride and satisfaction in their accomplished mission – just as they did.

(Images via NASA).

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