STS-107

Space ShuttleSpace Shuttle Columbia lifts off for a scientific research mission with the SPACEHAB module – a successor to Spacelab – in its cargo bay, for a flight lasting almost 17 days. Columbia’s crew for this flight is Commander Rick Husband, Pilot Willie McCool, Payload Commander Michael Anderson, mission specialists Kalpana Chawla, David Brown and Laurel Clark, and payload specialist Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut. During liftoff, a piece of insulated foam is vibrated loose from the shuttle’s external fuel tank, causing critical damage to the leading edge of Columbia’s left wing. The foam collision is noticed and discussed internally at NASA, but is not deemed a threat by ground controllers.

STS-107: Columbia down

Space ShuttleAFter nearly 17 days in orbit performing experiments in the SPACEHAB module its cargo bay, Space Shuttle Columbia deorbits to return to Earth for a planned landing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. During reentry, a gaping hole in the leading edge of Columbia’s left wing – damage caused by a piece of foam shaken loose from the external fuel tank during liftoff – allows superheated plasma to leak into the shuttle’s superstructure, tearing the vehicle apart. The entire crew (Commander Rick Husband, Pilot Willie McCool, Payload Commander Michael Anderson, mission specialists Kalpana Chawla, David Brown and Laurel Clark, and payload specialist Ilan Ramon) is lost. At first, ground controllers are only aware of a series of sensor failures in the wing, followed by a loss of contact; ground-based cameras finally spot an expanding cloud of debris falling at supersonic speeds. As with the loss of Challenger in 1986, an extensive investigation and review of NASA procedures follows the loss of Columbia and her crew, resulting in a two-year grounding of the remaining shuttle fleet and a pause in construction of the International Space Station.

Birds Of Prey: Fate Of Clay / Devil’s Eyes

Birds Of PreyThe 12th and 13th episodes of the superhero series Birds Of Prey, based on characters from the DC Comics universe, air on the WB. Though the show has a vocal cult following, ratings for the series have not been particularly high, and these are the final episodes of the series. A movie with a completely different cast will revisit the Birds of Prey characters in 2020.

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The giant who melted

HD 209458bNASA’s Hubble Space Telescope makes an astonishing discovery while observing one of the first planets discovered beyond Earth’s solar system. The gas giant planet designated HD 209458b, orbiting the star HD 209458 in the constellation of Pegasus, 150 light years from Earth, is losing its atmosphere. Slightly larger than Jupiter, but locked into a dizzyingly tight orbit around its star (only 4,000,000 miles, with its “year” lasting less than half of an Earth week), HD 209458b’s atmosphere is boiling away into space thanks to the heat of the nearby star. This leads to a new exoplanet classification, “Hot Jupiters,” used to describe gas giants in similarly suicidal orbits. The core of HD 209458b will probably not last long once the last remnants of its atmosphere dissipate.

The sun that coughed

V838 MonocerosFollowing up on observations from Earth-based telescopes, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is pointed toward the star V838 Monocerotis – an object of very little previous interest – to discover why it’s suddenly the brightest thing in the entire Milky Way Galaxy. What Hubble sees surprises scientists on the ground: a “shell” of matter surrounding the star, illuminated from within and expanding outward into space (actual photo sequence seen here). What astronomers had seen previously was the illumination of the dust cloud, which is much larger than the star itself. Scientists theorize that the expanding dust cloud is not an indication of a supernova, but a sign that V838 Monocerotis is expanding, expelling gas and then shrinking again. The star is over 20,000 light years from Earth.

Electric Light Orchestra II / The Lost Planet

The Lost PlanetEMI Records releases a UK-only remastered, expanded edition of the second Electric Light Orchestra album, Electric Light Orchestra II, featuring a bonus CD bearing the 1972 album’s unused work-in-progress title, The Lost Planet. The bonus disc includes numerous previously unissued songs, including demos from a session to test out prospective new lead singers before Jeff Lynne took that mantle as well, following the departure of co-founder Roy Wood. Though a remastered Electric Light Orchestra II is later issued in North America, it does not include the second disc or its contents.

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Soyuz TMA-2 / ISS Expedition 7

Soyuz TMA-2The seventh full-time crew of the International Space Station lifts off from Russia aboard Soyuz TMA-2, a drastic change from their original mission plan. Originally planned to be another short-term “ferry flight” to swap out the station’s Soyuz lifeboat vehicle, Soyuz became the only way to send full-time crews to the station during the post-Columbia-disaster grounding of the American shuttle fleet. Yuri Malenchenko and Ed Lu took up residence aboard the ISS for 184 days, returning in October 2003 with Spanish astronaut Pedro Duque. With the shuttle fleet landlocked, two-man ISS crews became the norm, as three-man crews relied on the greater resupply capacity of the shuttles.

Apollo rides again?

Apollo command moduleLast flown in the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz mission, the Apollo command/service module is – briefly – given strong consideration by NASA to serve as a “lifeboat” for the crew of the International Space Station, even to the point of conducting a study about un-mothballing the surviving unused Apollo hardware sitting in museums around the world. Part of the reason for this unusual study is that NASA’s budget has run out for finding a workable solution to keeping a “lifeboat” available to station astronauts in the anticipated long gap before the Space Shuttle’s return to service. Ultimately, even the seemingly unthinkable return of Apollo is nixed, since at least a Saturn IB booster would need to be similarly refitted – at huge expense – to lift a 30-year-old Apollo capsule into space.

Hayabusa!

HayabusaJapan’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), launches the unmanned Hayabusa space probe on a mission to gather material from asteroid 25143 Itokawa. Intended to reach Itokawa in two years, and then return the asteroid samples to Earth in 2010, Hayabusa will also attempt to drop a small rover on Itokawa’s surface and will test an ion engine propulsion system. The name “Hayabusa” – translating to “peregrine falcon” – is only bestowed upon the spacecraft once it reaches space; prior to that, Hayabusa is known by its engineering designation, MUSES-C. A few months after Hayabusa’s launch, ISAS itself is renamed JAXA (the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency).