Next Cygnus Cargo Freighter Named in Honor of Columbia’s Last Commander Rick Husband

Inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a Cygnus cargo spacecraft is being prepared for the upcoming Orbital ATK Commercial Resupply Services-6 mission to deliver hardware and supplies to the International Space Station. The Cygnus was named SS Rick Husband in honor of the commander of the STS-107 mission. On that flight, the crew of the space shuttle Columbia was lost during re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003. The Cygnus is scheduled to lift off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on March 22.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a Cygnus cargo spacecraft is being prepared for the upcoming Orbital ATK Commercial Resupply Services-6 mission to deliver hardware and supplies to the International Space Station. The Cygnus was named SS Rick Husband in honor of the commander of the STS-107 mission. On that flight, the crew of the space shuttle Columbia was lost during re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003. The Cygnus is scheduled to lift off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on March 22. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The next Cygnus cargo resupply ship targeted to blastoff for the International Space Station (ISS) on March 22, has been named the S.S. Rick Husband in honor of Col. Rick Husband, the late commander of Space Shuttle Columbia, which was tragically lost with its crew of seven NASA astronauts during re-entry on its final flight on Feb. 1, 2003.

The ‘S.S. Rick Husband’ was announced as the Cygnus delivery vessels name by former astronaut Dan Tani, now senior director of Missions and Cargo Operations for Orbital ATK in Dulles, Virginia, during a media briefing in the clean room processing facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“Rick was a very accomplished astronaut, and a devoted husband and father,” said Tani.

The commercial Cygnus cargo freighter was built by Orbital ATK, based in Dulles, Virginia.

Christened the S.S. Rick Husband, the spacecraft is a tribute to NASA astronaut Col. Rick Husband, of U.S. Air Force, who served as commander of Columbia’s STS-107 mission. The mission and all aboard were lost as Columbia disintegrated due to the effects of reentry heating into the Earth’s atmosphere high over Texas.

NASA astronaut Col. Rick Husband, of U.S. Air Force, who served as commander of Columbia’s STS-107 mission.  The Cygnus OA-6 cargo spacecraft is named the SS Rick Husband  in tribute to Rick Husband.  Credit: NASA
NASA astronaut Col. Rick Husband, of U.S. Air Force, who served as commander of Columbia’s STS-107 mission. The Cygnus OA-6 cargo spacecraft is named the SS Rick Husband in tribute to Rick Husband. Credit: NASA

“We are proud to unveil the name of our #OA6 #Cygnus spacecraft—the S.S. Rick Husband, in honor of the late astronaut,” added Orbital ATK in a statement.

This flight is known as OA-6 and is being launched as under terms of the firm’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA. It also counts as the Orbital ATK’s fifth cargo delivery mission to the space station.

A Cygnus cargo spacecraft named the SS Rick Husband  is being prepared inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center for upcoming Orbital ATK CRS-6/OA-6 mission to deliver hardware and supplies to the International Space Station. The Cygnus is scheduled to lift off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on March 22, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A Cygnus cargo spacecraft named the SS Rick Husband is being prepared inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for upcoming Orbital ATK CRS-6/OA-6 mission to deliver hardware and supplies to the International Space Station. The Cygnus is scheduled to lift off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on March 22, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Final processing of the cargo ship was completed as bunny suited media including myself observed technicians putting the finishing touches on the vehicle inside Kennedy’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHSF). Technicians had already finished fueling the vehicle with hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide.

Liftoff of the commercial resupply services mission to the orbiting outpost is now targeted for Tuesday, March 22, during a 30-minute launch window that opens at 11:05 p.m. EDT.

The Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft, also known as Commercial Resupply Services-6 (CRS-6), will launch atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from the seaside Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida.

OA-6 is loaded with 3513 kg (7700 pounds) of science experiments and hardware, crew supplies, spare parts, gear and station hardware to the orbital laboratory in support over 250 research experiments being conducted on board by the Expedition 47 and 48 crews.

When the ISS Expedition 47 crew members open the hatch, they will be greeted with a sign noting the spacecraft was named ‘SS Rick Husband’ in honor of the STS-107 mission commander.

A Cygnus cargo spacecraft named the SS Rick Husband  is being prepared inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center for upcoming Orbital ATK CRS-6/OA-6 mission to deliver hardware and supplies to the International Space Station. Cygnus is scheduled to lift off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on March 22, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A Cygnus cargo spacecraft named the SS Rick Husband is being prepared inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for upcoming Orbital ATK CRS-6/OA-6 mission to deliver hardware and supplies to the International Space Station. Cygnus is scheduled to lift off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on March 22, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Overall, Orbital will deliver approximately 28,700 kilograms of cargo to the ISS under the life of the CRS contract, which extends to 2018.

STS-107 was Husband’s second flight to space.

OA-6 is the first Cygnus to named after an astronaut who actually participated in building the ISS – during his first flight as shuttle pilot on the STS-96 mission in 1999.

The prior Cygnus cargo spacecraft was named the S.S. Deke Slayton during the OA-4 mission. OA-4 successfully launched to the ISS in December 2015 – read my on site articles here.

Orbital ATK has named each Cygnus after a deceased NASA astronaut, several of whom later worked for the company.

OA-6 is only the second Cygnus to be launch atop a ULA Atlas V rocket, following the OA-4 mission last December.

The CRS-6/OA-6 flight is also the second flight of the enhanced Cygnus variant, that is over 1 meter longer and sports 50% more volume capability.

Thus it is capable of carrying a much heavier payload of some 3500 kg (7700 lbs) vs. a maximum of 2300 kg (5070 lbs) for the standard version.

A Cygnus cargo spacecraft named the SS Rick Husband  is being prepared inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center for upcoming Orbital ATK CRS-6/OA-6 mission to deliver hardware and supplies to the International Space Station. Cygnus is scheduled to lift off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on March 22, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A Cygnus cargo spacecraft named the SS Rick Husband is being prepared inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for upcoming Orbital ATK CRS-6/OA-6 mission to deliver hardware and supplies to the International Space Station. Cygnus is scheduled to lift off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on March 22, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s onsite launch reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about Orbital ATK Cygnus, ISS, ULA Atlas rocket, SpaceX, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Mar 21/22: “Orbital ATK Atlas/Cygnus launch to the ISS, ULA, SpaceX, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evening Mar 21 /late afternoon Mar 22

Orbital ATK’s Cygnus Spacecraft carrying vital cargo to resupply the International Space Station lifts-off aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Dec. 6, 2015.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Orbital ATK’s Cygnus Spacecraft carrying vital cargo to resupply the International Space Station lifts-off aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Dec. 6, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Challenger and Columbia Crews Memorialized in Emotional New “Forever Remembered” Exhibit at Kennedy Space Center

An iconic section of the fuselage recovered from space shuttle Challenger with the American flag (left) and the flight deck windows recovered from space shuttle Columbia (right) are part of a new, permanent memorial, “Forever Remembered,” that opened on June 27, 2015 in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida – featuring shuttle hardware and personal crew items never before on display for viewing by the public. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Story/photos updated[/caption]

NASA’s two lost Shuttle crews from the searing Challenger and Columbia accidents are now memorialized in the newly opened, permanent and highly emotional “Forever Remembered” tribute display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.

The “Forever Remembered” memorial tribute was officially opened by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, both veteran shuttle astronauts, at a very special and moving small private NASA ceremony attended by families of the 14 fallen crew members and invited members of the media including Universe Today on June 27, 2015.

“I believe that it’s important to share this story with everyone, and not just push it aside, or try to hide it,” Cabana said at the ceremony, as tears welled up in everyone present.

The shuttle tribute is located on the ground floor of the Space Shuttle Atlantis pavilion at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and features shuttle orbiter hardware recovered from both the Challenger STS-51L and Columbia STS-107 accidents, as well as personal crew items from all 14 courageous astronauts who lost their lives – items never before on display for viewing by the public.

The 2000 square foot exhibit features an iconic section of the fuselage recovered from space shuttle Challenger emblazoned with the American flag and the flight deck windows recovered from space shuttle Columbia, that are part of the permanent “Forever Remembered” memorial that opened on June 27, 2015 – see photo above.

It also holds the largest collection of personal items of both flight crews in individual displays about the 14 crew members in a hallway that leads to a plaque with a quote from U.S. President Ronald Reagan.

“The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted, it belongs to the brave,” said President Ronald Reagan in remarks to the nation in mourning shortly after the explosion of Space Shuttle Challenger on Jan. 28, 1986.

Astronaut walkway exhibit in the permanent new “Forever Remembered” memorial  to the 14 fallen crew members of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, featuring personal crew items never before on display for viewing by the public.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Astronaut walkway exhibit in the permanent new “Forever Remembered” memorial to the 14 fallen crew members of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, featuring personal crew items never before on display for viewing by the public. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The “Forever Remembered” display was conceived in private by a very small circle spearheaded by Cabana and unknown by outsiders until the day it was formally opened. It completes the display inside the Atlantis pavilion, which commemorates NASA’s three decade long Space Shuttle Program that flew 135 missions from 1981 to 2011 with the reusable delta-winged vehicles that “captivated a generation.”

It is intended to be an emotional experience and “designed to honor the crews, pay tribute to the spacecraft and emphasize the importance of learning from the past” and the tragic consequences. This will enable safer flights in the future and fortify the spirit of never giving up on the exploration of space.

“The tragedies galvanized the agency to learn from these painful events, not only to safely return the shuttle fleet to flight, but to help assure the safety of future explorers,” NASA said in a statement.

Several dozen family members attended the tearful, heartfelt opening ceremony of “Forever Remembered” with very emotional remarks from Cabana and Bolden.

“These crews and these vehicles are part of who we are as an agency, and a nation. They tell the story of our never ending quest to explore, and our undying spirit to never give up,” Cabana stated at the ceremony.

Columbia and Challenger were the nation’s first two orbiters to be built. Columbia launched on the maiden space shuttle flight on April 12, 1981 on what is revered by many as the “boldest test flight in history” with NASA astronauts John Young and Bob Crippen.

“When I look into those windows, I see John Young and Bob Crippen preparing to launch on the boldest test flight in history, the first flight of America’s space shuttle, Columbia,” Cabana added.

“I see a much younger Bob Cabana launching to space on his first command, and I see Rick and Willie and the rest of the 107 crew smiling and experiencing the wonders of space on the final flight of Columbia.”

The idea to create a permanent memorial originated with a team led by Bob Cabana, and approved by Charlie Bolden only after every one of the astronauts families were in complete and unqualified agreement that this tribute display was the right thing to do in memory of their loved ones, tragically lost during the in flight accidents in 1986 and 2003.

“The crews of Challenger and Columbia are forever a part of a story that is ongoing,” Bolden said at the ceremony.

“It is the story of humankind’s evolving journey into space, the unknown, and the outer-reaches of knowledge, discovery and possibility. It is a story of hope.”

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden officially opens the “Forever Remembered” memorial tribute to the fallen crews of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida on Junwe 27, 2015.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden officially opens the “Forever Remembered” memorial tribute to the fallen crews of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida on June 27, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The wives of the two shuttle commanders, shared their thoughts on the new exhibit:

“It’s a beautiful remembrance of all the shuttles, with the marvelous display of Atlantis. Nothing compares to it in the world,” said June Scobee Rodgers, whose husband, Dick Scobee, commanded Challenger on STS-51L, in a statement.

“But Challenger and Columbia are not forgotten, and they’re well represented.”

“I knew it would be very emotional to see, but honestly, I didn’t expect to be so impacted by it. I just can’t stop thinking about it. As you walk in, you know you’re in a special place,” Evelyn Husband Thompson said of the memorial. Her husband, Rick, commanded Columbia on STS-107.

Up close view of the iconic section of the fuselage recovered from space shuttle Challenger with the American flag now on permanent display in the newly opened “Forever Remembered” public memorial tribute located in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Up close view of the iconic section of the fuselage recovered from space shuttle Challenger with the American flag now on permanent display in the newly opened “Forever Remembered” public memorial tribute located in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Here is a NASA description of both the Columbia and Challenger accidents and crews:

“Temperatures at Kennedy Space Center were just a few degrees above freezing on the morning of Jan. 28, 1986, as Challenger lifted off on its 10th mission, STS-51L. One minute and 13 seconds into the flight, a booster failure caused an explosion that destroyed the vehicle, resulting in the loss of the crew of seven astronauts: Commander Francis Scobee, Pilot Michael J. Smith, Mission Specialists Judith Resnik, Ellison Onizuka and Ronald McNair, and Payload Specialists Gregory Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe, a New Hampshire schoolteacher.”

“Seventeen years later, on Jan. 16, 2003, NASA’s flagship orbiter Columbia thundered into orbit on STS-107, a 16-day science mission. On board were Commander Rick Husband, Pilot Willie McCool, Payload Commander Michael Anderson, Mission Specialists Kalpana Chawla, David Brown and Laurel Clark, and Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut. On Feb. 1, 2003, the orbiter broke apart in the skies above east Texas as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere on the way to a planned landing at Kennedy. Seven more lives were lost.”

“Forever Remembered” public memorial tribute to the fallen crews of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters is located on the ground floor of the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, visible just below the shuttle wing in this photo.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
“Forever Remembered” public memorial tribute to the fallen crews of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters is located on the ground floor of the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, visible just below the shuttle wing in this photo. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Today the fallen astronauts legacy of human spaceflight lives on at NASA with the International Space Station, the development of Commercial Crew manned capsules for low Earth orbit, and the development of the Orion deep space crew exploration vehicle and SLS rocket for NASA’s ambitious plans to send ‘Human to Mars’ in the 2030s.

Read more about both fallen shuttle crews and the Apollo 1 crew who perished in a launch pad accident in January 1967 in my tribute story posted here during NASA’s solemn week of remembrance in January.

The explosion of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket some two minutes after launch on June 28, 2015 is a reminder that space flight is never easy or routine. Starting sometime in 2017, astronauts will launch to the ISS in a crew Dragon atop the Falcon 9. It will be equipped with a launch abort system that the shuttles never had, in case of a launch emergency.

I urge everyone to visit this hallowed “Forever Remembered” memorial at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice to benefit all of us in the quest for new knowledge of the boundless expanse of space leading to new discoveries we cannot fathom today.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana officially opens the “Forever Remembered” memorial tribute to the fallen crews of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida on June 27, 2015.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana officially opens the “Forever Remembered” memorial tribute to the fallen crews of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida on June 27, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The new Space Shuttle Atlantis pavilion at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
The new Space Shuttle Atlantis pavilion at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Remembrance Week Pays Tribute to NASA’s Three Fallen Astronaut Crews

Today, Feb. 1, concludes the most somber week in NASA history as we remember the fallen astronauts who gave their lives exploring space so that others could reach to the stars – venturing further than ever before!

In the span of a week and many years apart three crews of American astronauts made the ultimate sacrifice and have perished since 1967. Heroes all ! – They believed that the exploration of space was worth risking their lives for the benefit of all mankind.

Apollo 1 memorial 1/27/2015. We start a week of remembrances on the 'Space Coast', years apart but so close together.  Credit: Julian Leek
Apollo 1 memorial 1/27/2015. We start a week of remembrances on the ‘Space Coast’, years apart but so close together. Words/Credit: Julian Leek

On Jan. 28, NASA paid tribute to the crews of Apollo 1 and space shuttles Challenger and Columbia, as well as other NASA colleagues, during the agency’s annual Day of Remembrance. Over the past week, additional remembrance ceremonies were held in many venues across the country.

“NASA’s Day of Remembrance honors members of the NASA family who lost their lives while furthering the cause of exploration and discovery,” said a NASA statement.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and other agency senior officials held an observance and wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on Jan. 28.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and his wife Alexis lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns as part of NASA’s Day of Remembrance, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015, at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. The wreaths were laid in memory of those men and women who lost their lives in the quest for space exploration. Photo Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and his wife Alexis lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns as part of NASA’s Day of Remembrance, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015, at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. The wreaths were laid in memory of those men and women who lost their lives in the quest for space exploration. Photo Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

“Today we remember and give thanks for the lives and contributions of those who gave all trying to push the boundaries of human achievement. On the solemn occasion, we pause in our normal routines and remember the STS-107 Columbia crew; the STS-51L Challenger crew; the Apollo 1 crew; Mike Adams, the first in-flight fatality of the space program as he piloted the X-15 No. 3 on a research flight; and those lost in test flights and aeronautics research throughout our history,” said Bolden.

“Let us join together … in paying our respects, and honoring the memories of our dear friends. They will never be forgotten. Godspeed to every one of them.”

12 years ago today on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2003, Space Shuttle Columbia suddenly and unexpectedly disintegrated over the skies of Texas during the fiery reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere at the conclusion of the STS-107 science mission. All aboard were lost: Rick Husband, William McCool, David Brown, Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson, and Ilan Ramon.

STS-107 crew of Space Shuttle Columbia
STS-107 crew of Space Shuttle Columbia

Jan. 28 marked the 29th anniversary of the Challenger disaster on the STS-51L mission when it suddenly broke apart 73 seconds after liftoff in 1986. The entire seven person crew were killed; including Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Ronald McNair, Judy Resnik, Gregory Jarvis, Ellison Onizuka, and the first “Teacher in Space” Christa McAuliffe.

STS-51L crew of Space Shuttle Challenger
STS-51L crew of Space Shuttle Challenger

Jan. 27 marks the 48th anniversary of the first of the three disasters when a horrendous cockpit fire at Launch Complex 34 in 1967 killed the Apollo 1 crew of Gus Grissom, Ed White II and Roger Chaffee during a training exercise in the capsule.

Apollo 1 Crew
Apollo 1 Crew

Launch Complex 34 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida was never used again for a launch and the ruins stand as a stark memorial to the crew of Apollo 1.

An observance was also held on Jan. 28 at the Space Mirror Memorial at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

The Space Mirror Memorial at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center honors all astronauts who perished during their service to the agency. Photo Credit: Talia Landman/AmericaSpace
The Space Mirror Memorial at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center honors all astronauts who perished during their service to the agency. Photo Credit: Talia Landman/AmericaSpace
Deeply humbled to put a rose on Christa McAuliffe's plaque at the Astronaut Memorial Ceremony today 1/28/15.  A little something extra...from one educator to another. Words/Credit: Sarah McNulty
Deeply humbled to put a rose on Christa McAuliffe’s plaque at the Astronaut Memorial Ceremony today 1/28/15. A little something extra…from one educator to another. Words/Credit: Sarah McNulty

Today the fallen astronauts legacy of human spaceflight lives on at NASA with the International Space Station (ISS), the development of Commercial Crew manned capsules for low Earth orbit, and the development of the Orion deep space crew exploration vehicle and SLS rocket for NASA’s ambitious plans to send ‘Human to Mars’ in the 2030s.

There are numerous memorials to the fallen crews. Among them are the tribute plaques to all five space shuttle orbiters that were the brainchild of the Space Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach.

The five orbiter plaques were mounted inside the Space Shuttle Firing Room #4, above the Shuttle countdown clock at the Launch Control Center of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

The plaques for Columbia and Challenger, the first two shuttles built, include the crew portraits from STS-107 and STS-51L.

Memorial displays to all five Space Shuttle Orbiters mounted inside the Space Shuttle Firing Room #4 - above the Shuttle countdown clock. These tribute displays highlight and honor the significant achievements from the actual space voyages of the individual Orbiters launched from the Kennedy Space Center over three decades –starting with STS-1 in 1981. Shuttle mission patches since the return to flight in 2005 are mounted below the tribute displays. Click to enlarge. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com.
Memorial displays to all five Space Shuttle Orbiters mounted inside the Space Shuttle Firing Room #4 – above the Shuttle countdown clock. These tribute displays highlight and honor the significant achievements from the actual space voyages of the individual Orbiters launched from the Kennedy Space Center over three decades –starting with STS-1 in 1981. Shuttle mission patches since the return to flight in 2005 are mounted below the tribute displays. Click to enlarge. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The Dignity Memorial to fallen astronauts at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The Dignity Memorial to fallen astronauts at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden
Statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden

Columbia’s Demise 11 Years Ago Today Sparked Regular Shuttle Inspections In Space

The Columbia’s shuttle fiery end came as the STS-107 astronauts’ families were waiting runway-side for everyone to come home. NASA’s oldest space shuttle broke up around 9 a.m. Eastern (2 p.m. UTC) on Feb. 1, 2003, scattering debris along east Texas and nearby areas. Its demise was captured on several amateur video cameras, many of which were rebroadcast on news networks.

In the next four months, some 20,000 volunteers fanned out across the southwest United States to find pieces of the shuttle, coming up with 85,000 pieces (38% of the shuttle) as well as human remains. Meanwhile, investigators quickly zeroed in on a piece of foam that fell off of Columbia’s external tank and struck the wing. A seven-month inquiry known as the Columbia Accident Investigation Board eventually yielded that as the ultimate cause of the shuttle’s demise, although there were other factors as well.

The disaster killed seven people: Rick Husband, Willie McCool, Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, Laurel Clark and Ilan Ramon (who was Israel’s first astronaut.) At a time when most shuttles were focused on building the International Space Station, this crew’s mandate was different: to spend 24 hours a day doing research experiments. Some of the work was recoverable from the crew’s 16 days in space.

Columbia’s demise brought about several design changes in the external tank as NASA zeroed in on “the foam problem.” NASA put in a new procedure in orbit for astronauts to scan the shuttle’s belly for broken tiles using the robotic Canadarm and video cameras; shuttles also flew to the International Space Station in such a way so that astronauts on station could take pictures of the bottom.

Return-to-flight mission STS-114 in July-August 2005 yielded more foam loss than expected. Then NASA found something. For a long time, workers at the Michoud Assembly Facility were blamed for improper foam installation after partial tests on external tanks, but an X-ray analysis on an entire tank (done for reasons that are explained in this blog post from then-shuttle manager Wayne Hale) revealed it was actually due to “thermal cycles associated with filling the tank.”

“Discovery flew on July 4, 2006; no significant foam loss occurred. I consider that to be the real return to flight for the space shuttle,” he wrote. “So were we stupid? Yes. Can you learn from our mistake? I hope so.”

The Columbia  crew. From the left: Mission Specialist David Brown, Commander Rick Husband, Mission Specialists Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla and Michael Anderson, Pilot William McCool and Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon. Credit: NASA.
The Columbia crew. From the left: Mission Specialist David Brown, Commander Rick Husband, Mission Specialists Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla and Michael Anderson, Pilot William McCool and Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon. Credit: NASA.

From One Laurel to Another: a Letter from Columbia

STS-107 Mission Specialist Laurel B. Clark (NASA)

On this Day of Remembrance, February 1, 2013, NASA will mark the 10th anniversary of the STS-107 Columbia accident with a wreath-laying ceremony at the astronaut memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, paying tribute to the lost crews of Columbia, Challenger and Apollo 1, as well as other space explorers and NASA colleagues who have passed on. Most of us have our own personal memories of the tragic events that took the lives of these brave few who risked everything in the name of exploration, knowledge, and discovery, and I’ve agreed to share one person’s connection to the Columbia crew.

Laurel Nendza, a fellow space blogger over on that social media site that begins with F and rhymes with “acebook” has a particular connection with STS-107 Mission Specialist Laurel B. Clark… if only that they both love space and share the same first name. Still, it’s enough to hang one’s heart on, and Laurel (the blogger) recently posted a particularly touching note that was sent by Laurel (the astronaut) to her family just before Columbia headed back on its ill-fated return trip home. Here’s Laurel’s (and Laurel’s) story:

On February 1, 2003, the seven [STS-107] crew members were lost with the Space Shuttle Columbia over North Texas during the shuttle’s re-entry. They were brave men and women who gave their lives for space exploration.

s107e05167One member has always stood out to me. Her name was Laurel Clark. She would probably agree that growing up there were never any other Laurels around. She may at one time hated her name like I did, only to realize she was actually cool and unique because she was the only one around with that name. But Laurel is not just a name, it’s a personality trait. I know a handful of Laurels (mostly from Facebook) and we all seem to have the same things in common. Most of us always have had deep compassion for animals, the Earth, and the sky above us. Laurel Clark was no different.

What was different about Laurel Clark is that she was just a handful of people on Earth, EVER, who actually achieved what we all dream. She was an astronaut and got to go to outer space. She had the privilege (that she worked very hard to get) to witness our pale blue dot from above as well as breathtaking auroras, lightning, and the Sun and Moon rising.

Before she departed to her last shuttle flight home she sent an email to her family and close friends. She told them of every incredible, awe-inspiring moment she had been a part of. She and the other 6 members who perished in the Columbia tragedy are true heroes and inspirations to all who came after her. They are my inspiration. My dream is to also be able to see my beautiful planet from above, and to see the stars shine bright in all their glory.

s107e05006She was the first Laurel in space, who knows? Maybe one day I will be the next?

Rest in peace all the brave crew of the Shuttle Columbia.

Below is Laurel Clark’s last message to her loved ones on Earth:

“Hello from above our magnificent planet Earth. The perspective is truly awe-inspiring. This is a terrific mission and we are very busy doing science round the clock. Just getting a moment to type e-mail is precious so this will be short, and distributed to many who I know and love.

I have seen some incredible sights: lightning spreading over the Pacific, the Aurora Australis lighting up the entire visible horizon with the cityglow of Australia below, the crescent moon setting over the limb of the Earth, the vast plains of Africa and the dunes on Cape Horn, rivers breaking through tall mountain passes, the scars of humanity, the continuous line of life extending from North America, through Central America and into South America, a crescent moon setting over the limb of our blue planet. Mount Fuji looks life a small bump from up here, but it does stand out as a very distinct landmark.

Magically, the very first day we flew over Lake Michigan and I saw Wind Point (Wisconsin) clearly. Haven’t been so lucky since. Every orbit we go over a slightly different part of the Earth. Of course, much of the time I’m working back in Spacehab and don’t see any of it. Whenever I do get to look out, it is glorious. Even the stars have a special brightness.

I have seen my ‘friend’ Orion several times. Taking photos of the earth is a real challenge, but a steep learning curve. I think I have finally gotten some beautiful shots the last 2 days. Keeping my fingers crossed that they’re in sharp focus.

My near vision has gotten a little worse up here so you may have seen pics/video of me wearing glasses. I feel blessed to be here representing our country and carrying out the research of scientists around the world. All of the experiments have accomplished most of their goals despite the inevitable hiccups that occur when such a complicated undertaking is undertaken. Some experiments have even done extra science. A few are finished and one is just getting started today.

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Astronaut Laurel B. Clark, STS-107 mission specialist, conducting a check of the YSTRES experiment in the Biopack incubator. Astronaut Rick D. Husband, mission commander, holds a vacuum cleaner to perform general housekeeping duties on the middeck of the Space Shuttle Columbia. (NASA)

The food is great and I am feeling very comfortable in this new, totally different environment. It still takes a while to eat as gravity doesn’t help pull food down your oesophagus. It is also a constant challenge to stay adequately hydrated. Since our body fluids are shifted toward our heads our sense of thirst is almost non-existent.

Thanks to many of you who have supported me and my adventures throughout the years. This was definitely one to beat all. I hope you could feel the positive energy that beamed to the whole planet as we glided over our shared planet.

Love to all, Laurel.”

You can find out more about Laurel Clark and the other STS-107 crew members on the NASA History site here.

Crew walkout for STS107 Credit; Scott Andrews/NASA

The STS-107 crew, waving to onlookers, exited the Operations and Checkout Building on their way to Launch Pad 39A for liftoff on Jan. 16, 2003. Leading the way were Pilot William “Willie” McCool (left) and Commander Rick Husband (right). Following in the second row are Mission Specialists Kalpana Chawla (left) and Laurel Clark; in the rear are Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon, Payload Commander Michael Anderson and Mission Specialist David Brown. All seven perished during re-entry breakup two weeks later on Feb. 1, 2003. (NASA)

See more of Laurel Nendza’s posts on her Facebook page, Stellar Eyes.

At 10 a.m. EST on Feb. 1, NASA TV will provide live coverage of a wreath-laying ceremony at the Space Mirror Memorial located in the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Flags across the agency will be flown at half-staff memory of the Columbia crew and all who have lost their lives in dedication of space exploration.

Watch Tonight: Space Shuttle Columbia: Mission of Hope

Airing on PBS stations in the US tonight (January 31, 2013) a new film in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of the space shuttle Columbia disaster. Space Shuttle Columbia: Mission of Hope tells the little-known story of Columbia astronaut Ilan Ramon from Israel, the son of Holocaust survivors who became Israel’s first astronaut. Ramon carried into space a miniature Torah scroll that had survived the horrors of the Holocaust, given to a boy in a secret bar mitzvah observed in the pre-dawn hours in the notorious Nazi concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen.

“Moving tributes like this film remind us all that spaceflight always carries great risk,” said NASA Administrator and four-time space shuttle astronaut Charles Bolden. “But fallen heroes like Ilan were willing to risk the ultimate sacrifice to make important science discoveries and push the envelope of human achievement.”

See the trailer, below:

The film premieres tonight at 9:00 p.m. EST (check local listings here) on PBS stations. It will be followed by an encore broadcast of NOVA “Space Shuttle Disaster” at 10:00 p.m. EST, which examines the causes of the tragedy.

Most PBS specials are rebroadcast and are usually available later on the internet, and so check your local listings if you missed it, and we’ll also post a link if/when this film becomes available online.

Remembering Columbia and Suffering from Survivor’s Guilt

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Across the social networks today, many people were sharing their memories of the Columbia space shuttle accident, which happened 9 years ago, on February 1, 2003. Most all of us have a “where I was and what I was doing” story, but one of the most poignant posts today came from Michael Interbartolo, who works for NASA, and in 2003 was on the Guidance, Navigation, and Control (GNC) Flight Control team for the space shuttle. While he wasn’t in Mission Control when Columbia was lost, he still feels the pain of the accident each year when the anniversary date approaches.

“Every year I struggle with survivor’s guilt,” he wrote on Google+, “and wonder what if I had a time machine?”

In sharing an email he wrote just a few days after the accident, Interbartolo said, “I really feel like we lost 8 members of the family. Columbia was like the family dog who had gotten old, but she was still loyal and true and you knew you could count on her…It hurts to lose friends like this. I didn’t know any of them personally other than a meeting here and there or maybe in a sim together, but right now it feels like a big part of me is gone.”

Michael Interbartolo in Mission Control. Image courtesy of Michael Interbartolo

Interbartolo continued, expressing his love of his job: “To work here at mission control is a wonder each and every day and really is the stuff dreams are made of. For some this is just a job, others share my enthusiasm and love for the program, but everyone is dedicated 110% each day to bring each astronaut safely home every mission and when they don’t then we all feel the pain and anguish like right now.”

With February 1st here again, Interbartolo says he repeatedly goes through what he and others in Mission Control possibly could have done differently. “What if I could go back in time to try and save Columbia and her crew? Now with 9 years of experience since the accident, the Shuttle put out to pasture and no access to space on our own, changing that point in time almost seems more important.”

Interbartolo came up with four different scenarios of what possibly could happen if he had a time machine:

Debris from the space shuttle Columbia streaks across the sky near Tyler, Texas.

Scenario One – Day of Deorbit:

From the time the Entry team came on console to GO For deorbit burn, it is typically about 6 hours. So it would be the “12 Angry Men” scenario, bit by bit trying to convince the team to wave off the burn… Sure it would make for a tension filled movie, but reality is waving off the burn and convincing them to open the payload bay doors, activate the robotic arm and look solves nothing, probably. The crew would know they were dead; they could put the orbiter into a powerdown, but time would be short with limited consumables to come up with a repair that would work. In Hollywood movies sure, in real life? Too risky to use the Time Machine here, we need to go further back to ensure success.

A shower of foam debris after the impact on Columbia?s left wing. The event was not observed in real time. Credit: NASA

Scenario Two – Flight Day Two:

Images start coming in showing the foam strike, but as history has shown the management team was not listening and there were plenty of missed opportunities. So how could I convince them any better. It would take a few days, then get the DOD to use their assets to image the damage and if I hadn’t gotten the powerdown of the orbiter we still only have limited time plus how to repair? a Spacewalk is possible but we didn’t have wing leading edge or tile repairs kits until after the Columbia Accident so now we would have to come up with it on the fly probably stuffing maybe water bags, a space suit or something into the hole, cold soaking the wing and hope the turbulent boundary layer and plasma are kept at bay. time is short and this is still pretty risky and certainly a lot more engineering effort than fitting a square LiOH into a round hole (Apollo 13 issue). Need to go further back.

Columbia on the launchpad before the STS-107 mission. Credit: NASA

Scenario Three – PreLaunch No GO:

Where to jump in, foam had been an issue since STS-1 and was not seen as a concern. Heck even after Columbia we still had foam issues and had to redesign the Ice Frost Ramps and other bracket interfaces. Convincing the team to wave off prelaunch would require debris transport analysis to show foam could strike at high speed on the wings plus impact testing to show how much damage it would be. So now we grounded the fleet, worked on the foam, augmented ascent imagery assets/analysis, but we would still need a boom sensor, inspection techniques and repair options. A fundamental shift in how we do business and think about foam, something that only really happened because of Columbia, this would require overcoming the “Failure of Imagination” mindset. Hmm maybe we need to go back further.

Columbia landing at Edwards Air Force Base on the first shuttle mission, STS-1. Credit: NASA

Scenario Four – Designing the STS:

All the way back to the 70’s, reusable winged system side mounted on a big tank of foam that needed a 1500 nm cross range for once around polar DOD flights from Vandenburg. So it comes down to Only Nixon can save Columbia by scrapping the design and coming up with something else. If we can mitigate the foam loss or get away from fragile Reinforced Carbon Carbon wings in the danger zone then maybe Columbia could be saved (and maybe we can fix the O-ring and save Challenger as well). So now we trade 7 lives for 30 years of shuttle operations, launching telescopes/spacecraft, and building the space station. Could we come up with another heavy lift design that can go from rocket to space truck to orbiting space station to flying brick? This is the Kobayashi Maru for Time Traveler and the Space Shuttle Program, do I risk all the discoveries, knowledge, science and a space station by fundamentally changing the design to save Columbia? Maybe February 1st really is a Fixed Point in Time and Space.

In the end, Interbartolo said, there is no time machine; the Columbia and her crew are still lost, the Shuttle completes her mission of building the space station and now we have the gap of not being able to launch our own astronauts.

“There will be future loss of life in the pursuit of space because it is a harsh and unforgiving environment with objects travelling in excess of 17,500 mph and there will always be Unknown, Unknowns,” Interbartolo wrote. “But as Gus (Grissom)said, “The conquest of space is worth the risk,’ and through the tragedies of Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia we are reminded that we must be vigilant and always attentive to the dangers of spaceflight; never accepting success as a substitute for rigor in everything we do. We must always be aware that suddenly and unexpectedly we may find ourselves in a role where our performance has ultimate consequences. And finally we must recognize that the greatest error is not to have tried and failed, but that in the trying we do not give it our best effort.”

Universe Today thanks Michael Interbartolo for allowing us to share his memories and his grief.