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Columbia

Of 80 experiments aboard, some will be 'their legacy'

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 2, 2003


Columbia's 16-day mission featured more than 80 experiments ranging from the effects of space travel on astronauts to the possibility of creating a new perfume.

"The folks on the ground were just ecstatic with the amount of science that they were reaping," said Ron Dittemore, space shuttle program manager. "Some of it was -- will be -- their legacy."

Some research results were lost forever when the shuttle disintegrated over Texas, others were downloaded to Earth earlier.

Spiders, flowers, cancer cells, ants, carpenter bees, fish embryos, silkworms and rats were all on board.

"I hope they can salvage something," said Hideaki Moriyama, a University of Nebraska biochemist who supplied vials of proteins to the flight in hopes of finding clues to diseases like HIV-AIDS, Huntington's and Alzheimer's.

"It took more than four years to prepare those experiments," Moriyama said.

Mohamed Abid, an aerospace engineer from the University of Southern California, had a combustion experiment on board. He saw video of his tiny fireballs ping-ponging around the shuttle's laboratory, a safely isolated area.

But Abid said the data -- designed to help researchers model combustion in car, airplane and rocket engines -- was lost.

In another experiment, shuttle crew members collected samples of their own blood, urine and saliva to detect possible bone loss, kidney stones, muscle loss or weakening of immune systems.

Students from Fowler High School in Syracuse, N.Y., also had a hand in the science. They worked with Syracuse University researchers for three years on an experiment to find out whether ants tunnel at a slower rate in microgravity.

Columbia was the first shuttle in three years not headed to the international space station or the Hubble Space Telescope.

The Israel Space Agency and Tel Aviv University sponsored a $2-million experiment on board. It involved aiming a pair of cameras at the Mediterranean and Atlantic in search of huge dust plumes from the Sahara Desert that might affect Earth's climate.

Soon after the cameras were positioned, NASA reported receiving remarkable details of the clouds.

Perhaps the most commercially viable experiment on board was sponsored by International Flavors & Fragrances Inc., which sent a miniature red rose plant with six buds and an Asian rice flower with a jasmine scent. Astronauts extracted and preserved essential oils from the flowers so fragrance experts back home could recreate the smell.

Shuttle memorabilia attracts eBay bids

What's more intense than a space shuttle blastoff? Try Saturday's frenzy on eBay, the online auction service, of Columbia memorabilia. From sentimental to scientific to tasteless, the www.ebay.com site listed hundreds of shuttle-related items for sale throughout the day following the explosion.

Before Saturday noon, eBay listed 42 Columbia items. That soon rose to 67 items after noon, to 375 by 3 p.m., to 643 by 6 p.m. and to 896 items just 20 minutes later. Many items listed before Saturday that had received scant attention suddenly attracted aggressive bidding.

What's available? It might be easier to note what isn't. Columbia photos, coins, a pencil sharpener, a beer stein and even draperies are for sale. A newly registered Web site, www.columbiablast.com, was briefly listed for sale but was soon removed by eBay.

Saturday evening, one Dallas-area seller listed this mercenary offer. He would go out to the crash area, find some shuttle debris and ship it to the winning bidder. Starting bid: $10,000. That offer was soon axed by eBay.

A 1982 brass belt buckle that says "The Space Shuttle Columbia" was first listed on Jan. 26 with the asking bid of $9.99. There were no takers until Saturday, when more than the highest of 16 bids topped $315 for the buckle by Saturday evening.

Most unusual offering? An actual, 12-foot tailpiece from the Columbia (apparently a backup), the seller claims. Bids started at $2,000 but had reached $3,383 by Saturday evening.

Second flight for Chawla was chance to learn more

Mission specialist Kalpana Chawla was making her second shuttle flight. Her first, in 1997, was not without incident.

As a robotic arm operator, she was unable to retrieve the 3,000-pound Spartan satellite, which spun away after the shuttle released it, and astronauts had to go out on a space walk three days later to retrieve it. The mistake shook her confidence, and she feared her space career was over.

"I stopped thinking about it after trying to figure out what are the lessons learned," she said. "After I had sorted that out, I figured it's time to really look at the future and not at the past. Some of the senior people shook my hand and said, 'K.C., you did a great job. Don't let anyone tell you different.' "

A NASA investigation found the accident resulted from a series of small errors. NASA acknowledged that the instructions to the crew may not have been clear.

Loss of niece on ship reminds couple of Sept. 11

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Astronaut Laurel Clark's death on the space shuttle Columbia was the second sudden and very public tragedy to hit Doug and Betty Haviland in 17 months.

Laurel Clark was their niece and her final moments were broadcast again and again on television Saturday, exploding white dots 200,000 feet above the earth.

Television had first brought tragedy on Sept. 11, 2001. The Havilands were watching after the World Trade Center absorbed the impact of a terrorist-piloted jetliner, burned, then collapsed with their 41-year-old son Timothy inside.

"It was a very deja vu sort of thing, you know, we watched those towers smoking and eventually collapsing and then you see this space shuttle breaking apart. Here it is all over again," said Doug Haviland, a 76-year-old retired Episcopal minister of Ames, Iowa.

Doug Haviland said he spoke briefly Saturday with his sister, Marjory, Clark's mother.

"She's in the most difficult situation in this event. So I'm sure she's feeling pretty numb and swamped as we were when the 9/11 tragedy happened," Haviland said. "Hopefully, we can support her as much as possible."

Doug Haviland said his last message from Clark was an e-mail sent to relatives from space.

"I just picked (it) up yesterday. She was, you know, thrilled, taking lots of pictures and could see the area in Wisconsin on one of their pass-overs where they had lived for several years . . . looking forward to sharing all this with her friends and family," Haviland said. "She died doing what she wanted to do."

-- Times staff writer Robert Trigaux contributed to this report.

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