Two milestones in space, 20 years apart

NASA and space enthusiasts worldwide are celebrating two major anniversaries Tuesday

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2

Thanks largely to the efforts of the various space shuttles, NASA and its international teammates were able to build out the International Space Station.

Columbia file photo
The space shuttle Columbia descends to the runway at the Kennedy Space Center in this Dec. 5, 1997 file photo. Image: Reuters

The space shuttle Discovery deployed the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990 and the shuttle team since lifted off for five different servicing missions to maintain and upgrade the telescope's scientific instruments and operational systems.

Along with the many accomplishments, NASA has had its share of tragedy and heartbreak with the space shuttles as well.

On Jan. 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger broke apart in the sky over Florida just 73 seconds after it lifted off. The Challenger's seven crew members were killed.

The accident was caused by a faulty O-ring seal in the shuttle's right solid rocket booster. The failed seal eventually led to the structural failure of an external fuel tank, which then ripped the rest of Challenger apart.

And then on Feb. 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, killing all seven crew members. NASA reported that the accident was caused because of a piece of foam the size of a briefcase broke off from the shuttle's external fuel tank, striking the left wing of the craft and damaging the shuttle's thermal protection system. The damaged system was unable to protect the shuttle from the intense heat the shuttle needs to endure during re-entry.

Today, all but two of NASA's shuttle fleet have flown their final missions.

Endeavour is set for its final launch on April 29. The crew will take the shuttle aloft for a 14-day mission to the space station to deliver supplies and spare parts, including two S-band communication antennas, robotic parts and a meteor debris shield.

Atlantis is scheduled to make lift off on June 28 for the final shuttle voyage. After the Atlantis mission, the shuttle fleet will be officially retired.

The space shuttle Discovery made its final trip into space in February.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2
  
Shop Tech Products at Amazon