Tag Archives: time

The Space Shuttle Columbia Lifted Off 10 Years Ago Today for the Final Time

Ten years ago today, the space Shuttle Columbia lifted off for the final time. When the liftoff occurred, no one knew that it would be here final departure from the planet. Rather, it was the start of a science mission scheduled to last about two weeks. Onboard the orbiter were seven astronauts:

  • Commander Rick Husband
  • Pilot William McCool
  • Mission Specialist David Brown
  • Mission Specialist Kalpana Chawla
  • Payload Commander Michael Anderson
  • Mission Specialist Laurel Clark
  • Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon

About 82 seconds after lift off, a large piece of the insulating foam on the external tank came loose and hit leading edge of Columbia’s left wing. This incident was captured on the film of the launch as a white streak training away from the wing as the shuttle ascended. Over the next two weeks, the crew flawlessly executed their mission, knowing that something had struck the wing, but not knowing that this impact would cause the end of their lives.

On the ground, at Mission Control in Houston and at other NASA Centers, some engineers were not so certain that the impact hadn’t caused damage. In the end, however, there wasn’t much done to investigate the effects of the impact. Truthfully, nothing could have been done to repair the damage.

Wayne Hale, a Flight Director at Mission Control and leader in the Shuttle program, has written a series of blog posts over the past several months examining the totality of the Columbia disaster, which are definitely worth a read. See his blog at waynehale.wordpress.com for his insights.

Over the next couple of weeks, I hope to post more thoughts on the Columbia disaster, its place in history, and other related topics.

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For Me, NASA Means Hope

Many people have “Where Were You When…?” dates. These are the dates that you will always have an indelible picture in your mind of where you were. My first is January 28, 1986, the day of the Challenger disaster. This is the first real experience with tragedy and I remember the experience of that day as if it were yesterday. I know that’s a weird way to start a post about NASA meaning hope, but I want to make the point about how important NASA and the Space Shuttle Program have been to me.

NASA is an agency that brings the aspirations of our nation to the forefront. It’s about coming together to do what can’t be done now. NASA is about living up our promise and pushing our limits.  NASA is about doing things, “… not because they are easy, but because they are hard” as President Kennedy put it.

For my entire life, NASA and the Space Shuttle in particular, have meant hope to me. It has represented the ability of our nation and people around the world to break the bonds of gravity and get off our planet. For a child of divorce, getting up and away from the gravity of every day life meant a lot to me. As a child, my coping mechanism was taking on the job to keep everybody else happy, but when I was thinking about space (or some other things) I was able to rise above the every day of my life and think about the pure possibilities presented by life. If humans could get to a place where even the law of gravity didn’t apply, then I could imagine a place where it wasn’t my job to make sure everyone else was happy, where what I wanted wasn’t important, in short, a place where I mattered. The fact that Astronauts are national heroes made it even better. I could imagine myself getting away from the gravity of earth and when I came back, I would be the hero… As I grew up, I began to take NASA and the Space Shuttle program for granted. As designed, the program became routine for me. There were Shuttles flying on a regular basis and it seemed far away from my daily life.

Then came February 1, 2003, my second “Where Were You When…?” date. I knew that the STS-107 mission had launched on my birthday, but didn’t think much about it. I was at the beginning of a very busy time in my job and was completely focused on that reality, not that of the seven explorers circling above my head. February 1, 2003 was a Saturday morning. I was headed in to work to try and stay on top of things. As I drove the 42 freeway miles between my home and my office, I turned on the radio and they were taking about the landing of Columbia. I figured it would be a short segment, describing the touchdown and then we would get back to regular programming. In truth, I wasn’t much listening, instead, I was thinking about the day’s work. I did, however notice that regular programming had not returned and Columbia’s landing was the still the subject of the conversation. I began to listen more closely, and realizing what had happened, I was truly taken aback. For the second time in my life, Astronauts had been lost in flight.

Between 1986 and 2003, technology had advanced greatly, so I got in to work and started doing all the research I could on the STS-107 mission, and kept up closely with the news. More important than that, my interest in NASA, the Space Shuttle Program, and space in general was rekindled. The new technology meant that when flights resumed in 2005, I was able to watch them from my desk and download a great deal of information about the mission. I was able to reconnect with the program and NASA, which was a wonderful thing.

As 2005 turned to 2006 and the second return to flight mission occurred, I was able to get more and more information about the program, watch the missions live on my computer, and feel a similar sense of wonder about space travel as I had when I was a kid. The years went on and my interest continued and grew. By the time the STS-125 mission occurred in 2009, I was a full on space geek. I was able to witness the law of gravity being broken in real-time, for the entire duration of each Space Shuttle mission.  I was also able to learn more about the program and the people who made it work.

When I joined Twitter in October of 2008, little did I know that It would lead me to attend a Space Shuttle launch, visit Mission Control and Johnson Space Center (twice) and find a community of space geeks across the world, just like me. I’ve learned that space doesn’t just mean manned space flight. It means journeys to other planets to observe and explore the surface. It means getting outside our Solar System and putting human existence into a universal perspective, as Carl Sagan did with the famous Pale Blue Dot photo taken in 1990 by Voyager 1 at a distance of 3.7 billion miles from Earth.

Voyager 1 remains the furthest human built object away from earth. It is approximately 11,061,750,600 miles from Earth today. Even more amazing is the fact that we can still communicate with it.

For me, NASA means an escape from the gravity of life and Earth. It means a community of friends who shares an interest and love for space. It means human achievement that I can share with my son and daughter. For me, NASA means hope.

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Zones of Exclusion

When I feel overwhelmed, stressed out, or just unsure about life, I tend to retreat into myself, retreat from the outside world, and stop communicating with my family and friends. This isolation is a self preservation mechanism, but it’s also very self destructive. What I want most is to talk to people about why I’m feeling the way I am and get their unbiased thoughts about how to get over the way I’m feeling.

Instead, I draw in upon myself, make my world smaller and enter a zone of exclusion. I don’t do things that I know make me feel better, I don’t do things that I know help me in the long run, rather I turn inward and look to myself for the solution. Sometimes, I have the solution, most of the time I don’t. This isolation is a product of my youth, a product of my upbringing, and a product of who I had to be to survive my childhood.

As an adult, I dint need the same defense mechanisms I needed as a child. I don’t need to push everyone away, rather, what helps is talking to my friends and getting their unbiased thoughts and input.

Why do I still invoke these childhood defenses? I don’t know. Possibly, because it’s comfortable to do so. Possibly because it’s how I’ve dealt with things for most of my life. Possibly, it’s habit. I don’t know all the reasons, but I do know that it doesn’t usually do me much good.

So, I’m trying take little steps to get out if the ZOE. I do little things for myself that I know help. I write, I go to church, and I try and get some sleep. Mass is about to begin, so I’m entering another ZOE. With any luck, I’ll come out of this one feeling a bit better.


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When and Where Will My Friend Arrive in 2011?

I have a friend who is flying from SFO to LHR on a flight that departs at 1800 (PST). We had dinner with him last night and he posed a question that he knew I would be interested in: When will he arrive in 2011? To state more clearly, when will the eastbound flight path of his aircraft intersect with the westbound path of the New Year progressing across the globe?

This kind of thing intrigues me, so when I woke up this morning at 0500 (I couldn’t sleep), I started crunching numbers. Pasted in below is the email I sent to my friend, his wife, and my wife this morning upon coming to the answer. Names have been changed to protect the innocent…

After our discussion last night at dinner, I stayed up all night doing complicated calculations of when the plane will arrive in 2011. OK, really I woke up at about 0500 and couldn’t sleep, so I pulled out my computer and started crunching numbers and maps.
The short answer to the question of when the plane will arrive in 2011 is: somewhere over Hudson Bay late in the 3rd hour of his flight.

I assumed that the aircraft will take off at 18:00 and cruise at an airspeed of 500 knots, which is about right for a Boeing 777-400, which is what Virgin Atlantic uses on most SFO-LHR flights. I also assumed a true great circle route. I didn’t include the time it takes to get up to cruising speed or flight delays….
The longer answer becomes more complicated because the border between the Central and Eastern Time Zones runs down the middle of Hudson Bay (seehttp://atlas.nrcan.gc.ca/site/english/maps/reference/national/timezones/referencemap_image_view), so it’s possible that the plane could miss the crossing from 23:59 to 00:00 entirely because of a time zone change. Rather, it’s more likely that the plane will go from about 23:45 CST to 00:45 EST by crossing the border between the two zones. This will put him in to the new year, but he will have already lost 45 minutes of it….
Because my math teacher told me that showing my work was important, here’s a spreadsheet showing the time progression in hours of flight, PST, Local Time, and UTC.
Here are the sources I used:
Great Circle Mapper – www.gcmap.com

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