Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Last Sunset.....photographed by the crew on board the Space Shuttle Columbia.

This photograph was taken by the crew on board the Space Shuttle Columbia during its last mission.

The Space Shuttle Columbia disaster occurred on February 1, 2003, when the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, with the loss of all seven crew members, shortly before it was scheduled to conclude its 28th mission, STS-107.

Mission STS-107 was the 113th Space Shuttle launch. It was delayed 18 times over the two years from its original launch date of January 11, 2001 to its actual launch date of January 16, 2003. (It was preceded by STS-113.) A launch delay due to cracks in the shuttle's propellant distribution system occurred one month before a July 19, 2002 launch date. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) determined that this delay had nothing to do with the catastrophic failure six months later.

The loss of Columbia was a result of damage sustained during the launch when a piece of foam insulation, the size of a small briefcase broke off the Space Shuttle external tank (the main propellant tank) under the aerodynamic forces of launch. The debris struck the leading edge of the left wing, damaging the Shuttle's thermal protection system (TPS), which protects it from heat generated with the atmosphere during re-entry. While Columbia was still in orbit, some engineers suspected damage, but NASA managers limited the investigation on the grounds that little could be done even if problems were found.

NASA's Shuttle safety regulations stated that external tank foam shedding and subsequent debris strikes upon the Shuttle itself were safety issues that needed to be resolved before a launch was cleared, but launches were often given the go-ahead as engineers studied the foam shedding problem without a successful resolution. The majority of Shuttle launches recorded such foam strikes and thermal tile scarring in violation of safety regulations. During re-entry of STS-107, the damaged area allowed the hot gases to penetrate and destroy the internal wing structure, rapidly causing the in-flight breakup of the vehicle. A massive ground search in parts of Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas recovered crew remains and many vehicle fragments.

About the last Photograph: This photograph was taken via satellite, on a cloudless day.

The picture is of Europe and Africa when the Sun is setting. Half of the picture is in night (experiencing night-time). The bright dots you see are the city lights.

The top part of Africa is the Sahara Desert.

Note that the lights are already on in Holland, Paris and Barcelona, and that's it's still daylight in London, Lisbon and Madrid.

The Sun is still shining on the Straight of Gibraltar.

The Mediterranean Sea is already in darkness.

In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean you can see the Azores Islands; below them to the right are the Madeira Islands; a bit below are the Canary Islands; and further south, close to the farthest western point of Africa, are the Cape Verde Islands.

Note that the Sahara (desert) is huge and can be seen clearly both during daytime and night-time.

To the left, on the top, is Greenland, totally frozen.

Fantastic photograph, indeed! What an amazing sight to behold before one met one's maker......this makes it even more poignant. To quote a phrase from the website dedicated to the seven Astronauts on board Columbia: " Lift your eyes and look to the heavens. Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and call them each by name."

Following is the link to the website that is dedicated to the seven Astronauts (who perished in this ill-fated mission) and their families:

Photographs: in clockwise order -

1) This photograph was taken by the crew on board the Space Shuttle Columbia during its last mission.

2) The crew of STS-107. L to R: Brown, Husband, Clark, Chawla, Anderson, McCool, and Ramon.

3) Columbia lifting off on its final mission. The light-colored triangle visible at the base of the strut near the nose of the orbiter is the Left Bipod Foam Ramp.

Note: Information used for this blog, courtesy Wikipedia.

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