Spaceflight Now

NASA reviews science data gained by Columbia mission
Posted: February 19, 2003

NASA scientists are continuing to assess the status of the data received by the experiments onboard Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-107) during its final mission. Columbia carried more than 80 experiments, science, commercial and student, on a 16-day mission devoted to research, entrepreneurship and education.

"For those experiments that received down-linked data during the mission, we estimate that anywhere between 50-90 percent of the data was acquired," said David Liskowsky, STS-107 Program Scientist for NASA's Office of Biological and Physical Research (OBPR). Most of these experiments were in the physical science disciplines of combustion research, material sciences, and fluid physics. For most of the life sciences experiments, data and specimens were to be recovered on landing, so no data is available.

The OBPR science project teams report the overall performance of the experimental hardware and equipment employed on the mission was highly successful, with 100 percent operational success being achieved for virtually all of the experiments. "In addition to the scientific data that was collected from the mission, this operational success provides a measure of the robustness and capability of conducting high quality research on the Shuttle," Liskowsky said.

During the past week, researchers determined:

  • The Mechanics of Granular Materials (MGM) investigators estimate that careful analysis of the downlinked data should result in achieving 50 to 60 percent of their science goals. The MGM experiment used the microgravity of orbit to test sand columns under conditions that cannot be obtained from experiments on Earth. The knowledge gained from this will be applied to improving foundations for buildings and increasing understanding of how earthquakes and other forces disturb grains of soil and sand.

  • Almost all of the data from Critical Viscosity of Xenon, an experiment sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, was acquired before the end of the mission. This experiment measured the changes in viscosity (resistance to flow) of xenon, a pure fluid with a very simple structure and a critical temperature just below room temperature. The data may help scientists better understand shear thinning in complex fluids such as paints and foods (e.g., whipped cream), which need to flow easily during application and stand firm afterwards.

  • STARNAV, a star tracker navigation system from Texas A&M University accomplished all of its objectives. This educational experiment was designed to determine precise spacecraft attitude without prior knowledge of position.

  • SPACEHAB's Space Media commercial payload, STARS, saw many amazing results on this mission. As part of an education program with experiments designed by students, the STARS payload ( received daily downlink of video, photos, humidity and temperature readings. Students from Australia, China, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, and the United States designed these six experiments. They were able to achieve approximately 70 percent of their scientific objectives, providing unique insight into the low gravity impact on the behavior and development of ants, bees, silkworms, and fish eggs, the random crystal growth of cobalt and calcium, and the web spinning ability of spiders.

  • The Solar Constant Experiment (SOLCON), managed by the Royal Meteorological Institute of Belgium and sponsored by NASA, was designed to measure the solar constant and identify variations in the value during a solar cycle. This experiment was a 100 percent success. The data will ensure continuity of the solar constant level obtained by instruments mounted on free flyers, over climate time scale duration.

  • The Low Power Transceiver (LPT) experiments were completed and 100 percent of the data collected. These experiments demonstrated LPT's ability to do simultaneous communications and on-board navigation in space. The data from this experiment may provide more cost-effective space operations in future satellites.

  • The Mediterranean Israeli Dust Experiment (MEIDEX) acquired an image of a pall of gray smoke hanging above the Amazon rainforest illustrating how complex interactions between smoke and the atmosphere can influence weather and climate.

The final results from these and other experiments will be determined in the coming months as the acquired data are analyzed.

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