NASA's plans for 2003 were abruptly changed February 1 with the sudden and tragic loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia and the brave crew of STS-107.
Even while mourning the loss of our courageous astronauts, NASA's civil service and contract workforce began the challenging task of finding the problem, fixing the problem, and preparing to return Space Shuttles to safe flight. With the Columbia Accident Investigation Board's report and NASA's Implementation Plan for Space Shuttle Return to Flight and Beyond as guides, the agency is striving to return to safe and efficient human space exploration.
The tragic Columbia accident did not disrupt NASA's quest for discovery. In the pursuit of their mission goals, they plan to continue to expand the International Space Station's remarkable capabilities, send robotic spacecraft to explore fascinating places throughout the Solar System, use telescopes to find Earthlike planets orbiting nearby stars, and use satellites to help us better understand Earth's dynamic climate.
"The NASA family faced many tough challenges in 2003," said NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe. "The loss of Columbia's crew, and two pilots involved in debris recovery efforts in East Texas, deeply affected each of us. I can't express how proud and grateful I am for the efforts of NASA employees, our contractors, and the thousands of others involved in helping us recover from the accident. It has been even more impressive to witness the efforts of all involved, as we move forward toward return to flight," he said.
NASA is energetically approaching return to Shuttle flight operations, completion of the International Space Station and scientific exploration in a safe, milestone driven manner. NASA continues to strive to understand and protect the Earth; explore the universe; search for life; and inspire the next generation of explorers, as only NASA can.
"We are facing the most critical and exciting time in NASA's 45 year history. The technical and cultural challenges, and changes the agency makes will guide the organization for the next decade. We will succeed and continue to lead the efforts to explore the universe through space-based research," Administrator O'Keefe concluded.
Huge Effort For Columbia Debris Recovery
The search for Columbia debris in East Texas and northwest Louisiana took three arduous months. More than 25,000 searchers combed approximately 1.2 million acres and found more than 84,900 pounds of debris. The effort helped determine the cause of the accident.
NASA Safety & Engineering Center Established
In the wake of the Columbia accident, the agency created the NASA Engineering and Safety Center (NESC). The NESC will coordinate and conduct robust engineering testing and safety assessments to support critical NASA projects and programs.
New Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP)
NASA reorganized ASAP and updated the charter of the independent review panel. ASAP acts as an independent body to advise the NASA Administrator on safety issues regarding operations, missions, and initiatives. The charter calls for recognized safety, management, and engineering experts from industry, academia, and other government agencies.
Stafford-Covey Return To Flight Task Group Formed
NASA formed the group to ensure independent review of plans and processes for returning to Space Shuttle operations. Experts and industry professionals, from a wide range of disciplines, are reviewing NASA's implementation of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board recommendations.
Safer International Space Station Marks Anniversaries
In November, the Station observed the third anniversary of continuous human occupation and the fifth anniversary of the start of construction of the largest, most sophisticated spacecraft ever built. Russian Soyuz and Progress spacecraft were used exclusively for the first time to transfer Station crews and for re-supply. The Station program Continuing Flight Team (CFT) unveiled its first Implementation Plan. The CFT examined Columbia findings and recommendations and created a plan to help make the Space Station safer.
Expendable Launch Vehicles Successful
NASA's Expendable Launch Services successfully completed a busy year. Since January, eight spacecraft were deployed on seven expendable launch vehicles. These included the two Mars Exploration Rovers and the Space InfraRed Telescope Facility.
New NASA Facility Helps Protect Space Crews From Radiation
To ensure the safety of spacecraft crews, scientists will perform key research at the new $34 million NASA Space Radiation Laboratory. Built in cooperation with the Department of Energy, it is one of the few labs that can simulate harsh space radiation environments.
Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF) Obtains Striking Images
Images showed celestial objects viewed by ground-based telescopes and even the Hubble Space Telescope look quite different when viewed in infrared light. SIRTF, renamed the Lyman Spitzer Space Telescope, has a five-year mission to reveal previously hidden, dusty regions as well as cold and distant objects in the universe.
Spirit, Opportunity & Stardust Memories
NASA successfully launched the two largest, most sophisticated Mars Exploration Rovers last summer. The first rover, Spirit, is preparing to land on the mysterious and dangerous Martian surface on Jan. 3, 2004. Its twin, Opportunity, is schedule to land January 24. The Stardust spacecraft is on track for its rendezvous with comet Wild 2. Stardust will gather comet dust and debris and bring it back to Earth in January 2006.
Best "Baby Picture Of The Universe"
In one of the most important scientific discoveries of recent years, NASA released the best "baby picture" of the universe ever taken. The image contains stunning detail of the universe just after the big bang. Scientists using NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, captured the afterglow of the big bang, called the cosmic microwave background. One of the biggest surprises revealed is the first generation of stars to shine in the universe ignited only 200 million years after the big bang, much earlier than many scientists expected.
NASA Helps Celebrate 100 Years Of Powered Flight
NASA exhibits toured American cities creating an awareness of the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers historic flight on Dec. 17, 1903 near Kitty Hawk, N.C. Exhibits traced the history of powered flight, and the evolution of aircraft.
Voyager Approaching Solar System Final Frontier
NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft is about to make history again. It is the first spacecraft to enter the solar system's final frontier, a wide boundary region, where wind from the sun blows hot against thin gas between the stars: interstellar space.
Valuable Science Data Gained During Columbia's Final Mission
Approximately 30 percent of the data collected during Columbia's last mission was recovered and have already yielded exciting and novel findings. While nothing can compensate for the tragic loss of the crew, the devotion of the teams of investigators, students, and researchers to obtain the maximum amount of knowledge from their experiments serves as an enduring tribute to the research and crew of STS-107.
Black Holes Reveal Surprises
NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory detected sound waves, for the first time, from a super-massive black hole. The note was the deepest ever detected from an object in the universe. Using satellite and other observatories, scientists viewing the scene of a gamma ray burst, just after the explosion, witnessed the death of a gigantic star and the birth of something monstrous in its place, quite possibly a brand-new, spinning black hole. The burst was the most detailed ever observed.
Mars Odyssey Points To Cause Of Gullies
Images from the visible light camera on NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft, combined with images from the Mars Global Surveyor, suggest melting snow is the likely cause of the numerous eroded Martian gullies. The findings suggest the gullies may have been created by trickling water from melting snow packs, not underground springs or pressurized flows.
Educator Astronaut Program Debuts
NASA created a unique program for teachers to join the agency's Educator Astronaut (EA) Program. EAs will serve as Mission Specialists on Space Shuttle and Space Station missions. They will also provide a direct connection between educators and students. The first EA class will be announced in February 2004.
Hubble Continues Amazing Career
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope measured the mass of the oldest known planet and closed a decade of speculation about the nature of this ancient world, which is 2.5 times the mass of Jupiter. Hubble snapped a stunning portrait of Mars within minutes of the planet's closest approach to Earth in nearly 60,000 years. The sharp, natural-color view revealed several prominent features, including the largest volcano in the solar system, a system of canyons and the southern polar ice cap. Hubble is seeing the conclusion of the cosmic epoch called the "Dark Ages," which occurred about a billion years after the big bang. Scientists can see back to when stars in young galaxies began to shine in significant numbers, concluding the cosmic "dark ages" about 13 billion years ago.
ICESat & SORCE Satellites Successful
Among NASA successes this year were the launches of ICESat and SORCE, two new Earth-observing satellites. ICESat has revolutionary lasers that measure ice, clouds and land elevations. SORCE is studying the sun's influence on the Earth, measuring how it affects the ozone layer, atmospheric circulation, clouds, and oceans.
NASA's View From Space Improves Earth Observation
NASA joined other agencies at the first Earth Observation Summit to establish plans for an integrated Earth observing satellite system. NASA satellites offered unparalleled insight, only possible from space. Aqua satellite data helped improve weather forecasting models, and NASA data are helping researchers observe activities, which may have worldwide climactic impact. NASA satellites helped agencies track, fight and prevent wild fires, and provided important hurricane data and pictures to improve storm forecasting and tracking.
NASA Web Portal A Winner
The agency deployed the NASA Web Portal. More than a redesign, the portal restructured the way NASA communicates directly with the public. The portal was honored with a "Webby", the online equivalent of an Oscar, for the best government site of 2003. Users gave the portal the second-highest customer satisfaction rating of any government Web site.
NASA Makes Education A Priority...And Fun!
NASA launched the Explorer Schools Program to bring science and math teachers "back to school" at NASA Centers to acquire new resources and technology tools to increase interest in science, math and technology related courses. NASA is hosting six national educational webcasts with the NASA Earth Crew, more than 50,000 students and family members. The Crew participates in fun, science based webcasts. NASA and education partners launched "Marsapalooza," an innovative, educational national tour. The tour is an effort to inform students, teachers and parents about Mars exploration and agency education programs.
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