NASA’s “Columbia” Space Shuttle took off 12 years ago this week. Despite its tragic ending, the experiments conducted on board survived. One of the experiments, which deals with climate changes, continues to this day
David Greenwald & Daniella Bruchim
Twelve years have passed since the “Columbia” Space Shuttle took off to space, carrying the crew of mission STS-107. Among the seven crew members was Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut, who died with his team during re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere after 16 days in space.
During their time in space, the astronauts carried out their predetermined missions and conducted important experiments. Some of these experiments survived the explosion and continue to this day, years after the disaster. “Our experiment was declared successful, in spite of the horrible disaster”, said Professor Zeev Levin in an interview to the IAF Magazine after the disaster. “We have been working on that experiments for four and a half years, and we became familiar with all of the astronauts when we trained them. These were outstanding people, exceptionally dedicated. Their approach was very special. Astronauts usually perform the tasks in a technical way, just turning switches off and on. But here they were very involved and active, adjusting instruments, observing, photographing”.
One third of the results of the experiment did not survive the crash
One of the experiments conducted in space was an Israeli one, the “MEIDEX” experiment, which examined global climate changes. One of the natural phenomena that were studied was the Red Sprites. “The observations were conducted during nighttime with the aim of photographing the phenomenon. The problem is that it is visible only for a millisecond. In order to capture the “strikes”, the astronauts had to know the exact location of thunderstorms. Professor Yoav Yair and Doctor Baruch Ziv from the Open University developed a method of predicting these thunderstorms and worked in cooperation with the team of the Columbia.
Colonel Ilan Ramon was in charge of operating the cameras and acted as a counselor for the scientists. “He was a ‘cargo specialist’ and set the cameras according to the needs”, says Professor Yair. “But he wasn’t the only one. Five more team members performed the same tasks”. During the 16 days in space, the astronauts delivered most of the findings to NASA. Two thirds of the results arrived to NASA, while a third did not.
Continuing the experiments
In 2011, several years after the crash, Dr. Satoshi Furukawa and the Israeli experts continued to conduct the experiments and even discovered new findings. “Furukawa had a better camera. He took photos in color and captured several phenomena Ilan did not back then, like ‘Halos’ and ‘Gigantic Jets’”, explains Professor Yair. “He also managed to shoot a ‘Strike’ from above, vertically, while in 2003 we shot only horizontally. The camera was also much more high-tech, sensitive and colorful. It was a quantum leap”.
As is well known, the shuttle did not make it back to earth, but the research did not stop. The Strikes research continues to evolve. The studies today are more advanced and researchers use newer cameras then the ones in that were in use in 2003. New space shuttles are scheduled to be built and will be launched by France and Denmark. It is safe to say that the Columbia will not be forgotten soon, and its research will continue to evolve, revealing new findings in the future.