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NASA's year of sorrow, recovery, progress and success
Glenn Mahone/Doc Mirelson
Headquarters, Washington Dec. 31, 2003
NASA'S YEAR OF SORROW, RECOVERY, PROGRESS AND SUCCESS
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 our mission goals, we will
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 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
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.