Friday, February 7, 2003
1. STS-107: THE FINAL
SHUTTLE SCIENCE MISSION.
This was to have
been the last shuttle flight devoted to scientific research. The
plan was for the International Space Station to become a space
science laboratory, with shuttles serving as a fleet of delivery
trucks, ferrying supplies and crew members. In the coming weeks
and months, however, the Columbia investigation will move from
the failure of the shuttle technology to the question of what the
mission was meant to accomplish. What was the science mission of
Columbia? Six of the 59 separate investigations were chosen by
school children, such as spiders building webs in microgravity.
Another 21 involved commercial agreements. Let's take a look.
2. EAU DE MONEY: "SPACE
IS JUST ANOTHER PLACE TO DO BUSINESS."
the justification given by the Reagan White House for a space station.
Industry, however, was unwilling to invest a dime in the idea. But,
you ask, aren't there all these great spinoffs like Tang and Teflon
and Velcro that came from the space program? No. An internal NASA report,
done for Dan Goldin in 1992, says it's an urban myth, concocted to sell
products (WN 22 Jan 93), and NASA found it worked wonders at budget
time. One commercial experiment on Columbia involved the scent of a
rose, which is supposedly altered when it blooms in microgravity. The
company, perfume giant International Flavors and Fragrances, claims
that fragrances from STS-95 led to a perfume, Zen, and a body spray,
Impulse. Of course, the ads can say the aroma came from heaven by way
of NASA. Is it a truly fabulous scent? It is to die for.
3. PROTEIN CRYSTALS:
THE ONES GROWN IN SPACE ARE DIFFERENT.
cost more...three orders of magnitude more. We were surprised to
find that Columbia had yet another commercial microgravity
protein crystal growing experiment. We assumed that had all died
away after a National Research Council study, conducted at the
request of NASA, concluded that the work had no significant
impact and should be curtailed (WN 3 Mar 2000). That confirmed
warnings two years earlier from the American Society for Cell
Biology (WN 17 Jul 98), which called for cancellation of the
program (http://www.ascb.org/publicpolicy/nasareport.html). A
story in Science
(14 May 99) had revealed that the supposedly
space-grown crystals used to develop the flu drug were not grown
in space. They were actually grown in Australia, which may be
upside down, but it's not in space.