Feb 102003
Authors: Bryce Chapman

While the memorials and tributes for the Columbia crew slowly begin to relent, the impact the team of seven left on Colorado’s colleges and universities will not soon be forgotten.

The catastrophe, which occurred Feb. 1 minutes before the shuttle’s scheduled landing, marked the first NASA fatality since the Challenger tragedy over17 years ago.

The Colorado School of Mines in Golden had a vested interest in the mission.

Students and faculty from the school trained the crew for five years on how to perform a water mist suppression experiment, said Frank Showengerdt, co-manager of the project and the director of the Center for Commercial Applications of Combustion in Space at the School of Mines.

Five days before the accident, Colorado School of Mines’ engineering students and faculty monitored experiments performed by the crew from the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“They developed a procedure for repairing a vacuum leak, which Kalpana Chawla and Mike Anderson worked on for five hours a week ago last Monday,” Showengerdt said. “The repairs were successful, and they were able to complete 90 percent of the experimental runs they had planned.”

Because the data from the experiments were sent to Houston via a telemeter, the researchers will be able to analyze the information and move on with the research.

“None of this would have been possible if the Columbia astronauts had not worked so hard and diligently to fix the initial leak,” Showengerdt said. “We owe the success of the project to them.”

The tests performed will provide valuable information on the change of flame speed in the presence of water mist, according to NASA’s website.

One of the two members that worked on the School of Mines’ experiment days before the fatal explosion had also invested part of her life in another public Colorado institution.

Kalpana Chawla graduated from CU-Boulder in 1988 with her doctor of philosophy degree in aerospace engineering.

“Dr. Chawla was a source of pride for the entire University community and will be remembered for her tremendous accomplishments and warm personality,” said Richard L. Byyny, chancellor of CU-Boulder, in a press release.

The death of Chawla marks the second astronaut fatality CU-Boulder has endured; Ellison Onizuka died in the Challenger explosion.

Although it is necessary to take a step back and analyze the situation, we owe Maj. Leslie Pratt, assistant professor in the Department of Aerospace Studies at CSU, believes strongly that space exploration should continue.

“Sure the initial reaction for some is to halt exploration, but fortunately Americans are long-term thinkers,” Pratt said. “Modern aviation is borne on the wings of those before us,” Pratt said.

The Columbia tragedy has not affected recent CSU engineering grad 2nd Lt. Brett Sailsbury’s decision to enter into the aviation field.

Although it is necessary to take a step back and analyze the situation, we owe it to the willingness of those astronauts who served our country to continue exploration, said Sailsbury, who will begin his pilot training in April at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas.

Following the Challenger explosion in 1986, shuttle launches were postponed for more than two and a half years.

Pratt and Sailsbury, both members of the U.S. Air Force, not only grieve as U.S. citizens, but also mourn the loss of the six fellow U.S. servicemen who were aboard Columbia.

“Everyone in the military is deeply affected by loosing these fellow comrades in arms,” Pratt said.

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