The amazing International Space station & the Columbia tragedy
This episode begins with repairing the Hubble telescope. The focusing mirrors weren't right and made the project the laughing stock of the country. However, they were able to put in a correcting lens in a camera to repair the focus.
From there, NASA begins joint cooperation with the Russians on building an International Space station. In November 1998 the first section of the Space Station is launched in a Russian rocket. The shuttle program will be assisting by sending up additional segments to build the station over the coming years. A NASA astronaut who is a former Air Force fighter pilot says they are now colleagues with Russian pilots that a few years before they were trained to fight against. But everyone is cooperative and working well together. The Space station, at a price tag of $157 billion, is the most expensive object ever built by man.
The next segment talks about the Columbia mission ST_107. Laurel Clark's husband, Don Clark (who is also a NASA employee as Shuttle Flight surgeon) shares some home movies Laurel made at Kennedy Space Center the day before the launch for her son Ian. She gives a tour of the center and launch pad. It's touching to see this personal side, knowing this will be some of the last footage her family has of her before the tragedy. Columbia is strictly a science mission that will conduct approximately 30 experiments in physical, life and earth sciences. The mission is very successful in that they are able complete all there experiments in their 16 days in space. However, unknown to the crew, the shuttle suffered a fatal blow during takeoff that put a bowling ball size hole in the fireproofing when a piece of foam struck the under-wing. There were initial reports and video showing this during takeoff, but the experts at NASA had determined it inconsequential and would not effect the safety of the mission. Unfortunately, this was not the case as the Columbia disintegrated during re-entry into the earth's atmosphere and broke apart, scattering debris across Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas. Re-entry temps exceed 9000 degrees Fahrenheit (hotter than the sun's surface). It is 2 ½ years before another shuttle launches so the program can re-examine safety protocol. In the meantime, a Russian rocket has to be sent to the International Space Station to retrieve Astronaut Bowersox and his crew since a shuttle can't retrieve them.
On July 26, 2005, the shuttle program resumes when Discovery launches under commander Eileen Collins. She realizes some Americans are concerned for the lives of astronauts but they know the risks. She says that they "fly for our country, we fly for humanity, and we fly for exploration for a variety of reasons. We don't stop flying because we had accidents." The International Space Station is opening the way to return to the moon, and eventually to Mars and beyond. One closing quote is that "Curiosity is the essence of human existence. The word impossible doesn't exist." Well said! I think this episode was beautifully produced. The images from space are simply amazing in high-def on a large screen plasma. This is the closest thing to having a mini-Imax in your home!
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