A Year of
Progress and Success
|America's space agency faced one of the most critical times in its 45 year history with the sudden and tragic loss of shuttle Columbia in 2003. Mourning the lost astronauts, NASA began the challenging task of finding and fixing the problem, and preparing to return the shuttle fleet to flight. The tragedy did not disrupt NASA's quest for discovery as it continued planning to expand the International Space Station, send robot space probes to explore the Solar System, use telescopes to find Earthlike planets orbiting nearby stars, and use satellites to help us better understand Earth's dynamic climate. NASA continued to inspire a new generation of explorers.
Tragedy of Space Shuttle Columbia
Atlantis is rolled into the Orbiter Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center on December 16, 2003, as the shuttle is prepared for its launch as flight STS-114 in September 2004, the first return-to-flight mission.
The search for Columbia debris in East Texas and northwest Louisiana took three months. More than 25,000 persons searched some 1.2 million acres and found more than 84,900 pounds of debris. Their effort helped determine the cause of the accident. Learn more about the shuttle Columbia accident, recovery, investigation and safety:
Columbia story STO
Columbia recovery NASA
Columbia investigation NASA
About 30 percent of the data collected during Columbia's last mission was recovered and yielded exciting and novel findings. The devotion of the investigators, researchers and students who obtained the knowledge from the experiments is a tribute to the crew of flight STS-107 who conducted 80 experiments in 16 days in orbit.
Science Data from Columbia's Mission NASA
In the wake of the Columbia accident, the space agency created an Engineering and Safety Center to coordinate and conduct engineering testing and safety assessments of NASA projects and programs.
Safety and Engineering Center NASA
NASA also reorganized its Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP). Panel members provide independent advise to the NASA Administrator on safety issues in operations, missions, and initiatives.
Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel announcement NASA
Aerospace Safety Advisory PanelCharter NASA PDF 72 Kb
Aerospace Safety Advisory PanelBiographies NASA PDF 254 Kb
NASA formed the Stafford-Covey Return to Flight Task Group of experts and industry professionals from a wide range of disciplines to ensure independent review of plans and processes for returning the space shuttle fleet to flight operations.
Return to Flight Task Group NASA
Anniversaries for the International Space Station Crews
In November 2003, astronauts aboard the ISS 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 make the space station safer.
Third Anniversary story NASA
CFT ISS Implementation Plan NASA PDF 827 Kb
To ensure the safety of spacecraft crews, scientists will perform key research at a $34 million Space Radiation Laboratory. Built in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Energy, the Space Radiation Facility will be one of the few labs that can simulate harsh space environments.
Space Radiation Facility NASA
Space Infrared Telescope Facility Launched and Renamed for Lyman Spitzer
Dusty, starry arms of spiral galaxy M81 via the Spitzer Space Telescope (SIRTF).
The Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF) was launched to Earth orbit and renamed Lyman Spitzer Space Telescope. The Spitzer telescope has a five-year mission to reveal previously hidden, dusty regions of the Universe as well as cold and distant objects. Spitzer's images confirmed that celestial objects viewed through ground-based telescopes and the Hubble Space Telescope look quite different when seen in infrared light.
Spitzer Telescope Images NASA
SIRTF – Spitzer Space Telescope STO
Seven Expendable Rockets Launched in 2003
NASA used seven expendable launch vehicles to deploy eight spacecraft in 2003. They included the two Mars Exploration Rovers and the Space InfraRed Telescope Facility (renamed Lyman Spitzer Space Telescope).
Expendable launch vehicles NASA
Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity Launched to Mars
NASA in 2003 launched the two largest and most sophisticated exploration rovers ever sent to Mars. The first, named Spirit, was expected to land on the Martian surface on January 3, 2004. Its twin, Opportunity, was schedule to land January 24.
The Mars Exploration Rovers STO
Did a river run through it? Photos from the visible light camera on NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft, combined with images from the Mars Global Surveyor, suggested melting snow might have caused the numerous gullies found eroded into the surface of Martian. The gullies might have been created by water trickling from melting snow packs, rather than underground springs or pressurized flows.
Did Melting Snow Erode Martian Gullies? NASA
Mars River Delta Video NASA
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope also 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 portrait of Mars near Earth NASA
Stardust Continued On Its Way to a Comet
NASA artist concept of Stardust sample return capsule landing in Utah
NASA's Stardust spacecraft, launched in 1999, continued on its way to rendezvous with Comet Wild 2. After a course correction in June 2003, Stardust flew close to the comet on January 2, 2004, gathered dust and debris, and headed back to Earth for a homecoming in Utah in January 2006.
Voyager 1 Approached the Edge of the Solar System
What does the edge of the Solar System look like? Ask Voyager 1. NASA's venerable spacecraft made history again as the first probe to encounter interstellar space in the Solar System's wide boundary region where warm wind from the Sun blows into the thin cold gas between the stars.
Voyager at the Heliosphere NASA
Voyagers story STO
Voyager site NASA JPL
Voyager Golden Record NASA JPL
Voyager Flash Feature NASA JPL
History & Science of Voyager UCR
Voyager Images NASA GSFC
Hubble Revealed Cosmic Secrets Billions of Years Old
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope measured the mass of the oldest known planet, completing a decade of speculation about the nature of that ancient world, which is 2.5 times the mass of Jupiter. Hubble also saw the conclusion of the cosmic epoch known as the "Dark Ages," which occurred about a billion years after the Big Bang. Astronomers 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.
Hubble Space Telescope
Hubble image gallery
'Baby Picture' Taken of the Universe
In one of the most important scientific discoveries of recent years, NASA released what it called the "best baby picture" ever taken of the Universe. The image contained details of the Universe just after the theorized Big Bang. Scientists used NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe to record the cosmic microwave background which was referred to as the afterglow of the Big Bang. The results suggested the first generation of stars to shine in the Universe ignited only 200 million years after the Big Bang.
Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe NASA
A Faraway Black Hole Was Said to 'Sing'
Sound waves from a distant black hole may hold clues to how galaxies have formed. NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, an earth satellite in space, for the first time detected sound waves from a super-massive black hole. The note was the deepest ever detected from an object in the Universe. Using the satellite and other observatories, scientists watching the scene of a gamma ray burst, just after the explosion that caused it, witnessed the death of a gigantic star and the birth of what may be a spinning black hole. The gamma ray burst was the most detailed ever observed.
Interpreting the 'Song' Of a Distant Black Hole NASA
ICESat and SORCE Were New Earth-Observing Satellites
NASA artist concept of SORCE satellite
NASA launched ICESat and SORCE, two new Earth-observing satellites. ICESat (Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite) housed revolutionary lasers that measure ice, clouds and land elevations to help scientists understand and predict how ice sheets and sea levels will change as Earth's climate changes. SORCE (SOlar Radiation and Climate Experiment) was sent aloft to study the Sun's influence on Earth, measuring how it affects the ozone layer, atmospheric circulation, clouds, and oceans.
Earth Observing Satellites NASA GSFC
ICESat site NASA GSFC
ICESat Factsheet NASA
SORCE Home Page UC LASP
SORCE Factsheet NASA
The first Earth Observation Summit was held as NASA joined other agencies to plan an integrated Earth observing satellite system. NASA satellites offered insight that only was possible from space. Data from the Aqua satellite helped improve weather forecasting models. Other NASA data is helping researchers observe activities, which may have an impact on the global climate. NASA satellites helped agencies track, fight and prevent wild fires, and provided important hurricane data and pictures to improve storm forecasting and tracking.
Earth Observation Summit DoC
Educator Astronaut and Explorer Schools Programs Were Announced
NASA created a program for teachers in the agency's Educator Astronaut Program. Teachers would serve as mission specialists on space shuttle flights and space station missions. They also would provide another connection between educators and students. The space agency expected to announce the members of the first class of teachers in February 2004.
Educator Astronaut Program NASA
NASA launched the Explorer Schools Program to bring science and math teachers to NASA Centers to acquire new resources and technology tools to increase interest in science, math and technology related courses. The tour is an effort to inform students, teachers and parents about Mars exploration and agency education programs.
Explorer Schools Program NASA
The space agency deployed its restructured NASA Web Portal, revised to communicate with online users more in the way NASA communicates directly with the public.
NASA Web Portal NASA
NASA Helped America Celebrate the Centennial of Flight
The Wright Brothers flew first on December 17, 1903, near Kitty Hawk, N.C. NASA exhibits tracing the history of powered flight and the evolution of aircraft, toured American cities in 2003 creating an awareness of the 100th anniversary of the historic flight.
Centennial of Flight
Centennial of Flight Flash Feature
The space agency also celebrated its own 45th anniversary in 2003.
NASA's 45th Anniversary interactive feature