Despite the recent breakup of the Columbia, astronauts are continuing their training, getting ready for future shuttle trips, although these may contain smaller crews. If you’ve ever gotten seasick, or airsick in a small plane, think of what astronauts go through. Before they get into the KC-135 weightless trainer, called the “Vomit Comet,” they come to NASA’s Dr. Pat Cowings for anti-nausea therapy. Astronauts call Cowings the Baroness of Barf. “I’m sort of proud of that nickname,? she says. “It lends a sort of prestige that I study throwing up in outer space.”
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The space shuttle Columbia broke up in a mysterious area of the upper atmosphere called the ionosphere, which is filled with free electrons?or ions?that can reflect electromagnetic energy, producing strange electrical effects like “elves,” “sprites” and “blue jets.” Until recently, these were dismissed as illusions seen by tired airline pilots. An amateur astronomer took a photo showing purple light near the shuttle’s trail as it passed through this area. This middle atmosphere is too high for balloons and airplanes, but too low for satellites, so it’s been little studied. “We’re discovering the middle atmosphere has got a lot of electrical phenomena,” says Walt Lyons, of FMA Research.read more

The deadly launch of the Columbia space shuttle could have been aborted in time to save the crew, as soon as NASA spotted the large piece of foam that fell from it, but communications problems prevented the information from getting to the right people.

Retired Navy aviator John Macidull says it was the job of the Range Safety Officer at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral to observe the launch and report any problems to mission control. “Certainly the range safety officer would know,” Macidull says. “That’s his job.” But NASA’s engineers weren’t aware of the foam problem until they reviewed the videotape of the launch 24 hours after liftoff.
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Searchers are looking in a town in east Texas for a top-secret object from the space shuttle Columbia. Hundreds of National Guardsmen, federal agents, state troopers, and volunteers have invaded the tiny Texas town of Bronson, searching for the mystery object. They’ve gone block by block and hacked through the thick woods that surround the town. State troopers told photographers they will be asked to leave the area if something is found that should not be photographed. The searchers were given a picture of the object, which was marked “Secret Government Property.” The Houston Chronicle says the object is a communications device that handles encrypted messages between the shuttle and the ground. And NASA thinks Columbia may have been hit by space junk.
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