Construction began on Columbia in 1975 at Rockwell International’s (formerly North American Aviation/North American Rockwell) principal assembly facility in Palmdale, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. Columbia was named after the American sloop Columbia Rediviva which, from 1787 to 1793, under the command of Captain Robert Gray, explored the US Pacific Northwest and became the first American vessel to circumnavigate the globe. It is also named after the command module of Apollo 11, the first crewed landing on another celestial body. Columbia was also the female symbol of the United States. After construction, the orbiter arrived at Kennedy Space Center on March 25, 1979, to prepare for its first launch. Columbia was originally scheduled to lift off in late 1979, however the launch date was delayed by problems with both the RS-25 engine, as well as the thermal protection system (TPS). On March 19, 1981, during preparations for a ground test, workers were asphyxiated while working in Columbia’s nitrogen-purged aft engine compartment, resulting in (variously reported) two or three fatalities.
A Moon Made Of Lightweight Fluff! Methone is small and oval--and unlike other tiny objects, composed of rock and ice, that scurry around our Solar System. Methone, which was observed up close for the very first time in 2012, is not pockmarked by impacts like other worldlets of its kind. Instead, this strange little moon, is very smooth--it shows not a hill nor an impact crater anywhere on its weirdly smooth surface. This shiny, white, icy egg in Space, residing in a peaceful nest of ice crystals, is an enigma wrapped in a bewildering mystery that some astronomers may have solved. The answer to the bewitching riddle of Methone? It is composed of lightweight fluff! A billion years ago, our Moon was closer to Earth than it is now. As a result, it appeared to be a much larger object in the sky. During that ancient era, if human beings had been around to witness such a sight, it would have been possible to see the entire Moon--not merely the one near side face that we see now. A billion years ago, it took our Moon only twenty days to orbit our planet, and Earth's own day was considerably shorter--only eighteen hours long. Stupendous, almost unimaginably enormous tides, that were more than a kilometer in height, would ebb and flow every few hours. However, things changed, as the lunar orbit around our primordial planet grew ever wider and wider. Annually, Earth's Moon moves about 1.6 inches farther out into space. Currently, the lunar rate of rotation, as well as the time it takes to circle our planet, are the same. Makemake is a classical KBO. This means that its orbit is situated far enough away from Neptune to remain in a stable stage over the entire age of our more than 4 billion year old Solar System. Classical KBOs have perihelia that carry them far from the Sun, and they are also peacefully free from Neptune's perturbing influence. Such objects show relatively low eccentricities and circle our Star in a way that is similar to that of the major planets. However, Makemake is a member of what is referred to as a "dynamically hot" class of classical KBOs, which instead display a high inclination when compared to other classical KBOs.