Space Shuttle Columbia First Launch

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.

The "Dagwood Sandwich" Moon. Earlier models of Ganymede's oceans were based on the assumption that the existence of salt didn't change the nature of liquid very much with pressure. However, Dr. Vance and his colleagues found, through laboratory experiments, that salt does increase the density of liquids under the extreme conditions hidden deep within Ganymede and similar icy moons with subsurface bodies of water. Imagine adding table salt to a glass of water. Instead of increasing in volume, the liquid will actually shrink and become denser. The reason for this is that salt ions lure water molecules. For all its romance inspiring awesomeness, the moon has another side to its personality. Werewolves, mood swings and even wild behavior are often blamed on the full moon. How many times have you heard the question acrimoniously asked, "is it a full moon tonight?" However, it was little Enceladus that gave astronomers their greatest shock. Even though the existence of Enceladus has been known since it was discovered by William Herschel in 1789, its enchantingly weird character was not fully appreciated until this century. Indeed, until the Voyagers flew past it, little was known about the moon. However, Enceladus has always been considered one of the more interesting members of Saturn's abundantly moonstruck family, for a number of very good reasons. First of all, it is amazingly bright. The quantity of sunlight that an object in our Solar System reflects back is termed its albedo, and this is calculated primarily by the color of the object's ground coating. The albedo of the dazzling Enceladus is almost a mirror-like 100%. Basically, this means that the surface of the little moon is richly covered with ice crystals--and that these crystals are regularly and frequently replenished. When the Voyagers flew over Enceladus in the 1980s, they found that the object was indeed abundantly coated with glittering ice. It was also being constantly, frequently repaved. Immense basins and valleys were filled with pristine white, fresh snow. Craters were cut in half--one side of the crater remaining a visible cavity pockmarking the moon's surface, and the other side completely buried in the bright, white snow. Remarkably, Enceladus circles Saturn within its so-called E ring, which is the widest of the planet's numerous rings. Just behind the moon is a readily-observed bulge within that ring, that astronomers determined was the result of the sparkling emission emanating from icy volcanoes (cryovolcanoes) that follow Enceladus wherever it wanders around its parent planet. The cryovolanoes studding Enceladus are responsible for the frequent repaving of its surface. In 2008, Cassini confirmed that the cryovolanic stream was composed of ordinary water, laced with carbon dioxide, potassium salts, carbon monoxide, and a plethora of other organic materials. Tidal squeezing, caused by Saturn and the nearby sister moons Dione and Tethys, keep the interior of Enceladus pleasantly warm, and its water in a liquid state--thus allowing the cryovolcanoes to keep spewing out their watery eruptions. The most enticing mystery, of course, is determining exactly how much water Enceladus holds. Is there merely a lake-sized body of water, or a sea, or a global ocean? The more water there is, the more it will circulate and churn--and the more Enceladus quivers and shakes, the more likely it is that it can brew up a bit of life.