U.S. Water News Online
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- When the space shuttle Columbia tore to
pieces over Texas, Alabama-based researchers lost medical and
scientific experiments nurtured for years in laboratories.
Cindy Hutchens led an experiment at the Marshall Space Flight
Center in Huntsville on the shuttle mission to convert crew member's
urine and wastewater by distillation for eventual use on the
International Space Station.
She said she and her colleagues had trained Columbia crew members
Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark and Michael Anderson on the experiment
twice at the Kennedy Space Center and once at the Johnson Space
The shuttle tore to pieces 39 miles above Texas, in the last 16
minutes of a 16-day mission, killing the seven-member crew.
Researchers at Oakwood College, also in Huntsville, were awaiting
data from their experiments aboard Columbia, said Ephraim T. Gwebu,
director of research for the college. They were working with the
Biospace Group in research on regenerating neurons, a process that
could lead to better treatment for spinal cord injuries.
At the University of Alabama at Birmingham, scientists and
engineers lost research into drugs to treat a variety of human
ailments, from diabetes to AIDS.
Three thermal carriers containing thousands of experiments had
been sent to the Columbia by the Center for Biophysical Sciences and
Engineering at UAB. Some experiments were UAB's, others were for
None of the data from UAB's experiments had been transmitted
during the flight, said Michael D. Harrington, associate director of
engineering at the center.
The containers themselves cost hundreds of thousands of dollars,
Harrington told The Birmingham News. ``But when you include the
amount of science that has been done, the teams that were involved,
... the crew training and mission support that we've been providing
these scientific endeavors, the loss is immeasurable.''
The UAB center's director, Larry DeLucas, flew on the Columbia in
1992. An associate with what was then the Center for Macromolecular
Crystallography, DeLucas conducted experiments and returned with 34
protein crystals for UAB researchers to study in designing drugs for
fighting AIDS, cancer, diabetes and other diseases.
DeLucas said space research has made possible many everyday items
such as cell phones, pagers and the satellites that make them work.
``We can't let a failure like this stop manned space flight,'' he
said. ``Exploration of this type is dangerous, but it's worth it.''
DeLucas said he served on a committee with Columbia crew member
Laurel Clark. ``She was very smart, a hard worker.''
The UAB center specializes in space experiments involving protein
crystals. Harrington said the center also leases the carriers to
companies and universities that need to conduct such experiments in
Harrington said UAB had engineering teams at the Kennedy Space
Center waiting to take the experiments from the Columbia and bring
some of the carriers to Birmingham. Investigators from Japan's space
program and pharmaceutical companies were ready to study the results
in UAB laboratories.
Return to the
U.S. Water News Archives page
Return to the U.S. Water
Use a comma to separate e-mail addresses:
Hi, I thought you might like to read this article.