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Treebeard's Stumper
7 February 2003

Weight Loss

My thoughts are with the space shuttle Columbia this sad week. I stand with grief and respect for the STS-107 science mission and that remarkable crew. They did many microgravity experiments this trip, including three experiments with flames and combustion, one of my very first stumpers. We speak easily of microgravity, zero-g, free fall, and being weightless. But the Earth's gravity does not suddenly stop in space, or else the shuttle (and Moon) would fly away instead of orbiting our planet. How can there be "zero-gravity" so close to home? What can we learn?

This "zero-g" photo is from the collection of STS-107 mission photos at spaceflight.nasa.gov. Don't try this at home! The NASA photo caption reads:

A few of the STS-107 crewmembers pose for a photo in the SPACEHAB Research Double Module aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia. Clockwise from the bottom are astronauts David M. Brown, mission specialist; Michael P. Anderson, payload commander; Kalpana Chawla, mission specialist; and payload specialist Ilan Ramon. The Combustion Module-2 (CM-2) facility is visible in the background. Ramon represents the Israeli Space Agency.

I had this stumper in mind before the Columbia was lost last Saturday. We talked about it in my science classes last week on Tuesday, January 28, the anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger disaster. I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news. Julie woke me with the news on Saturday morning, and I said "No, that was years ago...." I was ready to drop this stumper, but a young DMS student asked something like "I don't get it, what does the space shuttle do?" I think my questions are just right: How can there be "zero-gravity" so close to home? What can we learn from the experiments? Is it worth it?

For more info on the space shuttle Columbia disaster, check out NASA, Space.com, the Columbia Loss FAQ, and all the usual Internet sources.

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Copyright © 2003 by Marc Kummel / mkummel@rain.org