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A New Mission for Columbia
Columbia has a new mission: to provide valuable research for future space exploration and life on our planet.

In September 2003, the debris from Columbia was placed in permanent storage on the 16th floor of the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center. More than 84,000 pieces were inventoried, photographed and put into a database. They are now located in a secure, air-conditioned room inside one of the world's largest buildings.

Vehicle Assembly BuildingImage to right: Debris of Space Shuttle Columbia was transferred to the VAB for permanent storage. Credit: NASA

Different organizations initially contacted NASA requesting pieces of Columbia to be used in museums and memorials. However, after much debate and consideration, NASA officials have decided to accept requests to use the Shuttle parts for research purposes, instead.

Industry researchers and academics leaders have been approached, and the Space Agency has received 16 proposals and four letters from NASA Centers and universities.

Each of the proposals submitted to NASA underwent a verification process to examine the justification and potential future publication of any research. To date, seven proposals from various NASA Centers have been processed and approved.

Columbia debris in its final resting place in the Vehicle Assembly Building.Image to left: All of the pieces received and collected in the Columbia Reconstruction Hangar have been catalogued and moved to a permanent site in the VAB. Credit: NASA

Much of the proposed research focuses on material science and ground safety. Material science examines the physical effects of high heat and stress on metal and composites. Ground safety research uses debris modeling to provide valuable safety information in respect to the way debris falls in similar conditions.

Research teams are also studying the debris from Columbia to explore the possibilities of repairs in orbit, and testing processes to detect defects in Reinforced Carbon-Carbon (RCC) and tile prior to re-entry. Non-destructive evaluation (NDE) techniques are being tested to verify the integrity of RCC during ground processing.

In the past, it was not possible to study a piece from an orbiter without taking the part out of service. However, Columbia has now provided many pieces that can be taken apart and examined without disturbing routine maintenance and upcoming launches.

The loss of Columbia and its seven crew members is a tragedy that will never be forgotten. Columbia's legacy continues, however as it begins a new, far-reaching mission of research and discovery to better educate generations to come.

+ View Space Shuttle Columbia Homepage
Chad Cooper
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center