Sunday, August 12, 2012

Space Shuttle Columbia strap and construction photos

This week, photos of space shuttle Columbia as she neared completion, and a relic—a strap that flew on the shuttle.

Columbia, OV-102, was the second space shuttle built, and the first to fly in space. She was named after the sloop on which Robert Gray undertook the first American circumnavigation of the world in 1790 and explored the Columbia River in 1792. Construction began on 27 March 1975 at the Rockwell International plant in Palmdale, California (today, part of Boeing) and almost four years later, on 24 March 1979, Columbia arrived at the Kennedy Space Center for final integration and testing prior to launch.

This series of photos shows workers at Kennedy in 1979 attaching some of the 34,000 tiles that formed Columbia’s thermal protection system (TPS)—or heatshield:

108-KSC-79P-119
108-KSC-79P-319
108-KSC-79P-118


Note the numbers printed on the tiles, which indicated their placement on the spacecraft.

On 16 July that year, the first of Columbia’s three engines (engine number 2006) was fitted to the orbiter:


108-KSC-79PC-294


The third and final engine (engine number 2007) was fitted on 4 August:

79-HC-425

Even as NASA was issuing these photos to the press, the agency remained optimistic that the shuttle would fly soon. The back of one of these prints states:

“Columbia, the first in a new breed of manned, reusable spacecraft, is being readied for the first launch of the Space Shuttle later this year.”
In fact, Columbia would not fly till April 1981.

Columbia is represented in my collection by a strap from the orbiter. Note that this strap was removed during routine servicing and is not debris from the destruction of the spacecraft in the accident of 2 February 2003 that claimed her and her crew.


The strap is made of fabric (beta cloth, I presume) with press studs fitted to either end. It is 168 mm long and 22 mm wide (6⅔″ × ⅞″). It’s stamped with the word “SCRAP” in red ink, although this is barely visible in this photo. The strap and its NASA scrap tag were supplied to me by David Bryant of The Space Station in the UK. Note Columbia’s number—OV-102—written on the tag.

While all the other relics in my collection are samples of various materials, this is a complete unit, and is therefore one of my very favourite pieces.


Copyright information: all five photos are works of NASA. As works of the US federal government, all are in the public domain. I’ve noted their NASA serial numbers under each photo. I do not believe that the scrap tag contains enough expressive content to be eligible for copyright protection, but if it did, it is also a work of the US federal government and would be in the public domain anyway.



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