The space shuttle Columbia took off on January 16th on a sixteen-day scientific research mission. Aboard are six American astronauts and the first Israeli astronaut, Air Force Colonel Ilan Ramon. The son of a Holocaust survivor, Colonel Ramon is one of dozens of astronauts who have joined American crews in the peaceful exploration of space. Astronauts from Russia, Canada, Mexico, France, Ukraine, Japan, Germany, Italy, and Saudi Arabia have already participated in U.S. space missions.
The first launch of the space shuttle took place in April 1981. The Columbia is one of four shuttle orbiters built by the U.S. It is named after the first American sailing ship to circumnavigate the globe over two-hundred years ago. This is the twenty-eighth flight of Columbia and the one hundred-thirteenth space shuttle mission.
The space shuttle crew will conduct more than eighty experiments in biology, medicine, physical science, and technology. They will work in cooperation with science students from Australia, China, Israel, Japan, and Liechtenstein, as well as the U.S. As a mission payload specialist, Colonel Ramon will use a camera to study the effect of dust and other contaminants in the earth's atmosphere on rainfall and temperature.
The U.S. space program has many practical benefits for people everywhere. One space shuttle mission generated the most accurate topographical map of the earth. The data recorded enables engineers and scientists to develop safer navigation techniques and better communications systems.
Nowadays, it is possible to implant a miniaturized pump into critically-ill heart patients. This life-saving heart pump is based on technology used in space shuttle fuel pumps. People who cannot tolerate exposure to sunlight or bright indoor lighting can benefit from a special ultraviolet light protection suit developed from space technology. The same rocket fuel that helps launch the space shuttle is being used in flares to burn up landmines that threaten millions of people around the world.
The exploration of space is part of that fundamental need of man to understand the universe in which he lives. By sharing that exploration with astronauts of other nations, the U.S. also hopes to help men better understand each other.