February 01 – Columbia

One event will forever be linked to this date in spaceflight history.  Feb 1st 2003 was the day the space shuttle Columbia, gliding in to conclude 16 day mission STS-107, broke up during re-entry, the result of damage caused by the breaking off of a piece of insulation foam from the external tank during launch.  All seven crew members were killed, and debris was scattered over a large area of Texas and Louisiana.  There’s been plenty of discussion about this tragedy ever since, so I won’t be commenting further.

Official STS-107 Crew Photo (image: NASA)
Official STS-107 Crew Photo (image: NASA)

The crew were (L-R in the photo above):  David M Brown, Rick D Husband (commander), Laurel B Clark, Kalpana Chawla, Michael P Anderson, William C McCool (pilot), and Ilan Ramon.

November 19 – Launch of Shuttle Mission STS-80 (1996)

1996 – Launch of space shuttle Columbia on mission STS-80 (19 days late). At 17 days, 15 hours and 53 minutes this became the longest shuttle mission, and comprised commander Kenneth D Cockrell, pilot Kent V Rominger, and mission specialists F Story Musgrave, Thomas D Jones, and Tamara E Jernigan. Musgrave was on his sixth flight, a record at the time, and became the only person to fly all five shuttles.

Crew of STS-80 (L-R: )
Crew of STS-80 (L-R: Rominger, Jernigan, Musgrave, Jones, Cockrell)

The 19 day tardiness mentioned above was caused by a number of factors. Firstly STS-79 had been held up, Then a hurricane warning delayed work on the boosters. An issue with nozzles dropped it from Nov 4th to 8th, and a rescheduled commercial launch didn’t help matters. All this gave the weather time to regroup, causing one final delay. We are still a long way from being able to repel a Borg attack.


We have a cubewano today! It is Kuiper-belt object 19521 Chaos, which was discovered by the Deep Ecliptic Survey on November 19th, 1998. Chaos is about 600 km in diameter, and may well be a dwarf planet, not much smaller than Ixion and Varuna. It orbits between a perihelion of about 40.9 AU and an aphelion of just under 50.6 AU, and spends more than 300 Earth years completing a single orbit of the Sun (or 1 Chaotic year, obviously).

March 22 – Messier 94

Messier 94, also known as NGC4736, was discovered today in 1781 by Pierre Méchain. It is a spiral galaxy in the constellation Canes Venatici, and is about 16 million light years (4.91 megaparsecs) away from us.

M94 (Image: NASA; JPL; Spitzer)
M94 (Image: NASA; JPL; Spitzer)

M94 has its own grouping of galaxies within the Virgo Supercluster, called (unsurprisingly) the M94 group . The group has about 20 members.


Asteroid 327 Columbia was discovered by Auguste Charlois on March 22nd, 1892. It is in the main belt, has an absolute magnitude of 10.1, and is of unknown spectral type.

Asteroid 327 was named after Christopher Columbus, the Genes explorer who helped kick-start the Spanish colonisation of the Americas.  Any mental image you might have of Columbus’ appearance is from a portrait made after his death.  There are no known paintings of Columbus dating from his lifetime.  So I won’t be including one here.