“This is one of the more important space shuttle-related artifacts that we have on exhibit,” Tellus Curator Julian Gray said. “This was a part of space shuttle Columbia. Space shuttle Columbia was destroyed in 2003 when it was trying to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere just 16 minutes before landing. This nose cap was on some of the previous flights. It was flown on 11 missions on Columbia, and Columbia flew a number of missions after that but then was lost. So this is one of the few remaining artifacts that flew on Columbia.
“... We’re on a list of approved museums to receive objects from NASA as part of the Historic Artifacts Program. We see a list of those artifacts and this was one of those things that came up on the list. We applied for it and we were the museum chosen to receive this. So we were very excited when we got the news, and once we got it and started doing the research, we realized that we had something really special — a part of the Columbia that no other museum is going to ever have.”
Containing 14 sensors, Tellus’ nose cap was part of a science experiment package designed by NASA to measure pressure and temperature when Columbia re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere, Gray said.
According to a news release from Tellus, “Space Shuttle Columbia was America’s first Space Shuttle and first reusable spacecraft. It flew 28 flights over the course of nearly 22 years, orbiting the Earth 4,908 times covering nearly 122 million miles. It is most notably remembered as disintegrating while re-entering the atmosphere from its final mission. All 7 crew members perished on board. As a result, Space Shuttle flights were suspended for 2 years while NASA conducted an investigation.
“The nose cap of the shuttle was used on 11 missions. It was removed and replaced before the final fateful mission, and is significant because it is one of the few surviving pieces of the historic spacecraft that flew into space. The oval dome-shaped piece is five feet wide and has black, visible scorch marks to evidence its re-entry.”
Opened in January 2009, Tellus — an expansion of the former Weinman Mineral Museum — became a Smithsonian affiliate during its debut year. Encompassing 120,000 square feet at 100 Tellus Drive in Cartersville, the museum is comprised of four main galleries — The Weinman Mineral Gallery, The Fossil Gallery, Science in Motion and The Collins Family My Big Backyard hands-on science gallery — a 120-seat digital planetarium and an observatory. The museum expects to welcome its millionth visitor by the end of March.
For more information about Tellus and its upcoming events and programs, call 770-606-5700 or visit www.tellusmuseum.org.