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Space shuttle Columbia's nose cap to be displayed near Atlanta

The only reflown section of space shuttle Columbia will go on permanent display at Tellus Science Museum near Atlanta.
The only reflown section of space shuttle Columbia will go on permanent display at Tellus Science Museum near Atlanta.
Atkeison

ATLANTA -- The nose cap of America's first space shuttle will go on public display next week at the Tellus Science Museum in Cartersville.

America's first space shuttle's nose section will go on public display in March at Tellus Science Museum in Cartersville.
NASA

The gray nose section was flown as a part of Columbia during eleven of her twenty-eight missions, and was removed only a few years before her ill-fated 2003 flight which saw the spacecraft break apart during atmospheric re-entry.

The five-foot wide oval nose cap will become the only reflown section of Columbia's fuselage to be placed on public display.

"It's pretty even grey in color except it does have some black scorch marks on the top of the nose cap as evidence of its re-entry," Tellus Museum's Curator Julian Gray said on Monday during a behind-the-scenes visit of the space flown artifact.

"We are done with the graphics and the base is already made for it as we put it behind acrylic because we want to protect it," Gray added as he peered over the turtle shell-like nose.

The nose cap's light green bulkhead assembly which was attached to the shuttle's crew cabin is also included in the display.

The NASA Historical Artifacts Program donated Columbia's nose to Tellus, and the museum plans to have it on display in it's expanding space flight section beginning March 14.

"To have such an important piece of Columbia from her flying days on display is a fitting tribute to this vehicle and all the men and women who worked on her during her illustrious career," said Dr. Don Thomas, a three time Columbia astronaut and author of the new book, Orbit of Discovery.

Manufactured by the Vought Corporation in Dallas, the nose cap was installed on Columbia in 1984 during her 18-month long maintenance period in Palmdale, California.

The specially flown nose was part of a NASA experiment known as Shuttle Entry Air Data System (SEADS), and was based out of Langley Research Center. SEADS looked at the air pressure surrounding a space shuttle's nose section from an altitude of 300,000 feet through touchdown.

Fourteen sensor holes in the reinforced carbon carbon coated nose cap lined up in a cross and recorded measurements of Columbia as she plunged through the earth's atmosphere. The NASA Langley experiment was activated minutes prior to the shuttle's deorbit burn.

During reentry, the orbiter's nose would reach temperatures of nearly 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit.

Columbia first flew with her scientific nose in January 1986 during mission STS-61C. Eleven flights later, it was used for the final time during STS-65 in July 1994.

In fact, the 61C mission emblem design was based in part on the SEADS experiment. "It may be the only shuttle patch based on aerodynamics," Columbia's pilot Charles Bolden stated in 2011.

Thomas, a member of Columbia's crew on that 1994 flight, says he looks forward to visiting Tellus soon to view the display.

"As the first shuttle to fly, and the first on which I rode to space, Columbia will be remembered for all the incredible missions she and her crews successfully accomplished," Thomas stated to this aerospace reporter on Monday.

In all, the displayed shuttle nose section traveled 48.4 million miles through space during it's combined 117 days in earth orbit.

The shuttle program came to an end in 2011, and Columbia's sister ships Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour were placed on public display inside museums in Virginia, Florida and California.

For many space flight insiders, the artifact will serve as a tribute to her memory.

In a small way, Columbia has now found her way into a museum.

(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science and technology. Follow his updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)