WASHINGTON, Feb. 1 (UPI) -- Stunned by the deaths of the crew of space shuttle Columbia, NASA officials and scientists have not yet assessed the loss to science incurred when the shuttle broke up over Texas Saturday morning.
Columbia carried 32 payloads with 59 separate experiments on one of the few shuttle missions dedicated to science since the start of construction of the International Space Station. The crew, divided into blue and red teams, worked 24 hours a day during the 16-day flight to finish work on cell growth experiments, studies on bone loss in orbit and observation of tiny balls of burning hydrogen -- ignited to better understand combustion in automobiles.
Some of the experiments, including two to study cancer pain and the spread of cancer cells, were privately sponsored. Spacehab, a commercial provider of in-orbit laboratories, had two of its four research modules aboard Columbia.
The mission had gone extremely well up until Saturday.
"I think a lot of our experiments have exceeded our expectations by 100 percent," said Columbia payload commander Michael Anderson during the crew's in-flight news conference last week. "We've seen things we never expected to see."
Millie Hughes-Fulford, a ground-based researcher with an experiment on Columbia, told United Press International, "I was getting ready to go pick up my samples off the shuttle when all this happened."
The majority of the investigators lost science they had been working for three or years, she said, adding, "That's nothing in comparison to (the loss of) the crew."
Hughes-Fulford, director of the lab of cell growth at the University of California, San Francisco, was studying the changes to the immune system that occur during space flight. Data from her experiment were lost.
Because most of the biological experiments require the return of samples, results from studies on the adaptation of blood vessels to low gravity, the formation of kidney stones and how the body sheds and spreads viruses all are gone.
Some non-biological research has been lost as well. The Mediterranean Israeli Dust Experiment, for example, stored its results on three video recorders. MEIDEX studied atmospheric dust over North Africa and the Mediterranean. Such dust can influence global climate change, hurt breathing -- especially in children -- and carry diseases for long distances.
Not all experimental results were lost, however, because some data were transmitted back to Earth during the mission. But neither NASA nor Spacehab has had time to attempt an inventory.
"We are trying to assess where we are with the science situation," NASA spokeswoman Dolores Beasley told UPI.
The Spacehab modules were insured, said Kimberly Campbell, Spacehab's director of marketing.