Friday, July 8, 2011

As Atlantis launches, UAB prof remembers his ride on Space Shuttle Columbia

For Larry DeLucas, it was quite a ride. DeLucas, a UAB professor of optometry and director of the Center for Biophysical Sciences and Engineering , was an astronaut on the 1992 flight of the space shuttle Columbia. Now, on the eve of the end of the shuttle program, he looks back with fondness and some trepidation.

He thinks it remarkable that we created a fleet of vehicles that could go into space (135 times, in fact) and return, landing like an airplane, and then go back up again. The advances in science, engineering and materials technology that are associated with the shuttle program are profound.

There's disappointment, though. The next generation of American space delivery vehicles, manufactured by private enterprise, are not yet ready. Until they are operational, only Russia has vehicles capable of going to space and to resupply the International Space Station. If there's a mishap in the Russian program, there is no fall back plan....and that could have hard repercussions for those serving on the space station, and on the experiments underway now.

But mostly DeLucas remembers looking back on earth as the shuttle went into orbit. You don't see national boundaries from space, he says. There are no borders. The world seems small, and close, and peaceful. Yet he could see the fires burning from Kuwaiti oil wells in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein's invasion. He knew there was a war being waged.

"You know that there's wars going on, but you look down and there's no lines and everybody's together," he told the Birmingham News in an interview. "I don't know how to describe the feeling I had. That feeling made me realize how we're all connected."

Read about coolers on the International Space Station, students earning NASA awards, using satellites to study disease outbreaks and discover pyramids and students doing NASA-funded research.

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