The destruction of the space shuttle Columbia was mainly a human tragedy, with the loss of seven people whose lives were interwoven with those of their families and friends, and colleagues in the space program. But it was also a huge blow to the medical sciences.
Two of the dead were physicians who had led extraordinary lives. Astronaut Laurel Clark, 41, studied pediatrics at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Later, she was a diving medical officer who carried out rescues from submarines and a flight surgeon before joining NASA in 1996. Clark was helping with the more than 80 science experiments on board, including studies of astronaut health and safety. In an e-mail to family and friends from space, she wrote: "I feel blessed to be representing our country and carrying out the research of scientists around the world."
David Brown, 46, joined the Navy after a surgical internship at the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston. In 1984, he joined the Navy hospital in Adak, Alaska, as director of medical services. He then was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson in the western Pacific. In 1988, he became the first flight surgeon in 10 years to be chosen for pilot training.
The flight of Columbia-described as the scientific workhorse of the shuttle program-was to be the last dedicated shuttle science mission, NASA said. All future missions-assuming there are any-will be dedicated to support the $60 billion International Space Station. Most of the data from the shuttle's experiments were lost, and universities, medical manufacturers and scientists around the world saw years of work burn up on the fatal re-entry.
"I hope they can salvage something," says Hideaki Moriyama, a University of Nebraska biochemist who had supplied vials of proteins to the flight in hopes of finding clues to illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, Huntington's disease and Alzheimer's. "It took more than four years to prepare those experiments."
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Healthcare providers routinely confront some of life's worst moments, but the crash of Columbia was one that two providers won't soon forget.
Scott Lieberman, a cardiologist from Tyler, Texas, who was drawn to Columbia's journey by his love of space travel, filmed the doomed vehicle as it broke apart over Texas. He had gone out to snap pictures of the shuttle on its scheduled descent toward the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for his personal scrapbooks. Instead, his vivid digital images of the burning pieces of Columbia were sent around the world via the Associated Press. "I'm one of those 40-year-olds who grew up watching the moon landings. It's one of those things I always wanted to do. It strikes close to home," Lieberman says.
Not far away and just hours later, Mike Gibbs, an X-ray technician at Sabine County Hospital in Hemphill, Texas, which was in the middle of Columbia's debris field, was driving along a two-lane dirt road and came across a charred torso, thigh bone and skull, alongside some shuttle debris. "I wouldn't want anybody seeing what I saw," Gibbs says.
From retail to healthcare and back
Melvin Redman, the former president and COO of bankrupt Doctors Community Healthcare Corp., Scottsdale, Ariz., landed on his Bruno Magli-clad feet last month right back where he started-in retail.
Redman, 51, spent 17 years with Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart from 1978 to 1995 and later worked as a consultant for retail companies until joining the privately held, for-profit Doctors Community three years ago. Redman's new job takes him to San Diego, where he will serve as executive vice president of store operations and distribution for Factory 2-You Stores, which operates 261 "low, low discount" stores, mostly in the West and Southwest.
With no hospital administrative experience, Redman and other members of his family sought to expand five-hospital Doctors Community with little luck. Redman brought in his son, Scott Redman, a former Wal-Mart store manager, to be the system's vice president of operations.
By Sept. 13, 2002, Redman, his son and another Doctors Community vice president had been escorted out of the company's plush headquarters by armed police officers. Company officials at first denied Redman and others were forced out in a company coup. Later, Doctors Chairman and CEO Paul Tuft conceded the high-flying Melvin Redman, who traveled by limousine and private jet and built a $3 million home featured in a Phoenix newspaper's style section, had been terminated.
Hit the grid
Not everyone has the brainpower of a virologist, but through a new global effort anyone can donate his or her idle computing power to help find a cure for smallpox.
A global research effort focused on developing new drugs to fight the smallpox virus after infection will link 2 million personal computers to create one supercomputer. Mounted by IBM Corp., United Devices and Accelrys, the search for a cure employs an emerging technology called grid computing that allows researchers to pool disparate computing resources. The Smallpox Research Grid Project employs computational chemistry to analyze interactions among 35 million potential drug molecules and several protein targets on the smallpox virus in the search for an anti-viral drug.
By downloading a screensaver at grid.org, personal computer owners can donate their idle processing power and link it to the Grid Project, enabling it to analyze billions of molecules in the fraction of the time it would take in a laboratory. Once processing is complete, the program will send results back to a data center and request new data to analyze.
Even if you don't understand any of this, don't worry. Your computer will understand.