Society News Archive

12 February 2003

There has been much discussion recently about possible radioactive material on the space shuttle Columbia. This speculation was fueled by pictures of responders walking around with radiation-detecting instrumentation and trucks placarded with radioactive warning signs.

An HPS member recently spoke to a high-level NASA individual who has intimate knowledge of what was on the Columbia and what experiments were on board and this individual states categorically that the only radioactive material on the Columbia were 11 smoke detectors, each containing less than 1 uCi, and minor amounts (nanocurie quantities) of Ca-45 used with a labeling compound on long bones of mice embryos.

The activity contained in the 30 labeled mouse bones was classified as insignificant. The only items that were inventoried were the smoke detectors

Anyone who is ill following the Columbia's accident was either exposed to the hazardous chemicals present in the wreckage or is one of the "worried well" as there was not enough radioactivity present to cause anyone harm.