U.S. Air Force Space Command radar indicates that some space junk (rocket parts, paint chips, or a meteorite) passed very near or possibly hit Columbia during its second day of flight. Read more here and here.
No word yet on which wing they found parts of.
NASA'S NEW SPACE PLANE
NASA is locked into using the Shuttle for the next decade or two because of International Space Station (ISS) considerations and the simple fact that the U.S. has no other manned launch vehicle at the time. They're talking about stepping up speed on the space plane production. Read more.
Did you realize we can't launch a manned rocket to the moon this year even if we want to? That's right. The first Saturn V rocket - the only design so far capable of reaching the moon - flew November 9, 1967. The last manned trip to the moon departed Earth on December 7, 1972 and returned on the 19th. They were on the moon from December 11 to 14. The last Saturn V, rather than going to the moon, hefted the U.S. space station Skylab into orbit on May 14, 1973.
SO WHERE DO THEY GO?
If the Shuttle doesn't go to the moon, then where does it go? It flies at an altitude of 200 miles above the Earth. It can't get much farther away than that because of its weight. Travelling at 17,500 miles per hour, the Shuttle still falls towards the Earth, but its forward speed allows it to miss the planet. Then why bother to go just 200 miles up? Because from orbit, everything in the craft seems weightless. Everything is falling towards the Earth (and missing it) at the same rate. In microgravity (that's what they call it because it's not purely zero-gravity), you can subtract the effects of gravity and learn more about processes on Earth.
While I was in Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, I attended a presentation entitled "Liquid Phase Sintering in Metals." Having recently heard a terribly boring presentation on Space Shuttle window construction, I wasn't too hyped about a talk with such an uninteligible title. It turned out to be one of the best, though it was somewhat technical. The problem is how we manufacture tools on Earth. Die cast metals invariably have bubbles in them, and the size and location of the bubbles severely weakens the material. By studying the bubbles in microgravity, we can learn how to make better tools on Earth. Read more.