Space Shuttle Columbia's mission included 80 scientific experiments, many of them designed by students from around the world who have been working for the last two years as part of the Space Technology and Research Students program, or STARS.
The seven shuttle crew members had been working 24 hours a day to carry out studies that included Earth and space science projects, technology development, cancer cell research and studies of astronaut health and safety.
The shuttle was also carrying two special cameras built in Israel to measure the amount of dust in the desert, and in the atmosphere over the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. University scientists in Tel Aviv were interested in learning how clouds of dust affect the weather.
The student experiments came from schools in the United States, Japan, China, Australia, Israel and Liechtenstein. Each of the students' experiments needed to be done in the gravity-free environment of space.
For example, students in Japan wanted to test a theory that a small fish called the Medaka will develop faster in an environment with no gravity, because the fish would have to expend less energy to swim while in space.
Students from Australia called their experiment "Astrospiders in Space." They wanted to learn if a spider would build a different kind of web in space than it would on Earth. They wanted to find out if the shape and material of the web would be different because of a lack of gravity.
Chinese students designed an experiment that tested the idea that young silkworms would develop differently in an environment with no gravity.
Students from the United States designed an experiment to see if ants would create tunnels more slowly in space than on Earth.
Students from Israel wanted to study the growth and structure of crystal fibers developed within a chemical, to see if the fibers would grow differently with a lack of gravity.
And, students from Liechtenstein designed an experiment with carpenter bees. They wanted to learn if a lack of gravity would cause eating, working and social changes among the bees. Liechtenstein's government issued a special postage stamp to honor its students.