Discovery’s Teardrop: a story about an observation and what it meant to one person #space


Jim Cook wrote this touching piece on the space shuttle Discovery and how a question he had pondered for years finally came to be answered.

They are perhaps the most easily recognizable tiles in space shuttle history. For shuttle watchers, when you see them, you know exactly which shuttle you are looking at. Only space shuttles Columbia and Enterprise are more recognizable. The four other shuttles — Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour — aside from their names being painted on them, appear in photos, on TV, film, and videos to be essentially the same. That is — except for those black tiles right below the corner pilot-side window on Discovery.

I noticed them immediately while watching the evening news back in October, 1983, when Discovery was rolled out for the first time at the Rockwell hanger in Palmdale, California, where she and all the shuttles underwent final assembly. I squinted and thought, “she has a tear in her eye.” I’ve thought of those black tiles below the pilot’s window as Discovery’s “teardrop” ever since. Had they been located someplace else, perhaps I might have thought of them as a beauty mark. But, as a teardrop, it quickly became one of the reasons Discovery so endeared herself to me all these years. After all, any shuttle with a tear in her eye has to be pretty special. She has feelings.

People have historically given ships and planes (and often their cars) human attributes. They give them names. They christen them. They talk to them. They are typically thought of as female. I thought of Discovery’s teardrop that way, too. Was she afraid of launching? After all, her very first attempt was rather scary — the first ever shutdown on the pad after main engine start. I could see how an infant shuttle might get a bit teary-eyed thinking about her first step. Or, later on, was it there for her lost sisters, Challenger, and then Columbia? She was always the one chosen to bravely lead the way after their loss. Or maybe it’s just a tear of joy for the thrill of going into orbit, like when she did the first ever backflip in space?

Still, I’ve always wondered why those tiles below window No. 5 (if I’m correct) were there at all? On every other orbiter, those tiles are white. Discovery’s alone are black. Whenever I happened to meet someone in the NASA shuttle program or an astronaut who had flown aboard Discovery, I would ask about them, but no one ever knew. That is, until Discovery was finally retired; with so many of Discovery’s astronauts and all the NASA shuttle program people there at the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia to commemorate Discovery’s arrival, I knew this had to be my last, best chance to find out. And there, finally, I found the right person to ask. “You know, I don’t think anyone’s ever asked that question.” “Now you have me curious. I’ll try to find out.”

Go here to see the answer and read more.


Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.

Join 35,000+ makers on Adafruit’s Discord channels and be part of the community!

Have an amazing project to share? The Electronics Show and Tell is every Wednesday at 7pm ET! To join, head over to YouTube and check out the show’s live chat – we’ll post the link there.

Join us every Wednesday night at 8pm ET for Ask an Engineer!

Follow Adafruit on Instagram for top secret new products, behinds the scenes and more

CircuitPython – The easiest way to program microcontrollers –

Maker Business — Moving manufacturing out of China

Wearables — Take control of your LED sequins

Electronics — Current limiting!

Python for Microcontrollers — Python on Microcontrollers Newsletter: ESP32 Web Workflow for CircuitPython, CircuitPython Day 2022 and more! #CircuitPython @micropython @ThePSF @Raspberry_Pi

Adafruit IoT Monthly — Detect Radiation, ML Baby Monitor, and more!

Microsoft MakeCode — MakeCode Thank You!

EYE on NPI — Maxim’s Himalaya uSLIC Step-Down Power Module #EyeOnNPI @maximintegrated @digikey

New Products – Adafruit Industries – Makers, hackers, artists, designers and engineers! — New Products 8/11/2022 Featuring #adafruit 14-segment LED Alphanumeric Backpack – STEMMA QT!

Get the only spam-free daily newsletter about wearables, running a "maker business", electronic tips and more! Subscribe at !

No Comments

No comments yet.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.