Shuttle debris bound for Space Center
By Broward Liston
CAPE CANAVERAL: The first pieces of space shuttle Columbia should return to the Kennedy Space Center by the middle of next week, completing a journey that began on Jan. 16 when the orbiter launched from Florida, NASA said on Saturday.
“The first pieces are almost ready to ship, and Kennedy is preparing a facility for them,” said NASA spokesman Dave Drachlis.
The oldest US space shuttle was entering Earth’s atmosphere following a 16-day mission on Feb. 1 when it broke apart nearly 40 miles (63 km) above Texas, killing all seven astronauts aboard and spreading debris from Ft. Worth to Louisiana.
Suspected debris has been reported as far west as California, but NASA has said none of those reports has been confirmed.
The cause of the shuttle’s destruction remains a mystery.
While engineers in Florida will examine the wreckage for clues, experts at the Johnson Space Center in Houston are studying computer data and amateur and military photographs and video of Columbia’s crumbling path.
The only problem observed by flight controllers at Mission Control in Houston in the minutes before the crash involved modest increases in temperatures inside the left wing and the loss of data from some sensors there.
NASA has said none of the clues collected so far suggests the cause of the catastrophe.
The space agency said on Saturday that investigators in the field still had not determined whether a piece of Columbia’s wing, about 26 or 27 inches (66 or 69 cm) long, discovered near Forth Worth, is part of the right wing or the suspect left wing.
Amnesty over: In Nacogdoches County, Texas, where the debris field was centered, Sheriff Thomas Kerss told a press conference that the number of calls reporting debris has decreased since an amnesty period for turning over material ended on Friday. He said he has nine cases of suspected looting of shuttle debris in his county that he would turn over to federal authorities. —AFP