[meteorite-list] Shuttle Investigators Seek Clues in West
From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu Apr 22 10:18:27 2004
Shuttle Investigators Seek Clues in West
By ANDREW BRIDGES
February 13, 2003
SPACE CENTER, Houston - Investigators into the space shuttle disaster
still believe important clues might be found in west Texas and points
even farther west - even though no debris has yet been found.
The reason for their faith in the absence of evidence is a wealth of
credible photographs, video recordings and eyewitness reports
from California, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. More than
1,500 photographs and videos of Columbia's re-entry have poured
in to NASA (news - web sites).
Many bolster the notion the shuttle Columbia already was
shedding debris several minutes and hundreds of miles before its
fiery breakup over Texas.
But so far, NASA has ruled out more than 100 of the 179 credible
reports of possible debris found west of Fort Worth. And the
agency has no data indicating it was already in trouble as it made
landfall after crossing the Pacific Ocean.
"We're trying to pin down those seemingly credible reports that
something was happening before the telemetry told us," Adm.
Harold Gehman Jr., chairman of the nine-member board
investigating the cause, said this week.
For example, there is this description from amateur astronomer
Bill Sorrells, who has watched several returning shuttles.
"I saw it was noticeably different from the others that I had seen
- not in a spectacular way, in a subtle way," said Sorrells, who
watched from below the peak of Mount Hamilton outside San
Jose, Calif. It was eight minutes before mission control lost
contact with the crew.
"On this occasion it was a completely different color," he said.
"I was expecting that same pinkish-purple color I had seen before.
I felt the trail it left behind was wider and brighter."
Not long after, California Institute of Technology astronomer
Anthony Beasley saw several flashes in Columbia's tail from where
he watched, farther to the east, in Bishop, Calif.: "We could see
there were things clearly trailing the orbiter subsequent to that,"
Still, no debris from the 234,000-pound spacecraft has been
recovered from California - or anywhere west of Fort Worth - even
though objects like thermal tiles could have survived to fallen to
earth, debris experts said.
NASA is particularly interested in finding any pieces - particularly
tiles - that were among the first to be ripped from Columbia. Loss
of the tiles in key spots on the shuttle would have left it
vulnerable to the searing heat of re-entry.
Shortly after Beasley spied Columbia, and just before it passed
north of Las Vegas, mission control in Houston received the first
sign of trouble.
"FYI, I have lost four separate temperature transducers on the
left side of the vehicle - the hydraulic return temperatures,"
Jeff Kling, maintenance and crew systems officer, told the flight
The shuttle and its seven-member crew continued gliding toward a
planned touchdown in Florida even after the sensors had blinked out
one by one.
Soon, more problems cropped up, including increased drag on the
left wing and apparent loss of pressure in the shuttle's tires.
Then, Houston lost contact at 7:59 a.m. CST.
The investigation board said it has begun stitching together the
audio recordings along with photographs, radar and data from
Columbia itself to reconstruct a timeline of the doomed shuttle's
The mosaic may also include readings from earthquake instruments
capable of recording the boom of the spacecraft's breakup and the
subsequent cascade of debris hitting the ground.
"It's a jigsaw puzzle. We're assembling a giant puzzle," Gehman said.
Investigators hope the project will allow them to pinpoint areas
to look for more debris - places that have yet to yield clues of
Received on Thu 13 Feb 2003 03:36:49 PM PST