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Background: Shuttle Columbia Disaster in Space

February 6, 2003 at 12:00 AM EST
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KWAME HOLMAN: Rain in east Texas set back efforts to collect debris from the space shuttle today. The craft’s nosecone recovered yesterday was trucked out of a forest near the town of Hemphill to Louisiana’s Barksdale Air Force Base instead of being flown by helicopter. At the Toledo Bend Reservoir near Hemphill, Texas, a robotic camera explored the 160-foot depths. Fishermen reported Saturday they saw a piece of debris the size of a small car hit the water. In Louisiana’s Kisatchie National Forest yesterday, officials showed reporters three huge craters formed by falling debris. One was 14 feet deep. Two pieces of the shuttle were found, one appeared to be part of an engine and weighed about 700 pounds.

LISA LEWIS: This object was actually located approximately three to four feet below the bottom of the impact crater.

KWAME HOLMAN: Since Saturday, debris has been recovered throughout Louisiana and east Texas. Investigators also are looking for pieces of the shuttle in New Mexico, Arizona and California. Yesterday, NASA officials discounted their original best theory. They now say a piece of foam that dislodged at liftoff from the external fuel tank hitting the shuttle’s wing, and damaging it probably is not the main cause of the disaster on re-entry. Today at a late afternoon briefing shuttle program administrator Ron Dittemore talked about what “Columbia’s” problems were during descent.

MARK CARREAU, Houston Chronicle: I wonder if you can tell us what alarm messages the “Columbia” crew was receiving during their ascent and were they receiving them and what they signified

RON DITTEMORE: The only alarm that I’m aware of was a veneer the end as far as the cutoff of data and that was an error message that signified that they had lost instrumentation on their left main gear tire pressure. And when they lost that instrumentation, there was a message that was generated; we saw the message on the ground. The crew certainly saw it and we are aware they acknowledged the message, because based on our telemetry we can see that they pushed a push button in the cock fit to acknowledge the message. We are in the process of calling them about that particular message when we received the actual cutoff of data and loss of calm.

STEVEN STOCK: This is Steven Stock from NBC, I understand some of the cameras were down during liftoff and video and still pictures of the 80 second event aren’t as clear and precise as what happens you would have liked and been in previous flights; is that a problem during this investigation?

RON DITTEMORE: It’s a disappointment in that the camera with the very best view turned out to be out of focus. And evidently we had a mechanical problem with that particular camera. And so we have tried to look at alternate camera views and we’re just not going to get a really good view during the launch phase. We have tried search, we have what we have and try and improve the resolution. But we’re not going to get the best view that we know we could have had because of the out of focus camera. So we’re just going to have to live with what we have and try our best to determine what happened.

KWAME HOLMAN: Dittemore saying the collected debris eventually would be sent so Kennedy Space Center. Investigators there will try to and assemble the wreckage as best they can to learn more about the rest of the accident.