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Investigators Widen Columbia Recovery Field

BY Admin  February 3, 2003 at 2:00 PM EDT

NASA also announced it had opened another collection site has at Carswell Air Force Base near Fort Worth, Texas because the debris field has grown “further west than we had expected,” Deputy Associate Administrator Mike Kostelnik said. According to Kostelnik, investigators are still assessing the debris field’s size.

Some 300 people from 30 agencies — including the FBI, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Texas Department of Public Safety — have been dispatched to transport shuttle debris to the NASA collection sites at Carswell, Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and a field site in the town of Lufkin, Texas.

Kostelnik told reporters Monday that there has been “extremely close cooperation with a wide variety of federal, state and local officials” in the recovery effort.

According to Kostelnik, efforts will focus first on finding the remains of the shuttle’s seven crew members.

“We are trying to recover the remains of these national heroes and get them back to their families as soon as possible,” he said.

Kostelnik said that investigators are still determining where further analysis of debris from the shuttle itself will take place. Investigators have said their goal will be to reconstruct what is left of the shuttle to attempt to determine how each part broke away during the shuttle’s re-entry.

NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe briefed President Bush on the investigation’s progress Monday morning. He told CBS’s Early Show that he planned to tell the president investigators were conducting a methodical search.

“We’re doing everything we possibly can to secure the evidence, to make a determination of what could have caused this, and to make a judgment about exactly what could have led to this particular event, determine what that cause is, make corrections, and get back to flight,” he said.

NASA Shuttle Program Manager Ron Dittemore told reporters Sunday that data from the flight’s last moments indicated an unusual increase in temperature on the craft’s exterior near its left rear wheel well. The shuttle’s flight control system also registered an increase in drag on its left side, Dittemore said.

However, Dittemore emphasized that analysts were just beginning to piece together data from the incident.

“I’m confident that even what I tell you today will be fluid and will change from day to day for a while,” Dittemore said.

On Monday, Kostelnik said officials would continue to conduct the shuttle’s investigation largely in the public eye.

“We are working with the best and brightest minds in the country to ferret this out,” Kostelnik said. “This will probably be the most open accident investigation of this scale that people have experienced at this time.”