The independent board charged with determining what caused the destruction of Columbia met with NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe at the Johnson Space Center (JSC), Houston. Space Shuttle Program Manager Ron Dittemore flew to the External Tank manufacturer in Michoud, La. to discuss processing of the tank with engineers. Recovery teams continued to search for debris.
Dittemore told an afternoon briefing that a small portion of the reinforced carbon-carbon insulation of the leading edge of one of the Shuttle's wings was found in the Fort Worth, Texas area. It measures approximately 26-27 inches in length and 18 inches wide. It has not been determined whether it is from the left or right wing. The magnitude of the search for shuttle debris has expanded, with more than 1200 people involved in the recovery effort, including 220 from NASA and 800 National Guardsmen.
The investigation is entering a new phase, now that the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB), chaired by retired Navy Admiral Harold Gehman, Jr., has taken over the inquiry.
"This will be a long, painstaking process," Dittemore said of the investigation. "But I am proud of this (Shuttle Program) team. They have risen to the occasion."
Administrator O'Keefe echoed those statements when he met with employees at the JSC, praising them for their dedication during a time of grief, while vowing that the space program would emerge from the accident stronger than ever.
The CAIB will be based near JSC. The CAIB Charter is available on the Internet at: http://www.nasa.gov/columbia/board_documents.pdf
In his afternoon briefing, Dittemore presented charts showing the sequential shutdown of sensors during the final minutes of Columbia's flight as the orbiter encountered a problem as yet undefined. He also revealed a fuzzy photo taken by Air Force cameras as Columbia flew overhead. Dittemore discounted earlier press reports, which interpreted the damage, as premature. He said, " It is not clear to me that this photo reveals anything significant at this point." -more- -2-
While data analysis continued, the residents of the International Space Station completed their unloading of a Russian Progress resupply ship today and conducted a variety of biomedical experiments. Expedition 6 Commander Ken Bowersox, Flight Engineer Nikolai Budarin and NASA ISS Science Officer Don Pettit are in their 76th day in space, their 74th day on board the complex.
With shuttle missions on indefinite hold, NASA managers are discussing whether adjustments are needed to the late April launch of a new Russian Soyuz TMA spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It would be manned by a "taxi" crew that delivers the craft used for assured crew return to the Station and returns to Earth in the Soyuz currently at the station. Potential options are being looked at in concert with the International Partners to keep the Station manned, safe, and productive.
While there are no plans to remove the Station crew during the Shuttle recovery period, discussions are ongoing to ensure proper manning and supplies until Shuttles fly again. Another Progress cargo vehicle is scheduled for launch the Station in June to maintain a robust supply of food, fuel, and maintenance components.
The Progress at the Station may use its engines early next week to boost the Station, two nautical miles at its apogee and 10 nautical miles at its perigee, to place the station at the correct altitude for the late April Soyuz launch. A decision will be made Monday when the boost will occur.
On Tuesday, the Expedition 6 crew will field questions from reporters during a news conference from the Station beginning at 9:34 a.m. EST. The news conference will be broadcast on NASA Television with two-way question and answer capability from reporters at NASA centers.
The next STS-107 Accident Response briefings will be on Monday from NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. The time has not yet been determined. It will also be on NASA TV, with multi-center question and answer capability.
The Johnson Space Center will be open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST on Saturday and Sunday but there will no briefings.
NASA TV is on AMC-2, Transponder 9C, vertical polarization at 85 degrees west longitude, 3880 MHz, with audio at 6.8 MHz.
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