NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe reported today approximately 12,000 pieces of debris from the Space Shuttle Columbia have been collected along a 500-mile swath between Ft. Worth, Texas, and the Louisiana-Texas border. The debris is being tagged for identification and transported to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Fla., for use in the on-going investigation.
There is no primary or favorite theory as to what caused the Feb. 1 Shuttle accident. Fault-tree analysis and Probability Risk Assessments continue to be important tools to ensure no possible cause is overlooked. NASA's focus is on helping to determine the cause of the accident, finding solutions to the problems, and returning to safe flight operations as soon as possible.
A section of reinforced carbon-carbon from the leading edge of a Shuttle wing was recovered. It is believed to be from the left wing. Teams continue to search for and collect debris. The first pieces of debris are expected to begin the 18-hour journey by truck from Barksdale AFB to KSC on Tuesday and arrive on Wednesday.
Administrator O'Keefe said that NASA has done its best to be open and forthcoming with information about the accident investigation, and that it is time to transition that responsibility to the independent Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB). NASA will continue to release information periodically as appropriate as it becomes available. "We will defer to the CAIB to set the pace of discussions of how the investigation itself is progressing," O'Keefe said. He added that the Board will advise NASA when the data and hardware that has been impounded will be released for continued Shuttle operations.
"We intend to fully support and ensure the Board has independence and objectivity to proceed as its members feel appropriate," Administrator O'Keefe said. "We will defer to the CAIB to set the pace of discussions of how the investigation is progressing."
O'Keefe said that the NASA Inspector General has been an observer on the ground from the beginning, helping to ensure the independence and objectivity of the CAIB under the terms of the Inspector General Act.
O'Keefe added that he intends to release the CAIB's recommendations to the public as soon as they are available. "It is our responsibility to make that informed judgment public," he said, explaining that the scope and breadth of the Board members' experience in aircraft and other types of accidents is more than NASA could bring to bear on the investigation.
The CAIB will conduct its first press conference at 3 p.m. EST Tuesday, Feb. 11, in Teague Auditorium at the Johnson Space Center, Houston. Board Chairman Harold W. Gehman Jr., will introduce CAIB members and discuss Board structure, activities, and plans for the investigation.
The Expedition 6 crew aboard the International Space Station continued to unpack supplies delivered aboard the Progress-10 resupply ship and to prepare for a 6:34 a.m. EST Tuesday re-boost of the station using the Progress thrusters. The re-boost will last about 22 minutes and increase the Station's orbit approximately 7 miles.
Commander Ken Bowersox, Flight Engineer Nikolai Budarin and NASA Station Science Officer Don Pettit will field questions from reporters during a news conference starting at 9:34 a.m. EST, Tuesday. The news conference will be broadcast on NASA Television with two-way question and answer capability from reporters at NASA centers.
While Shuttle missions are on indefinite hold, there is no urgency to adjust plans regarding the late April launch of a new Russian Soyuz TMA spacecraft or the makeup of its crew. Supplies on the Station are sufficient through June. There are enough propellants on board to maintain the Station's altitude and attitude for a year. Options are being considered with the International Partners to keep the station manned, safe and productive. "First we need to keep the crew safe," said Michael Kostelnik, Deputy Associate Administrator for International Space Station and Space Shuttle, "and second, is to keep the Station safe."
NASA TV is available on AMC-2, Transponder 9C, vertical polarization at 85 degrees west longitude, 3880 MHz, with audio at 6.8 MHz.
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