The search for clues about what caused Columbia's breakup during reentry Saturday, and the hunt for key debris from the orbiter, expanded today with recovery teams deployed in California and Arizona.
Four days after Columbia broke apart 16 minutes prior to landing, Space Shuttle Program Manager Ron Dittemore said the inquiry into the cause for Columbia's demise is "picking up speed". But Dittemore said efforts to draw any new information from an additional 32 seconds of data acquired by ground computers following the loss of voice communications with Columbia have so far been unsuccessful.
In a briefing, Dittemore said the engineering evaluation teams are focusing their attention on "something other" than insulating foam on Columbia's external tank that fell off 80 seconds after launch striking the left wing, as the reason for the accident.
"It does not make sense that a piece of (foam) debris caused the loss of Columbia and its crew," Dittemore added. He reiterated Columbia tried to compensate for increased drag on its left wing in the seconds prior to its breakup, firing steering jets to right itself. But Dittemore said of Columbia, "It was doing well, but it was losing the battle."
As the engineering analysis continued, the remains of Columbia's astronauts were flown to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, where identification of the astronauts will be completed. At the conclusion of the forensic analysis, the remains will be released to the families for burial.
Dittemore mentioned that three reports dealing with Space Shuttle thermal protection tiles were available for review by the news media. Two of those documents are available via the Internet. The third is available in hardcopy from the JSC newsroom. The titles and website addresses for that information are:
STS-87 POST-FLIGHT INSPECTION – 1997
In an earlier briefing, Michael Kostelnik, NASA's Associate Administrator for International Space Station and Space Shuttle, said the recovery operations are moving ahead "full steam", involving 2500 people nationwide from federal and local agencies. Kostelnik said NASA has added a task force to integrate the work between numerous engineering teams that are reviewing over Columbia's data and the Columbia Accident Review board, chaired by retired Navy Admiral Harold Gehman, Jr.
Kostelnik said that although a relatively small percentage of Shuttle debris has been recovered so far, segments of large components such as Columbia's nose cone and main engines have been found. The focus of the recovery effort and the data analysis, according to Kostelnik, continues to be Columbia's left wing area, although no element of the orbiter has been exonerated in the ongoing inquiry.
Aboard the International Space Station, Expedition 6 Commander Ken Bowersox, Flight Engineer Nikolai Budarin and NASA ISS Science Officer Don Pettit spent the day unloading the Russian Progress resupply ship that docked to the ISS Tuesday, carrying one ton of food, fuel and supplies.
Pettit unstowed replacement parts for the Microgravity Science Glovebox from the Progress and installed them in the facility in the Destiny laboratory in an effort to revive the Glovebox that has been dormant since November following a power failure.
Pettit powered up the Glovebox, but a circuit breaker in the system popped and payload controllers told Pettit to shut it down so they can evaluate its current status.
On Thursday, NASA Television will broadcast a memorial ceremony for Columbia's astronauts from National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. at 10:00 a.m. EST.
The next STS-107 Accident Response briefing will be held on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. EST from the Johnson Space Center, Houston, also on NASA TV, with multi-center question and answer capability for reporters at NASA centers.
NASA TV is on AMC-2, Transponder 9C, vertical polarization at 85 degrees west longitude, 3880 MHz, with audio at 6.8 MHz.