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NASA Mishap Response Status #11
Tuesday, March 4, 2003 - 6 p.m. CST
Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas

The past week was a good one for the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, retired Adm. Harold W. "Hal" Gehman Jr., CAIB chairman, said today.

Gehman told a press briefing in Houston that a number of independent investigations into elements of Space Shuttle Columbia's destruction are "offering tidbits of information." But in response to questions, he refused to characterize how advanced the investigation is. "We don't know how far along we are because we don't know where we're going," he said.

The board continues to work seven-day weeks. "Our energy and seriousness have not flagged," Gehman said, adding that the board is confident it will find the primary and contributing causes of the accident.

Three other board members, representing each of the board's three groups, participated in the briefing, held at Houston's Lunar and Planetary Institute. Roger Tetrault of the material analysis group; Steven Wallace of the group looking at operations, training and flight readiness certification; and Rear Adm. Stephen Turcotte of the maintenance, materials and management group outlined progress.

Tetrault, former chairman and CEO of McDermott International, outlined debris finds, including tiles that had black, aluminum-containing deposits on them. "I think it would be fair to say we have more questions than answers now, but we're getting smarter fast." He said 22,563 pieces of debris have been found, of which 16,063 have been identified. Debris collected so far weighs 32,100 pounds, about 13.7 percent of Columbia's original weight, he said.

The search for debris continued in Texas Tuesday, though clouds kept search aircraft from flying. Ground crews found more than 1,000 pieces of material believed to be from the Shuttle, including thermal protection tiles and a 26-inch-diameter helium tank found near San Augustine, Texas, and a right-hand main landing gear actuator near Hemphill.

Today, 39 crews from the Nacogdoches command post, 35 crews from Hemphill, 34 from Palestine and 50 from Corsicana participated in the search. Due to heavy rains Monday, some crews worked only half days.

Navy-led dive teams continued their search in Toledo Bend reservoir and Lake Nacogdoches.

California volunteer posses completed a low-intensity search effort along the California coast without finding any Shuttle materials. They were looking for debris that might have fallen into the ocean and drifted to shore in Mendocino, Sonoma and Marin Counties 30 miles north and south of Columbia's re-entry track. Weather continued to postpone search activities in Nevada and New Mexico.

The CAIB will hold the first in a series of public hearings Thursday at the University of Houston - Clear Lake.

For more information about board activities on the Internet visit the CAIB's website: