As NASA paused to pay tribute to Columbia's astronauts, the agency reported making "considerable progress" in recovering debris from the Space Shuttle and analyzing data in the search for clues to what caused the orbiter to breakup 16 minutes before its landing last Saturday.
President and Mrs. Bush joined NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe in honoring astronauts Rick Husband, William McCool, Dave Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Mike Anderson, Laurel Clark and Ilan Ramon in a ceremony at the Johnson Space Center, Houston. President Bush said the nation was "blessed" to have such men and women serving the space program, and although NASA is being tested at this time, "America's space program will go on."
In an afternoon briefing, Michael Kostelnik, NASA's Associate Administrator for International Space Station and Space Shuttle said several engineering teams continue to work round-the-clock to reconstruct the timeline of the final minutes of Columbia's flight from extensive data that is being analyzed.
Kostelnik said the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, chaired by retired U.S. Navy Admiral Harold W. Gehman, Jr., is on scene at Barksdale Air Force Base, La. where the recovery of debris and human remains is being coordinated.
Kostelnik reported that larger and denser pieces of debris have been found in Louisiana, possibly including parts of Columbia's main engines. He said recovery teams have been dispatched to California and Arizona, where debris has been reported. Kostelnik indicated debris recovered from areas farthest to the west would be critical, possibly providing information about the early stages of Columbia's breakup.
Earlier today, a Russian Progress resupply ship successfully docked to the International Space Station at 9:49 a.m. EST, delivering a ton of food, fuel and supplies to Expedition 6 Commander Ken Bowersox, Flight Engineer Nikolai Budarin and NASA ISS Science Officer Don Pettit. The Progress has given the Station resident crew a "solid" supply of consumables, enough to sustain operations through at least late June, according to Kostelnik.
Bowersox, Budarin and Pettit opened the hatches between the ISS and the Progress this afternoon and will begin unloading its supplies on Wednesday.
Asked about contingency planning for the Station for the rest of the year, Kostelnik said all options to sustain a human presence on board in the temporary absence of Shuttle flights are being explored. The next Shuttle flight aboard Atlantis in March was to have brought the Expedition 7 crew to the ISS and returned to Earth the current resident crew.
Two STS-107 Accident Response briefings will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 5 and will be broadcast on NASA Television with multi-center question and answer capability for reporters at NASA centers. The first briefing is from NASA Headquarters in Washington at 11:30 a.m. EST. The second with Space Shuttle Program Manager Ron Dittemore from the Johnson Space Center is at 4:30 p.m. EST.
Status reports will be issued as developments warrant.
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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