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CAIB Advanced Sightings Team Status

Glenn Mahone/Doc Mirelson
Headquarters, Washington
(Phone: 202/358-1600)

Laura Brown
Columbia Accident Investigation Board
(Phone: 713/301-8571

Feb. 20, 2003

RELEASE: 03-078

The Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) Advanced Sightings Team is working to pinpoint the location of hardware that may have separated from the Space Shuttle Columbia early in its final path over the western United States.

The team is bringing together data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the public, Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Energy (DOE), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the United States Geologic Survey (USGS) and all other sources of valuable information that become available. The collaboration of all these organizations has been outstanding. The team is piecing together the information from these sources to learn as much as possible about anomalous conditions during the entry of Columbia. Examples of information that is being brought to bear are:

  • On orbit photography and analysis- DOD
  • Radar searches- DOD
  • Infrasonic data- DOE, NOAA
  • Tracking of possible on orbit object from Columbia 1/17/ 03 and analysis- DOD
  • Launch Analysis- DOD
  • Identification of entry shedding events- DOD
  • Kirtland photo analysis- DOD

This team is analyzing video footage turned in by space flight enthusiasts and other sources of information to document exactly when these events occurred. The earliest shedding of Shuttle hardware may well have been documented by videos taken near the California coast. The team identifies anomalous events from the video data and correlates them to the entry timeline.

Analysts calculate the exact time and angles of the observation by determining exactly where the videos were taken from and by identifying planets or star fields in the background. The team calculates trajectories to predict probabilities of where the debris may have fallen to Earth by estimating properties of possible debris from the video and incorporating known atmospheric and wind data. Radar data is then retrieved and investigated to search for specific signatures. This process serves to drastically reduce the area that must be searched.

The Advanced Sightings Team is making significant progress in accurately characterizing possible debris events. They are in the process of making the subsequent calculations and taking the next steps. The most western find is still not far from Fort Worth, Texas. Using this process and other possible means, we hope debris discovered farther west would help to unravel the mystery of why this tragedy occurred.

The CAIB and NASA continue to encourage all who have videos or who identify potential Columbia hardware to contribute to the success of this investigation by contacting us as soon as possible. If you find hardware, you should contact local authorities. Avoid touching it in case it is contaminated with toxic substances.

The public can contact the CAIB toll free at: 1-866/446-6603; or by email at:

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