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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 3, 2003

Probe centers on foam on shuttle's fuel tank

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By Chris Kridler
Florida Today

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Experts at Kennedy Space Center are sifting through information that may help the Columbia space shuttle accident investigation.

In this sequence of images taken from video, what appears to be debris (viewed top to bottom) is seen striking the underside of the left wing of the space shuttle Columbia during liftoff on Jan. 16.

Florida Today via Associated Press

"We've impounded all the data, and we've moved it to a retention center here at KSC," said Jack King of United Space Alliance, the company that processes shuttles at KSC.

Kennedy Space Center provided all of its film of the launch to the investigation, NASA spokesman Bruce Buckingham said yesterday.

It will help in the analysis of the piece of foam that flew off the external tank and hit the orbiter's left wing during the launch.

"Today, we've got 20 different teams operating, with six members on each team, and it's broken down by subsystem," King said.

The teams consist of specialists in such areas as hydraulics and insulating tiles. They are looking at information dating from when Columbia came back from its last mission — the Hubble telescope repair mission in March 2002 — through launch on Jan. 16.

In Houston, King said, United Space Alliance workers are doing the same kind of work with data from the orbiter's $145 million overhaul, completed in 2001.

Normal shuttle processing is continuing for Discovery, which is undergoing an overhaul, and Endeavour, King said.

Atlantis is in the Vehicle Assembly Building, mated to the boosters and external tank, awaiting a test before its planned rollout. "We're on standby awaiting a decision on whether we'll continue that, complete that test and roll to the pad, or de-stack," King said.

United Space Alliance has a situation room that's being manned 24 hours a day, he said.

United Space Alliance employees who are specialists on Spacehab, whose new double research module was flying on Columbia, are at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana to aid in identifying debris, King said. Fifty more workers were on standby to join the recovery effort.