- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2003

The head of the group investigating the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster said yesterday it will use images taken by people and the military with cameras and video recorders to paste together a mosaic of the aircraft's descent.
In the first news conference of the independent investigators, retired Adm. Harold W. Gehman Jr. said he hopes creating a video and audio timeline helps investigators determine the cause of the Feb. 1 disaster.
"The photographs of various individuals have been very helpful. The pieces we have so far are very promising," said Adm. Gehman, chairman of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. "It is important to get as much of this videography as possible."
Adm. Gehman said investigators will make the videotape publicly available.
He also said recovery crews will continue to scour areas west of Fort Worth, Texas, in an attempt to confirm reports that Columbia shed pieces as far west as California. No debris has been found west of the Texas city.
"We have reason to believe we should keep looking west of Fort Worth," Adm. Gehman said. "Some of the sightings appear to be credible. It would be very important if we could relate something to the reports of early shedding. But right now we can't find anything."
Adm Gehman stressed that investigators have no favored theory to explain Columbia's fiery crash and the inquiry will be methodical and driven by the desire to protect the space agency's astronauts.
"Ours is going to be a deep, thorough investigation. We are going to try to work out the causes," said Adm. Gehman, who was co-chairman of the commission that investigated the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole.
Two members of the 11-member board conceded their investigation will be difficult and they run the risk of not finding the cause. Shuttle debris is spread over an area at least 500 miles wide.
"This is the biggest debris field any of us has ever seen. We're going to look at everything and narrow it down to a list of probable causes, if not the cause," said Rear Adm. Stephen A. Turcotte, commander of the Naval Safety Center in Norfolk.
But some fragments from the wreckage look "surprisingly pristine," which could help the investigation, said James N. Hallock, chief of the Transportation Department's aviation safety division.
To speed up their investigation, the accident investigation board may add more members, including a theoretical physicist. The late Richard Feynman, a theoretical physicist, is credited with figuring out that a faulty O-ring caused the Challenger explosion in 1986.
The board also hopes to speed up its work by splitting up duties. Three committees will look into shuttle operations, the manufacturing of the shuttle, and technical and engineering issues surrounding the spacecraft.
Adm. Gehman said the board rode in a flight simulator yesterday before its inaugural press conference at the Johnson Space Center to get a sense of what shuttle crews experience during re-entry.
"We are trying to personalize the accident," he said.

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