- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Space agency officials said yesterday they have identified a piece of wreckage from the Space Shuttle Columbia found last week, a development that may help investigators.
"I think they have identified that they have at least once piece of the left wing," said retired Maj. Gen. Mike Kostelnik, NASA's deputy associate administrator for space station and shuttle activities.
The piece is significant because multiple sensors on the left wing failed within an eight-minute period before the space agency lost all contact with the shuttle and its crew. A recovery team found the wing fragment last week near Fort Worth, Texas.
Meanwhile, a Texas law-enforcement officer was arrested yesterday and charged with taking some of the shuttle wreckage.
NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe said officials began taking shuttle debris to Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., yesterday.
It is not clear what percentage of Columbia has been recovered, Gen. Kostelnik said, but that may become clearer as engineers catalog the pieces and begin the painstaking process of assembling those that have been recovered. The wreckage will be assembled in a 50,000-square-foot hangar.
NASA investigators also are continuing to analyze a photo, made public last week, taken of Columbia from Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. Gen. Kostelnik said engineers are trying to improve the image, a fuzzy silhouette of the shuttle that shows a gray streak trailing behind the left wing and rough edges on the front of the same wing.
An engineering team is "still looking at the photo and has made no judgment at this time," he said.
Gen. Kostelnik predicted the search for shuttle fragments will become more difficult. Material is spread across an area at least 500 miles wide. Pieces that have not been found likely are deep in woods or submerged in ponds and lakes.
"So much of the effort over the next few days for [recovery crews] will be in those areas," he said.
Divers yesterday searched Toledo Bend Reservoir, a body of water 75 miles long between Texas and Louisiana. Witnesses said they saw massive fragments plunge into the reservoir. Bad weather over the weekend limited the ability to use planes and helicopters to search for wreckage, NASA spokesman Dave Steitz said.
Recovery crews also found more human remains in Sabine County, southeast of Nacogdoches, Texas.
Harrison County Constable Robert E. Hagan II is the third person charged with taking shuttle debris.
"It is a troubling day when an individual who swore to uphold the law is charged with stealing evidence and hindering this historic investigation," U.S. Attorney Michael Orwig said.
Constable Hagan, 45, works for the 3rd Precinct in Harrison County, in northeastern Texas.
He was charged with stealing five pieces of tile while helping recover pieces of the shuttle near Nacogdoches, Feb. 1 and Feb. 2, according to an affidavit for his arrest. Constable Hagan showed a piece of shuttle debris to a colleague after returning home Feb. 2, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. That person notified law-enforcement officials.
Constable Hagan faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail and a $250,000 fine for theft of government property. Mr. Orwig said there are 10 to 20 investigations of shuttle theft.
To help the recovery effort, federal agencies started a new toll-free number people can use to report debris. NASA started a separate hot line immediately after the shuttle disaster, but it wasn't toll-free. The new toll-free number is 866/446-6603.
Also yesterday, NASA allowed two photographers for the first time to see wreckage stored at Barksdale Air Force Base, near Shreveport, La. A videotape showed pieces collected during the massive recovery effort, including parts of the fuselage, a landing gear strut and the door from the main landing gear on the right side.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide