- The Washington Times - Monday, February 3, 2003

The world yesterday mourned Space Shuttle Columbia's seven astronauts, and hundreds of searchers scoured east Texas and the northwest corner of Louisiana for additional human remains and spacecraft fragments.
Mourners piled flowers, candles, teddy bears, American flags and notes at the main gate of the space agency's Houston enclave yesterday, creating an impromptu shrine to astronauts Rick D. Husband, Michael P. Anderson, David M. Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel B. Clark, William C. McCool and Ilan Ramon.
Four investigations were opened, focusing on the Jan. 16 launch from Pad 39A at Florida's Kennedy Space Center, when loose insulating foam from a fuel tank hit thermal tiles on the left wing.
The key question was whether damage to the protective ceramic tiles exposed Columbia, the oldest shuttle in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's fleet, to re-entry temperatures approaching 3,000 degrees at the end of a science mission that lasted 15 days, 22 hours and 20 minutes just 16 minutes short of its scheduled end.
In its first analysis of the accident, NASA said Columbia's problems apparently began in the spacecraft's left wing outside the left wheel well. The spacecraft was over California at the time, seven minutes before it broke up over Texas.
The spacecraft's left wing temperature rose 60 degrees in five minutes while automatic flight control systems unsuccessfully fought increasing drag on the left wing that eventually forced it to roll left until its wings were 57 degrees off horizontal when radios cut off.
"We had no indication of any kind that the crew was alarmed," said Ron Dittemore, manager of NASA's shuttle program, who said he assumed the flight crew was dealing with the problems. "We have no information from the crew to the ground that confirmed what they were doing on board."
Damage from the launch is "one of the areas we're looking at first, early, to make sure that the investigative team is concentrating on that theory or that set of facts as we are starting to unfold," NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe said on a day when the loss of Columbia was being called the price of exploration.
The White House said President Bush will attend a memorial service tentatively set for tomorrow at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Searchers on horseback, boats and off-road vehicles, and soldiers armed with space-age electronics, spread across a debris field that covered more than 1,000 square miles. The federal government provided Texas with $5 million to assist search efforts.
As if by miracle, none of the thousands of pieces raining down is known to have hit anyone.
Among the charred debris were unexploded tanks about 3 feet in diameter, found on the runway of A.L. Mangham Jr. Regional Airport and at National Guard Armory No. 2, both in Nacogdoches, where much of the debris appeared to be.
Charred pieces ranging from the size of a dime to 8 feet across will be trucked to Barksdale Air Force Base near Shreveport, La., for analysis by 20 engineering experts from the United Space Alliance, a NASA contractor.
At a press conference yesterday afternoon, Bob Cabana, director of flight crew operations, originally said remains of all seven astronauts had been found. He later issued a statement saying he had been misinformed, and that NASA could not confirm that remains of each were recovered.
The first scorched body parts retrieved near shuttle debris at two rural locations in Sabine County, Texas, near Louisiana, were taken to a medical examiner's office, a way station en route to the mortuary at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where bodies will be identified and prepared for burial. A charred astronaut's patch and intact flight helmet were found in San Augustine County, Texas.
"We have astronauts in the field with them, and we're treating those remains with the ultimate care and respect that they deserve," Mr. Cabana said. "We're honoring our fellow crew mates, and we're taking care of them."
Mike Gibbs, a hospital worker who found a charred torso, thigh bone and skull near crash debris on a road in Hemphill, Texas, said, "I wouldn't want anybody seeing what I saw. … It was pretty gruesome."
Two boys found a leg on their farm. "From the hip to the foot, it's all there, scorched from the fire," their father, Bob White, told the Dallas Morning News.
At Toledo Bend Reservoir along the Texas-Louisiana state line, divers sought a piece of wreckage the size of a small car seen plunging into its waters.
A smoldering bundle of wires fell in the front yard of a Shreveport, La., home.
More than 1,000 pieces of the shattered spacecraft were staked out in homes, pastures and back roads in the pine forests of Nacogdoches County, where eight persons were treated for burns or inhalation problems from contact with debris.
Officials of NASA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will use global positioning system information to trace the falling path of each recovered piece, and to establish a sequence of how parts were ripped off Columbia. "At this point, nobody is picking up the materials," one sheriff said.
FBI agents, Texas Rangers, the National Transportation Safety Board, National Guard, U.S. Marshals and Secret Service personnel assisted in recovering debris. Senior law-enforcement officials said they had found no evidence of sabotage.
The disaster was the subject of sermons across America. At Titusville, Fla., the Rev. David Waller, pastor of First United Methodist Church, told a congregation that includes workers who helped send Columbia into space that Saturday's trail of smoke was a "glistening tear across the face of the heavens."
"God's heart is more heartbroken than our own, and I believe they're already resting," the Rev. Luis Leon said at St. John's Church, across Lafayette Park from the White House, where Mr. Bush sat with head bowed in the front pew. The parson dismissed as "hokum … just garbage" the claim, made in Baghdad, that the shuttle was destroyed as "God's way of getting back at us" for the president's policy on Iraq.
In Houston, Israel's ambassador to the United States, Daniel Ayalon, and family friends and relatives comforted Col. Ramon's widow, Rona, and their four children ages 5 to 15. "Rona knew he died very happy. This was the height of his career," Mr. Ayalon said of Col. Ramon, a Yom Kippur War hero who became Israel's first astronaut. The family is anxious to recover his remains for burial in Israel according to Hebrew law.
Foreign leaders extending condolences to the White House included Mexican President Vicente Fox, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, French President Jacques Chirac, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat sent condolences to the United States and to Israel. Bushra al-Samarai, a member of the Iraqi National Assembly, said legislators there respect family feelings "and share their sadness."
The mishap's most immediate effect on the space program was cancellation of scheduled March 1 and May 13 shuttle launches to rotate the three-member crew of the International Space Station and deliver more supplies.
As planned before Columbia was lost, Russia yesterday launched an unmanned cargo ship from Baikonur Cosmodrome to deliver fuel, equipment, food and mail to the crew, which has volunteered to remain at the space station as long as needed.
The announced ban on shuttle flights will last until the "root cause" of the Columbia disaster is found.
Mr. Dittemore said rising temperatures and increased drag on the left wing could indicate rough tiles or missing tiles.
"We're not sure yet," he said.
"This is the first step in piecing together the puzzle, and we are beginning to make progress," Mr. Dittemore said. "What I tell you today will be fluid and will change from day to day for a while."
He stressed that the information is tentative and said 32 additional seconds of data stored in NASA computers after communication was lost may cast additional light on what happened in coming days and weeks. He said temperatures in the right wing rose 15 degrees in the same time the left wing heated by 60 degrees.
Columbia's left wing had been high on the suspect list from early Saturday because four temperature sensors inside the wing were the first to fail. On Friday, NASA officials said the launch-day incident in which insulation struck the left wing was no reason for concern.
The four official investigations already under way include the independent seven-member commission of federal flight-safety specialists headed by retired Navy Adm. Harold W. Gehman Jr., who was Supreme Allied Commander for the Atlantic and led the probe of the attack in Yemen on the USS Cole.
NASA will run its own investigation, and separate congressional probes were set by the House Science Committee and the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
"The NASA investigation will focus more on the technical aspects. We have to be concerned about the policy aspects and what is the future of human space flight," said Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, New York Republican, whose House Science Committee oversees NASA.
At the White House, officials gathered in the Situation Room to review early findings and prepare briefings for the president. "We're going to have to get the forensic evidence, the debris and get the experts working on it, and begin to form these theories," said John Marburger, head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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