- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2003

NASA hopes to have a plan in place today to analyze crucial information from the Space Shuttle Columbia's data recorder.
The recorder, found Wednesday, could give investigators important clues about Columbia's Feb. 1 destruction by providing engineering information from 800 sensors during the shuttle's liftoff and descent.
The space agency probably will hire a private company to examine the data, stored on 9,400 feet of magnetic tape.
It was not clear whether the data could be extracted or if the magnetic tape suffered damage as Columbia disintegrated over Texas and fell to Earth.
Photos released by the independent Columbia Accident Investigation Board showed a device that appeared intact.
"On the exterior it looks in good shape, but we really don't know anything more," NASA spokesman James Hartsfield said.
Discovery of the recorder, called an "orbiter experiment support system," gave the investigation board and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration an emotional boost.
"We were all wondering whether we would ever find any significant piece of debris to help the investigation," said Air Force Lt. Col. Tyrone Woodyard, a spokesman for the investigation board.
NASA has some data collected from sensors and transmitted during orbit to ground-based computers at Johnson Space Center in Houston, but that information has yielded little about Columbia's final moments.
Investigators have pored over 32 seconds of garbled data sent from Columbia after Col. Rick D. Husband's final voice transmission was cut off at 8:59:32 a.m. EST. Two seconds of data at the end of the 32-second stream provided some clues.
Engineering sensors throughout the orbiter measure temperatures, aerodynamic pressure, strains on the shuttle and vibrations.
The recorder collected data from the engineering sensors twice: during an 18-minute period stretching from 12 minutes before launch to six minutes after launch before it was shut off, and about 15 minutes before the shuttle re-entered Earth's atmosphere. The recorder is intended to be activated for the final 75 minutes of flight.
Sensors that transmit during orbit collect information on the shuttle's operations. Investigators sifted through the operational data and determined that the shuttle was spinning to its left in its final moments.

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