NASA Mishap Response Status Report #03 Feb. 13, 2003 - 7 p.m. CST

Status Report From: Johnson Space Center
Posted: Thursday, February 13, 2003

The Columbia Accident Investigation Board said today preliminary analysis by a NASA working group indicates the temperature indications seen in Columbia's left wheel well during entry would require the presence of plasma. Plasma is a super heated gas surrounding the orbiter during re-entry.

The CAIB said heat transfer through the structure, as from a missing tile, would not be sufficient to cause the temperature indications seen in the last minutes of flight. Additional analysis is under way, looking at various scenarios in which a breach of some type could occur, allowing plasma into the wheel well area or elsewhere in the wing.

Other flight data, including landing gear position indicators and drag information, indicate it is unlikely the left landing gear was deployed early, the CAIB said.

The search continues in the western United States for debris from Columbia. As of early Thursday, no debris found farther west than Granbury, Texas, about 40 miles southwest of Fort Worth, had been confirmed as Shuttle-related. The first two trucks containing debris from Columbia arrived at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Fla. Wednesday morning.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reported today the Shuttle debris recovery operation is proceeding well. FEMA said 72 percent of sites in Texas and 84 percent of sites in Louisiana have been cleared.

The Environmental Protection Agency has 42 teams conducting operations in five Texas counties. Searches are focused on large structural items, and a plan is being developed to support expanded searches in areas where NASA-identified critical items have been found.

The Civil Air Patrol is expanding operations west of Fort Worth, and negotiations are under way to bring in a blimp to help search in the area from Fort Worth east to Palestine, Texas. The Navy is taking control of water operations, with dive teams and equipment arriving today. Searches will focus first on the Toledo Bend Reservoir and then turn to other lakes in the affected area.

The CAIB spent its second day visiting KSC. The trip's purpose is to familiarize members with operations at the center from which Columbia was launched Jan. 16.

On Friday the board is scheduled to visit the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Ala. On Saturday members are scheduled to visit the Michoud, La., facility near New Orleans where Shuttle external tanks are fabricated, before returning to Houston Saturday night.

Leroy Cain, the Space Shuttle entry flight director on Feb. 1, will hold a press conference at 3:30 p.m. EST Friday. It will be carried live on NASA Television. Before that press conference, NASA-TV will carry a videotape of events inside the Shuttle Flight Control Room on Feb. 1. The video will be shown beginning at noon and 3 p.m. EST.

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