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Submitted by Arthur - N1ORC

Glenn Mahone/Doc Mirelson
Headquarters, Washington                    March 25, 2003
(Phone: 202/358-1600)

Dave Drachlis
Lufkin Command Center, Texas
(Phone: 936/699-1019)

Eileen Hawley
Johnson Space Center, Houston
(Phone: 281/483-5111)

RELEASE: 03-117


As the search of more than 500,000 acres of primary recovery 
area for Space Shuttle Columbia material reached its halfway 
mark, NASA Administrator, Sean O'Keefe, visited key sites in 
east Texas to thank recovery crews for their diligence and 
hard work.

"The outstanding interagency cooperation, and the hard work 
of all the individuals working on recovery, has been truly 
gratifying and inspiring," Administrator O'Keefe said. 
"There has been an untiring, fulltime, and dedicated effort 
to recover Columbia material. The great recovery work 
directly supports the efforts of the Columbia Accident 
Investigation Board to determine what caused the Shuttle 
mishap", he said. On Monday Administrator O'Keefe and 
Associate Administer for Space Flight, William F. Readdy 
visited the Lufkin Command Center, Nacogdoches Base Camp, 
and Toledo Bend Reservoir Dive Site.

Approximately 4500 ground searchers have covered 
approximately 56 percent of the planned 555,000-acre search 
area. The air search has covered approximately 74 percent of 
604, four-square nautical mile grids; and, on water, 
searchers have scanned about 81 percent of a planned 14.7 
square nautical mile area. The search should be completed 
within four to six weeks, weather permitting. Searches 
farther west, along Columbia's ground track, likely will 
take additional time, because of the great area involved.

About 25 percent of the Shuttle Columbia, by weight, has 
been delivered to the collection hangar at Kennedy Space 
Center (KSC), Fla. More is en route from the searched area 
in eastern Texas and western Louisiana to KSC.

Last Wednesday's recovery of the Orbiter Experiment Support 
System recorder (OEX) is potentially significant, and search 
coordinators hope to recover additional critical items. "We 
are extremely excited with the recent discovery of this 
recorder, and we want to thank the other agencies and 
communities for their support," said Allen Flynt, NASA 
Oversight Manager at the Lufkin Command Center. "But we 
remain dedicated to our goal of bringing home as much of 
Columbia as possible. We remain focused on the recovery 
effort, which continues at full strength, " he said.

Some of the top priorities of NASA, and its local, state and 
federal partners, are to recover or clean up potentially 
hazardous materials and ensure the public's safety. The 
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has 
responsibility for the overall disaster response effort. The 
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is tasked with 
collecting and delivering recovered Shuttle material to NASA 
and the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB). The 
U.S. Forest Service and Texas Forest Service are 
coordinating the land and air search. The U.S. Navy is 
managing water search activities.

"We still have an obligation to the residents of Texas and 
Louisiana, as well as any other state that may contain 
Columbia material, to recover all known material and leave 
the land as it was prior to Feb. 1. Our obligation also 
extends to providing all public assistance funds to eligible 
applicants, and we'll satisfy all those obligations before 
closing down," said FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Scott 

All of these organizations are continuing to encourage local 
residents to report any possible Shuttle materials to the 
toll-free hotline at the Lufkin Command Center at:


For more information about NASA and the Space Shuttle 
Columbia accident investigation on the Internet, visit:


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