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Air search for shuttle debris ends this week

Submitted by Arthur - N1ORC
Permission from Houston Chronicle previously granted

April 23, 2003, 3:36PM

Air search for shuttle debris ends this week

LUFKIN - Air operations in the search for space shuttle Columbia debris
will end this week, said Mark Stanford, incident commander with the
Texas Forest Service. 

As of today, the air search had netted 1,480 pieces of material and
covered more than 1.6 million acres. Helicopters began coordinated
searches for shuttle materials on Feb. 16. 

Columbia disintegrated over Texas on Feb. 1 as it aimed for a Florida
landing, killing seven astronauts. Debris was scattered over Texas and

At the height of air operations, 37 helicopters and 10 fixed-wing
aircraft were operating out of Angelina County and Palestine airports.
The air search was halted for 11 days after a Bell 407 helicopter
crashed on March 27, killing two and injuring three. 

Diving operations were completed April 12. Ground searches will conclude
on April 30, and four base camps are being disassembled, the last one
closing the first week of May. 

The search has so far yielded more than 70,000 items, weighing more than
78,000 pounds, about 37 percent of the shuttle by weight. 

The pieces are being taken to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida as
part of the investigation into the accident. 

A board investigating the accident suspects a 2-pound chunk of
insulating foam from the shuttle's external fuel tank ripped away during
its Jan. 16 launch and caused a breach along the left wing that let in
hot atmospheric gases as the spacecraft re-entered the atmosphere on its
return home. 

A Columbia Recovery Office is being established at Johnson Space Center
in Houston to assume responsibility for recovery management and to be a
community liaison.

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