Skip to comments.Shuttle Debris Rains on Texas, Blackens Earth / STS-107
Posted on 02/01/2003 12:51:53 PM PST by NormsRevenge
RICE, Texas (Reuters) - Debris from space shuttle Columbia rained down onto fields and highways in Texas on Saturday, with witnesses coming across smoldering metal wreckage, including what appeared to be a door from the orbiter, local officials and eyewitnesses said.
A 100-mile-long debris cloud of ash and metal fragments also spread over the state's wide open rural spaces and into neighboring Louisiana, local weather officials said.
One piece of wreckage about three feet by five feet was smoldering in a field near Rice, Texas, just off Interstate 45 about 45 miles south of Dallas.
Police were urging vehicles that slowed to look at the site to keep moving away from the toxic debris along the highway that links Houston and Dallas.
On one Texan field, wisps of gray smoke rose from a huge patch of blackened grass where debris had scorched the earth.
The seven astronauts aboard the shuttle were killed after U.S. space agency NASA (news - web sites) lost contact with them about 9 a.m.
Residents across eastern Texas heard three loud explosions and saw streams of vapor before watching debris rain from the spacecraft, Larry Mars a police detective in Palestine, Texas, said.
Television images showed Columbia, which was completing a 16-day mission, appeared to explode above Texas, immediately leaving several white trails across brilliant blue skies.
It was traveling 12,500 miles per hour at 207,000 feet above Earth -- only 16 minutes from its scheduled landing at Kennedy Space Center (news - web sites) in Florida.
There were no reports of injuries or damage on the ground from the debris that appeared to be scattered over a vast area of 120 square miles.
Local weather officials estimated the lighter material in the debris cloud would take up to 10 hours to finish falling, while all big pieces had likely already hit the ground.
DEBRIS COVERS COLLEGE CITY
Officials in Nacogdoches, Texas, said residents reported spotting many pieces of the debris dispersed throughout the college city of about 30,000 people, located about 145 miles northeast of Houston.
The ruins ranged in size and the city had received one report of a door from the shuttle being found, she added.
"We do have a debris field. It is scattered all throughout Nacogdoches," city manager Victoria Lafollett said.
"The number of pieces being reported is just impossible to keep up with, she said. "Some are very small, some are larger," she said.
NASA scrambled rescue units to search for wreckage and recover the remains of the crew, which included the first Israeli to fly on the shuttle, former combat pilot Col. Ilan Ramon. The rest of the crew consisted of six Americans, four men and two women.
Bush administration officials said there was no indication the breakup was due to terrorism.
But a White House spokesman said Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge spoke to Texas Gov. Rick Perry and homeland security officials in Louisiana and Oklahoma because wreckage was also believed to have rained down into those states.
NASA warned people to stay clear of the smoldering debris.
"Any debris that is located in the Dallas-Fort Worth vicinity should be avoided and may be hazardous due to the toxic nature of propellants used on board the shuttle and should be reported to local law enforcement authorities," NASA mission control in Houston said.
|Sat Feb 1, 3:42 PM ET|
The crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia is seen in this undated composite photo. All seven astronauts were lost when Columbia broke up in the skies over Texas February 1, 2003, just minutes before a scheduled landing at the Kennedy Space Center (news - web sites) in Florida. Photo by Nasa (news - web sites)/Reuters
Lord, we commit these souls unto your care.
Prayers to the families and friends of those lost in this terrible event.
|Sat Feb 1,11:17 AM ET|
The space shuttle Columbia was feared crashed in northeastern Texas, February 1, 2003, with seven astronauts on board. The seven STS-107 crew members take a break from their training regime to pose for the traditional crew portrait. Seated in front are astronauts Rick D. Husband (left), mission commander; Kalpana Chawla, mission specialist; and William C. McCool, pilot. Standing are (from the left} astronauts David M. Brown, Laurel B. Clark, and Michael P. Anderson, all mission specialists; and Ilan Ramon, payload specialist representing the Israeli Space Agency. This photo was taken October, 2001. NO SALES NO ARCHIVE EDITORIAL USE ONLY REUTERS/NASA (news - web sites)
|Sat Feb 1, 3:47 PM ET|
Flags surrounding the Washington Monument fly at half staff February 1, 2003 in honor of the astronauts killed in the space shuttle Columbia disaster. Seven astronauts perished today as their craft broke up on reentry in northeastern Texas. REUTERS/Jason Reed
Ok course the crash investigators want a pristine site, and some materials can be toxic, but has anybody heard anything about if there actually was highly classified data or equipment aboard this flight?
The Space Shuttle carries a very toxic fuel called hydrozen. I remember when two German farmers in the 80's who came across a crash of an American F-16 that augured into a field. Both were rendered unconscious by the toxic hyrozen fumes coming from the crash.
Personally, I think the toxic materials bit is overblown. They don't want anyone coming in contact with the debris because it is forensic evidence.
I.E. They're not as concerned about the wreckage contaminating people as they are about people contaminating the wreckage.
(Or scarfing it up and selling it on e-bay)
Hydrazine for the attitude thrusters can be nasty. But I recall when I was a kid, an ancient F104 had crashed, and a cop was shouting to the crowd that gathered and was plucking souveniers, "This magnesium is going to explode", so a lot of this probably is an easy crowd control method.
But I would not want to be an E-Bay seller of any of this stuff. There must be quite a few laws regarding looting and stolen Government property that could be used to bring the hammer down.