Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Columbia Debris Turns Up In East Texas

NASA officials and local authorities believe a spherical tank discovered on the banks of an East Texas lake is debris from the shuttle Columbia, which disintegrated over the region during an ill-fated 2003 atmospheric reentry that killed seven astronauts.

This photo distributed by the Associated Press via the Nacogdoches Police Department shows a four-foot diameter sphere. Low water levels at Lake Nacogdoches as a result of an ongoing drought led to the discovery and recovery of the tank.

NASA officials say the object likely is a shuttle fuel cell system tank. Shuttle orbiters are equipped with three fuel cells that combine liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to generate electricity to operate spacecraft systems. Potable water is generated as a byproduct. The sphere likely is either a liquid oxygen or liquid hydrogen tank from the so-called Power Reactant Storage and Distribution (PRSD) system.

Columbia and its crew were lost when hot gasses blowtorched through a hole in the shuttle's left wing during atmospheric reentry on Feb. 1, 2003. A 1.67-pound chunk of foam broke free from the shuttle's external tank during launch, punching a six- to 10-inch hole in the wing. The damage went undetected during a 16-day science mission. (AP Photo/Nacogdoches Police Department)

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