Lufkin, TX -- In the seven weeks since the Columbia Space Shuttle broke up over Texas, in excess of 10,000 ground personnel have walked fields,farms, forests and open lands recovering over 42,000 confirmed shuttle items. In excess of 1.7 million acres have been searched by ground and air personnel, an area slightly larger than the state of Delaware, while divers have searched an additional 15,700 acres attempting to recover pieces of the Columbia craft. One of the significant finds to date has been the OEX data recorder found ten days ago seven miles west of Hemphill, Texas.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) personnel hope that ground, air and water recovery efforts will yield other pieces that will contribute to answering the question of what caused Columbia's break up.
Jerry Ross, NASA Astronaut Office On-Site Lead, stressed the importance of the recovery operation to the future of space activity. "We are involved in an unprecedented task. Working in partnership with other federal agencies and joined by state and local personnel, NASA continues to search for the evidence that we hope will provide the Columbia Accident Investigation Board with solid information on what caused the accident."
There are currently 141 20-person search teams involved in the ground operation in Texas. Ground, air and water search personnel have recovered more than 58,500 pounds of material or 26.0 percent of the landing weight of the craft. Additional teams search specific targeted areas, where ground data indicates debris may have landed in New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, California and Louisiana.
"The cooperation of the general public in notifying us of suspected debris has been fantastic," said Federal Coordinating Officer Scott Wells. "In the month to 6-weeks remaining before search operations scale down dramatically, we're asking for a re-doubling of efforts by the general public in calling the toll-free 866-446-6603 number notifying officials of suspected debris."
Of the 39 states reporting suspected debris, the primary search are has been narrowed to 16 Texas counties. No confirmed debris has been located west of Littlefield, Texas or east of Fort Polk, Louisiana.
"We have accounted for a high percent of all material that was known to be a part of Columbia which has public safety significance," said Jim Mullins, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Lufkin. "We are confident that the threat to the general public of potential injury from coming in contact with hazardous material has been greatly diminished. However, NASA and EPA continue to work diligently to resolve the few remaining issues," said Mullins.