Washington, Feb. 2: As a nervous America, already unsettled by the events of September 11, sought refuge in church services today to come to terms with the space shuttle disaster, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) quickly moved on to get to the cause of Columbia’s crash.
Nasa head Sean O’Keefe today appointed retired navy admiral Harold W. Gehman Jr to lead an independent investigation of the crash.
“We are going to make sure we are looking at every possible factor that could have contributed to this and there are some obvious ones,” O’Keefe said.
At a church in Florida close to the Kennedy Space Center, Rev. David Waller of the First United Methodist Church poetically called the trail of smoke from the disintegrating shuttle a “glistening tear across the face of the heavens”.
Across the country, similar words were heard in houses of worship.
In a televised address to the nation, President George W. Bush quoted prophet Isaiah: “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens. Who created all these' He who brings out the starry hosts one by one and calls them each by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”
Bush grieved for the astronauts but was also adamant. “The cause in which they died will continue,” he said. “Our journey into space will go on.”
In addition to the independent investigation by Gehman, Nasa will conduct its internal probe, O’Keefe said. The space agency promised a seven-day week, 24-hours-a-day probe.
Even as arrangements were being made for the exhaustive inquiries, there were two reports that human remains from Columbia had been sighted in east Texas near the border with Louisiana. In Hemphill, Texas, a hospital worker reported to police that he had found a charred torso, thigh bone and skull on a rural road.
The Dallas Morning News said in today’s edition that in Sabine County, two young boys had found a charred human leg on their farm. “From the hip to the foot,” said Bob White, father of the boys. “It is all there, scorched from the fire.”
Sabine County sheriff Tom Maddox said a piece of debris the size of a compact car fell into a reservoir on the border between Texas and Louisiana.
Broken pieces of the spacecraft were also recovered from several locations in the two states. An astronaut’s charred flight suit patch and a helmet have also been recovered. The debris is scattered over a stretch exceeding 800 km.
Nasa released the transcript of the final radio transmission between ground control and Columbia at 9 am here. It gave no indication of the impending tragedy.
The transcript read:
Mission Control radios: “Columbia, Houston, we see your tyre pressure messages and we did not copy your last.”
Columbia’s commander Rick Husband calmly responds: “Roger, uh, buh...”
For several seconds, there is silence. Then, there is static.