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Large piece of Columbia wing recovered

Cape Canaveral, Feb. 8 (Reuters): Investigators have recovered a large piece of one of shuttle Columbia’s wings, a significant find in the probe into what downed the doomed spacecraft, a Nasa official said today.

Recovered from the Fort Worth, Texas, area, the new fragment of Columbia’s wreckage is made of black reinforced material meant to withstand the high temperatures on the shuttle’s nose and leading edges of its wings during descent.

“There has been a significant recovery ... we do have a large piece of one of the wings,” Michael Kostelnik, head of Nasa’s shuttle and space station programmes, said at a briefing.

Nasa said as of late yesterday afternoon investigators had not determined if the segment, which included a length of hardened carbon from the leading edge of the wing and about 18 inches of wing structure, came from the left or right wing.

Investigators are looking at a low-resolution image of the shuttle’s descent taken from a US air force laboratory in the western United States at about the time Columbia crossed the California coast, when the first anomalies were spotted by ground controllers.

Minutes after these anomalies were detected, ground controllers lost all contact with the shuttle and soon after that, Columbia disintegrated over Texas, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

Nasa made the grainy black-and-white photograph public late yesterday.

It showed what might have been an irregularity along the leading edge of the left wing.

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