U-S space officials say a newly-discovered piece of one of the space shuttle Columbia's wings could shed light on what caused the spacecraft to disintegrate during its return to earth one week ago, killing seven astronauts.
NASA officials are hoping to determine today (Saturday) whether the large wing piece came from the right or left side of the shuttle. NASA has focused its investigation on the left wing of the aircraft, where sensors showed rising temperatures just before the shuttle began breaking apart.
Space shuttle program manager Ron Dittemore (Friday) showed a series of charts that demonstrated the timeline of temperature changes and loss of sensor readings along the Columbia's left side. He could not say whether the sequence of events was significant or even linked to the loss of the shuttle.
Mr. Dittemore also said he could not confirm reports suggesting that a military photo of Columbia taken from the ground shows that the aircraft already had serious structural damage before it broke up.
The NASA official said the investigation would be a long, thorough process and cautioned against reaching premature conclusions on what caused the disaster.