The U-S Congress has begun its investigation into the space shuttle Columbia disaster as the first two truckloads of wreckage arrive in Florida for examinination into what caused the orbiter to break up earlier this month as it reentered the earth's atmosphere.
The administrator of the U-S space agency NASA, Sean O'Keefe, testified today (Wednesday) that the ill-fated spaceship exhibited no problems suggesting the lives of seven astronauts would be threatened as their 16-day scientific mission in Earth orbit drew to a close.
The astronauts perished when Columbia disintegrated during atmospheric re-entry, littering vast areas of eastern Texas and western Louisiana with mangled metal and human remains.
Mr. O'Keefe reassured skeptical lawmakers that a panel of experts appointed by NASA to investigate the disaster will be allowed to work independently, and that the space agency will not attempt to influence the panel's conclusions.
The U-S Forest Service and U-S Fish and Wildlife Service today (Wednesday) took over the search for wreckage. Fresh crews are relieving national guardsmen, law enforcement officers and local volunteers who spent the past 11 days combing forests, prairies, lakes, roadsides and even school yards for more than 12-thousand pieces of debris.
Once hauled to the Kennedy Space Center, the pieces are being laid out in a 45-hundred-square-meter hangar. The hangar is near the runway where the shuttle Columbia failed to land as scheduled February first. Investigators will attempt to reconstruct portions of the winged orbiter, hoping to find the starting point of a likely series of failures that led to the catastrophe