NASA turns to data for clues

Investigators studying the high-altitude breakup of space shuttle Columbia Feb. 1 have turned to critical computer systems for clues.

After losing communication with the shuttle around 9 a.m. — 16 minutes before it was scheduled to land — flight controllers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston secured all information, notes and data from systems whose failure could be linked to the events leading up to the breakup.

NASA subsequently organized "mishap response teams," both external and internal to the space agency, to coordinate the review of those records, including about 30 seconds of corrupted data.

"We may be able to, after the fact, resynchronize the data and get something from it," William Readdy, associate administrator for NASA's Office of Space Flight, said in a news briefing today.

The agency is putting its findings into databases to facilitate accessibility and analysis. It also set up a telephone hot line and an e-mail address for the public to use to report information that could help investigators (see Related Info box).

"We diligently dedicate ourselves every single day to assuring these things don't occur. And when they do, we have to act responsibly, accountably and that is exactly what we will do," NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe said in a statement released Feb. 1.

All seven members of the crew on board the shuttle were killed in the accident.

"A more courageous group of people you could not have hoped to know — an extraordinary group of astronauts who gave their lives — and the families of these crew members," O'Keefe said. "They knew exactly the risks. And never, ever did we want to see a circumstance in which this could happen."


For telephone reports: (281) 483-3388

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For other e-mails:

NASA home page

"NASA slows some IT spending" [, Jan. 10, 2003]

"NASA tech chief defines new mission" [Federal Computer Week, Aug. 5, 2002]

"NASA sizes up genius shortage" [Federal Computer Week, July 20, 2002]


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