One day after the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated in the sky, a NASA official said remains from all seven astronauts had been found while another official voiced hope that hidden data on computers would shed light on what caused the disaster.
"We found remains from all the astronauts," Bob Cabana, NASA director of flight crew operations, told reporters tonight. "It's still in the process of identification."
And as authorities continue the grim task of identifying the remains, NASA officials said they hoped they could find clues to determine what destroyed the second space shuttle in 17 years.
Ron Dittemore, the space shuttle program manager, said investigators will look for new clues that might be pulled out of NASA's flight computers — perhaps including data for an additional 32 seconds after communications with the shuttle went silent before the craft broke up.
Even if NASA officials succeed in retrieving the information, determining the cause of Saturday's disaster will not be easy. Officials say some evidence may have been destroyed during re-entry, when the shuttle was exposed to temperatures of 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe told ABCNEWS' This Week the preliminary investigation is concentrating on the external components of the shuttle, but nothing is being ruled out.
Looking at Fuel Tank, Tiles
NASA officials may focus on a piece of insulation that fell off a fuel tank during liftoff, perhaps hitting heat-repellent tiles under the left wing.
"That's one of the earliest indications," O'Keefe said. "It's one of the areas we're looking at first, early, to make sure the investigative team is concentrating on that theory or that set of facts."
Dittemore later told reporters NASA detected a sudden temperature rise in the shuttle's fuselage in the minutes before contact was lost. Soon afterward, Columbia's computer controls appeared to be trying to compensate for a drag on the left wing. However, he said, the drag by itself was not sufficient to suggest a problem with the insulating tiles, or at the time to have unduly alarmed the astronauts or NASA's ground crew.
"It's an interesting piece of data that's part of our equation that we're putting in with everything else," Dittemore said.
NASA preflight press information said the shuttle was using a new version of the fuel tank, The Associated Press reported. But a spokesman for Lockheed, the fuel tank manufacturer, said today Columbia actually was using an older version that NASA had begun phasing out in 2000, although he didn't know if there was a difference in the way the insulation was installed.
However, Dittemore said: "There's no concern about the lightweight tank. It's just different material than the super-lightweight. … Structurally and performance-wise, we had used it for many years, and had no reason to doubt its capability."
Retired Navy Rear Adm. Harold Gehman Jr. — who led the Pentagon investigation into the terrorist bombing of the USS Cole — will head a special government commission investigating the cause of the Columbia disaster. Officials continue to say there is no evidence of terrorism in the case of the shuttle.
NASA is also conducting its own investigation and House and Senate panels plan to examine the disaster that killed all seven crew members — commander Rick Husband, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, William McCool and Ilan Ramon, Israel's first astronaut.