Feb. 13, 2003

Steve Nesbitt
Columbia Accident Investigation Board
713/301-9571

STATEMENT BY THE COLUMBIA ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION BOARD

Note: The CAIB has asked NASA for administrative support to release information to the public and the media. The following statement was provided by the CAIB for release.

Thermal Analysis Shows Hot Plasma Possible in Columbia Left Wheel Well Area

Preliminary analysis by a NASA working group this week indicates that the temperature indications seen in Columbia's left wheel well during entry would require the presence of plasma (super heated gas surrounding the orbiter during re- entry).

Heat transfer through the structure as from a missing tile would not be sufficient to cause the temperature indications seen in the last minutes of flight.

Additional analysis is underway, looking at various scenarios in which a breach of some type, allowing plasma into the wheel well area or elsewhere in the wing, could occur.

Other flight data including gear position indicators and drag information does not support the scenario of an early deployment of the left gear.

The search continues for possible debris from Columbia in the western U.S., but as of early Thursday, no debris further west than Ft. Worth, Texas has been confirmed as Shuttle- related.

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