Picking Up the Pieces

Recovering the Space Shuttle Colombia

Claire D. Alexander, Satellite Systems Engineer at NASA Johnson Space Center, Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical Engineering, Purdue University

If the media coverage was any indication, the breakup and destruction of the Space Shuttle Columbia on February 1, 2003 was a major disaster, perhaps even a reason to question the relative benefits and costs of spaceflight. Were the risks to human life worth the gains? For the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and associated teams involved in the recovery effort, the importance of the greater mission, space exploration, outweighed any particular risks. Their mission now was to recover the Shuttle and investigate the accident. NASA astronaut and Purdue University alumnus Jerry L. Ross immediately went to work as a member of NASA’s rapid response team, leading and organizing groups for the ground search effort in southeastern Texas and directing the debris recovery team to find the crucial physical evidence. The archives at Purdue University hold a large collection of Jerry Ross’ papers, which include reports from the investigation, lists of recovered items, procedures for the recovery of Space Shuttle pieces, and maps of recovery zones and progress (1).

These sources reveal that the true meaning of the disaster was in the recovery. The recovery teams’ job was to piece Columbia, America’s space vehicle, back together again in order to help rebuild the space program. Analysts first relied heavily on the data that was transmitted from the shuttle up until communications were lost. But most of the recovery effort was a ground search that involved a massive force, including workers from NASA and a number of Texas service groups. The goal of the search? Find shuttle parts and uncover what caused the vehicle to break-up mid-flight. Awaiting teams methodically reassembled what remained of Columbia as each available piece was carefully identified and organized. I will use the Ross papers to narrate the technical investigation, recovery, and rebuild of one of the world’s most complex vehicles.

Immediately after the loss of Challenger in 1986, America’s first Space Shuttle disaster, astronaut Mike Mullane remembered how he felt about the program. As he wrote in his memoir, Riding Rockets, “Only the janitors and cafeteria workers at NASA were blameless in the deaths of the Challenger seven” (2). Mullane recalled grieving, wanting to place blame, and desperately looking for a cause of what happened. NASA needed to honor the memories of the lost astronauts by finding the fatal mistakes and fixing them. The accident was not simply the result of a mechanical mistake or oversight, but was rooted in NASA’s broken culture and the institutional failure to hear and address all concerns. The team involved in the recovery and rebuild of the vehicle wanted to prove that the United States was still capable of conducting spaceflight safely by rebuilding the shuttle and getting to the root of the problems that lead to the incident. We see the same pattern of shock and re-commitment after the loss of Columbia. Dr. Michael Hawes, current Program Manager at Lockheed Martin for the NASA Orion program, remembered how Jon Clark, husband of Mission Specialist Laurel Clark, one of seven astronauts who died while aboard Columbia, wondered whether “we would continue to be a space-faring people or would we become a space-fearing people” (3). Yet, he also emphasized how NASA workers wanted the program to continue, with the assurance that all the issues that caused the problem were fixed before the next launch. American public opinion seemed to share in these judgements, with significant support for the continuation of the U.S. spaceflight program, but only if NASA better managed the risks and crafted better means for safety and the preservation of human life (4).

These judgements and sentiments highlight a crucial factor in this story: that engineering, exploration, and discovery are impossible without taking risks. Engineers must often fail before they can succeed, and success is often embedded with the causes of future failures. As Henry Petroski argues in To Engineer is Human, “It is only when we set ourselves such an unrealistic goal as … building a vehicle that will never break down that we appear to be fools and non-rational beings” (5). Mistakes will be made, and sometimes these mistakes put lives at risk. The engineer’s mission is to never stop searching for safety and improvement. Though it is almost impossible to look at engineering problems without emotion, it is necessary to do so in order to achieve success. Petroski also describes how risk goes hand in hand with engineering and enterprise by briefly discussing the process of design. Concepts are changed numerous times as improvements are made to potential weak spots of a design over the course of manufacturing. Engineers can run tests and simulations to see where these weak spots are and where they might occur over use and time. Although human beings have come to master this technique, there will always be a line between what we predict will happen and what can happen. There is no fail-proof design. Jerry Ross reinforced the insight, stating, “Obviously what we do flying in space is never going to be totally safe. And if anybody wants to make it totally safe, they will just have to stay on the ground” (6). The challenge, then, is to maximize success and safety.

The Disaster Timelines

In their effort to recover the Columbia shuttle, investigators first looked back at the pre-launch events as they unfolded on the ground in order to find where mistakes may have been made. Using the Mission Control records found in the Jerry Ross papers, we can relive the moments from within the control room when Columbia, also known as Space Transportation System or STS-107, re-entered the atmosphere. The landing process began as planned, on the morning of February 1, with a roll maneuver to position the shuttle so that the heat tiles faced the ground in preparation for the extreme heat of re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere. At 8:54am, just five minutes after the start of re-entry, Flight Director LeRoy Cain received a call from the Maintenance, Mechanical, and Crew Systems officer in Mission Control reporting that four temperature readings had failed along the underside of the left wing of the shuttle (7). At this time, Columbia was still flying over the Pacific Ocean. The controllers checked a few other systems before shrugging off these failures as an instrumentation issue. Four minutes later, there was another report of the loss of tire pressure on the left wing. At this point, the Communications officer began to desperately re-establish contact with the astronauts following the re-entry blackout. Blackout occurs when the atmosphere around the shuttle is heated from the friction of re-entry to the point of forming a layer of plasma around the skin of the shuttle. The plasma material disrupts the signal used for communications between the orbiter and the ground, resulting in an expected loss of contact. At 8:59am, just as Columbia was approaching Dallas, Texas, Mission Control received just one discernible word from Shuttle Commander Rick Husband, “Roger …” (8).

In the next few minutes, controllers continued to attempt communicating with the shuttle, while also receiving more warning signs, including the loss of pressure sensors for the hydraulic systems in the nose landing gear and right wing landing gear locations. At about 9:08am, the Ground Controller reported to the Flight Director: “MILA’s taking one of their antennas off into a search mode,” meaning that the controllers had lost tracking of the shuttle and were trying to find it again. Most of the anomalies until this point were somewhat common, or could have been attributed to instrumentation. Yet losing the actual tracking of the vehicle meant that something must have gone very wrong. The fears of everyone in the room were finally realized when a call came in describing what was already being seen on live broadcasting: the shuttle had broken apart. Finally, at 9:12am, Cain gave the order to “Lock the doors,” an order only given in the event of a catastrophic failure. Columbia and its crew had been lost.

Along with the written records of what happened, the Ross papers contain numerous diagrams that give a visual representation of the shuttle’s break up. Figures 1 and 2 below give a detailed timeline of the shuttle’s re-entry data, received by Mission Control as the shuttle was re-entering the atmosphere. Each box on this map provides a short description of different milestones that occurred during the re-entry. At the top of each box is an underline with numbers that indicate the time in the re-entry clock when the moment occurred. Many of these boxes use the phrase “off-normal” or “off-scale low” (9). When sensors that measure temperature, thermocouples, or pressure transducers, are not connected, broken, or malfunctioning, they will report and display a number that is far off from any believable number, or “off the scale” to indicate to the engineer that the sensor is not working correctly (10). Both of these phrases refer to this phenomenon occurring in many of the sensors on board the shuttle. These diagrams also use shorthand language for some words, including “LATD,” “LONG,” “ALT,” and “VREL,” meaning latitude, longitude, altitude, and the relative velocity of the shuttle. Further, a “hydraulic system” is a mechanical system using highly dense fluid to move control surfaces and structures like the landing gear. The landing gear hydraulic system on the underside of the left wing was where some of the first problems were detected. Both of the diagrams were created by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. The information provided here was determined from analyzing the data received from the shuttle before contact was lost, from analyzing recovered data and shuttle parts, from photos that were taken of the shuttle during re-entry, and from calculations based on trajectory algorithms.

overall timeline

Figure 1: Columbia Accident Investigation Board, “Overall Timeline: STS-107 Re-entry Trajectory and Timelines,” Columbia Accident Investigation Board, Report Volume 1, August 2003, Box 39, Binder 10, 40, Jerry L. Ross papers 1940-2013.

The first timeline diagram, Figure 1, begins with the first indication of a problem over the Pacific Ocean. The timeline spans nearly twelve minutes and more than 5,000 miles. As a result of the shuttle losing control during re-entry, Columbia never quite slowed down to its landing speed. The shuttle was most likely traveling at speeds around Mach 2.5, 2.5 times the speed of sound or about 1,918 miles per hour, through the majority of this timeline. Because of the shuttle’s high speed, the debris field spanned thousands of square miles. Detailing where the shuttle was when parts began to fail or break off was important for the search and recovery team, in that such detail provided an origin point for trajectory equations. Predicting where the debris might fall helped search leaders like Jerry Ross organize recovery groups accordingly. Also indicated on this map is the area along the re-entry line where the debris from the Space Shuttle was eventually found in comparison to the system warnings and indications.


reentry timeline

Figure 2: Columbia Accident Investigation Board, “Final Break-up Timeline: STS-107 Re-entry Trajectory and Timelines,” Columbia Accident Investigation Board, Report Volume 1, August 2003, Box 39, Binder 10, 41, Jerry L. Ross papers 1940-2013.

Figure 2 is broken down to the moments in the last five minutes before impact. This is the diagram that covers the portion of the timeline where the shuttle broke apart, or the area indicated as the main debris field in Figure 1. On the bottom right corner of the figure, we can see the “Debris Impact Footprint,” or where the most of the debris was eventually found. This area spanned across more than 2,400 square miles of Texas and Louisiana, larger than any other previous accident site (11). The western-most identifiable piece of recovered debris was a heat tile found in west Texas, while the majority of the debris was found in eastern Texas and the western boarder of Louisiana. This map does show that some debris was found as far west as Nevada and Arizona. Some of the indicator boxes on this diagram also show where the shuttle was located relative to the ground when important warnings and readings were received during re-entry, and where certain pieces were found after recovery. According to Figure 2, Mission Control was receiving data for about a minute after the shuttle passed where the first tile was found. There are even two roll maneuvers, where the shuttle performs a barrel roll type movement, indicated after the shuttle passed over the location where Debris #7-15 were found (12). This means that the break-up of the shuttle did not happen all at once. Instruments on the vehicle were still working and sending data for at least a minute after it began to lose parts. The majority of the break-up did happen very close together time wise, as shown by the debris footprint. Therefore, from the information on this map, we can imagine that the shuttle began to break up first slowly and then all at once. This most likely occurred on the map at time stamp 13:59:31, at 200,861 feet, when the shuttle was traveling at 12,384 miles per hour.

Jerry Ross’s papers contain other maps and photos, including some that display search zones or debris recovery locations, and even a few photos of the shuttle taken from the ground in eastern Texas where it began to break-up. These photos show the shuttle glowing with a few discernible pieces of debris falling behind it, and then escalate to show the moment when there was no longer a distinct shuttle piece and all that was left was a glowing cloud of debris. One map even specifically shows the locations of several of the items that belonged to the left wing of the shuttle, exactly where the problems began. These items were classified significant to the investigation process and, like the timelines above, were essential in determining what precisely happened to Columbia.

Indeed, after months of investigation, NASA engineers eventually confirmed the suspected cause of the accident. During the launch of STS-107, a piece of insulating foam on the External Tank, or ET, broke off and struck under the leading edge of the shuttle’s left wing about 82 seconds after liftoff. The foam, about the size of a briefcase, weighed around 1.67 pounds and struck the shuttle with more than a ton of force while traveling at a velocity of about 545 miles per hour. The foam had blasted a hole in the heat panels about 6 to 10 inches wide (13). The carbon tiles that surround the nose, underside, and leading edges of the shuttle are designed to protect the interior from the extreme heat that surrounds the shuttle during re-entry. This hole created a breach that allowed superheated air, over 2000°F, to enter the heat shield during the landing sequence and ultimately doomed the crew. As the shuttle was flying over California, the structure in the left wing began to melt, deform, and break away. As the vehicle lost shape, it lost control and tumbled while eventually breaking apart completely.

This malfunction, unlike the Challenger disaster’s infamous O rings, was not necessarily a failure of hardware. Pieces of the ET were known to break off during most previous shuttle flights, but had never resulted in catastrophic damage to the shuttle in any previous launch.  Instead, the Columbia accident was mostly due to an unlikely set of circumstances, and a failure to properly respond to these circumstances. NASA engineers and managers were aware of the foam damage that was occurring before Columbia, but considered these foam strikes as non-threatening to the shuttle and therefore an acceptable launch environment. They were mistaken, as confirmed by the Columbia investigation and by the timelines and maps under discussion here. But their singular dedication of time and resources to that investigation also reveals a confidence in their ability to learn from their mistakes and to recognize where improvements needed to be made.

The Recovery Maps

Jerry Ross was waiting on the runway for the astronauts to return on the morning of the disaster. He had personally been involved in getting a few of the crew members selected for this specific mission and was therefore very close to the crew and support teams (14). After a long day, first helping out in the room where the families of the astronauts were told that the crew had been lost, Ross was flown to Louisiana to begin work on the ground search process as a leader in the Incident Management Team. He arrived at the debris site in eastern Texas the morning after the disaster, and spent the next few months working to develop a plan and a team for the ground search effort and eventually leading that search effort. As a result, many of the papers in his collection are records of how the ground search was conducted and organized.

Just hours after the incident occurred, people were eager to help in any way they could. “NASA received 1,459 reports from people who believed they’d found a piece from Columbia, including 37 states Columbia did not pass over during its reentry — as well as Canada, Jamaica, and the Bahamas!” (15). More than 25,000 people eventually participated in the debris search and recovery effort. Even before Ross arrived on the scene, the Texas Forestry Service went to work preparing the debris field and awaiting further instruction. Searchers did not move or touch any of the debris in case they contained dangerous material. Instead, the first response searchers identified the items to the best of their ability. Item locations were flagged and logged using Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates so that they could be found by later searchers (16). The coordinates were used to create the debris line that is depicted on the maps discussed earlier in this article. Among the items that were found by the first responders on this day were most of the remains of the astronauts (17).

A total of 21 federal Incident Management teams, such as the United States Forestry Service, Texas National Guard, Texas Task Force One, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation also responded and became an integral part of the ground search effort. Residents of the area offered their own food and homes to the recovery teams. It seems that people everywhere just wanted to do their part to help. Ground searching involved walking very precise grids based on debris trajectory, radar, and telemetry. Helicopters and a few fixed wing aircraft were used to search from the air for locations of items that could not be seen initially from the ground. One of Jerry Ross’ jobs was to lead those in the search crew in the procedures of handling recovered items, as represented in his instruction manual. Much of the instruction is simple, noting that most of the material would not need special handling. Each of these items found would be labeled with a unique tracking number, photographed, and bagged (18). With all the dangerous chemicals used in rocketry and spaceflight, there was a possibility that any recovered item might be associated with hazardous material. These items were not to be handled by the searchers, but were instead disposed of by specially trained personnel (19).

Significant recovered items

Figure 3: Shuttle Columbia Zone Map, “Significant Recovered Items,” February 21, 2003, Series 9, Folder 2, Item 1, Jerry L. Ross papers 1940-2013.

Among the many papers and accounts of the ground search and recovery teams in the Ross papers, two dramatic maps, each spanning an entire table in size, display the main search area and provide a summary of progress on certain days. The Geographic Information System (GIS) was essential in the ground search by helping to create maps that contained and tracked logged data about debris location, search progress, and search planning (20). Hundreds of these maps were created and used daily during the recovery process, both by searchers as well as by NASA representatives leading the search teams. The first map, shown in Figure 3 above, includes three different images that will allow us to see the different aspects of the map while looking at the same image. Overall, the map was used to show the location of significant debris items from Columbia after the incident, and how far from the general reentry line they were found in relation to ground search zones. In the corner is the legend, showing that the main recovery area was split into different colored zones. Each are a mile wide and can be seen in the center image on Figure 3, which displays the entire map. This area, southeast of Dallas, Texas, was the main search area to which Jerry Ross was assigned. The image on the right is a close-up of one section of the debris path. Each dot represents the location of a significant item that was recovered. Most of the debris was found within five miles of the indicated center line, or debris line, while some items were found more than 10 or 20 miles away. In the legend, each colored dots indicates an item that was recovered from specific parts of the shuttle. Many of the dots on this map indicate debris from one of the Columbia’s wings, as that Jerry Ross just happened to be stationed at that section of the debris field where many of Columbia’s left wing pieces were recovered.

The total area shown on the next map, Figure 4, is much smaller than the previous map in order to show more detail. Its main purpose was to show the progress of the ground and air search in this area as of 21 February 2003.

Map Zone Columbia recovery

Figure 4 “Map, Zone – Columbia Recovery,” 2003, Series 9, Folder 2, Item 1, Jerry L. Ross papers 1940-2013.

The left-most image in this figure is a section of the overall map which displays different air search zones that were divided into groups. Each search zone is represented by a different color. The center image contains a close-up of the legend which specifies the meaning for each color represented on the map. In the close-up image on the right, we can see that each square separates smaller areas into groups designated for the ground searchers. Each of these blocks tells the reader two things. First, the color of the dot in the center of each block illustrates the progress that was made by the air search or if the block is only searchable on the ground. Second, the color of the small inserted blocks represents the percent progress that has been made by the ground search crew. Maps like this were updated with the progress achieved after each day and were used to help distribute forces for the following day. Jerry Ross used these two maps to organize search groups and in order to keep track of progress and ensure that the recovery process was thorough.

One of the ground recovery team’s main jobs was to find pieces of Columbia’s left wing. Before the root cause was officially determined, engineers hypothesized that these pieces would most likely show the actual causes of the accident. Most of the recovered items, about 99 percent, were classified as “general material” (21). “Significant Material” referred to the material that may have provided information that was important to the investigation, including large wing components, as well as black boxes, cameras, and circuit boards (22). The latter devices were crucial in that they recorded data, and any one of these might provide more information about what happened to the shuttle after communications were lost.

Although much of the vehicle disintegrated upon re-entry, astronaut remains were found during the ground search.  Though in the Jerry Ross papers, there is almost no mention made of body parts being found in the significant items of recovered lists or recovery crew records. There are logs of a rubber boot heel, helmet, and a suit patch each among the wreckage (23). There are items that we know must have been a part of one of the crew member’s flight suits. Ross recognized the difficulties of his job: “I saw the debris and it was my friends’ or they had it strapped to their leg or had worn it and it was very tough to see the conditions of all the hardware” (24). There is one short mention of the human remains in the item recovery instruction booklet, when instructing what to do if “crew related material including human remains” was found (25). But the instructions are short and void of emotion, stating that these items are not to be handled, and that the responders’ team leader and the FBI ought to be notified immediately.

Though they expressed grief and sadness about the incident through memorial events and remembrance pamphlets, NASA personnel hardly ever mentioned the astronauts themselves in most technical documents. As one description had it, “During the violent tumult, the crew module lost pressure but maintained structural integrity for about 38 seconds. Columbia’s crew likely lost consciousness during decompression and probably died from blunt force trauma during the violent gyrations of the cabin’s tumbling and breaking apart” (26). There is no doubt that Ross and the various NASA teams grieved, and that their emotions were a major motivation in finding the root cause of the incident and in honoring their fallen comrades. Yet it was still necessary to keep raw feeling out of their work, at least as reflected in the various documents and records, in order to focus on recovery and rebuilding.

The Rebuild Grid

Apart from the actual recovery efforts that were being done in the field, other NASA investigators worked on the rebuild effort, a labor that required investigators to physically piece the shuttle back together and rebuild both the engineering procedures and culture within NASA. As items were found and identified, they were taken to a hangar and placed in a spot that visually represented where the piece was located on the shuttle while it was intact. Figure 5 is the grid rebuild photo that illustrates the shuttle being pieced back together in the hangar at Kennedy Space Center. This technique is commonly used by vehicle investigation organizations, such as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), to provide a visual representation about what happened, and so as to find the crucial pieces bearing evidence for the cause of the accident. The NTSB even acted as a consultant on this project, contributing its extensive experience in investigating airplane crashes to help rebuild Columbia.

Rebuild Grid

Figure 5: Columbia Accident Investigation Board, “Figure 3.7-1,” Columbia Accident Investigation Board, Report Volume 1, August 2003, Box 39, Binder 10, 72, Jerry L. Ross papers, 1940-2013.

Ironically, the pieces that were of most interest to NASA, those that belonged to the left wing, where the initial breach had occurred, were less likely to be found. The disaster itself had burned away most of the physical evidence that would show what really happened. The photo of the hangar rebuild shows a right wing that is far closer to completion than the left wing, mostly incinerated by the fiery break-up. By the end of the recovery process, around 84,000 pieces were recovered, accounting for about only 40 percent of the shuttle (27). The rest of the material was either disintegrated by the atmosphere or was too small to be recovered by the search crew. NASA was forced to perform the majority of the reconstruction of the shuttle virtually, using algorithms to match fracture surfaces.

Aside for the physical reconstruction of Columbia itself, NASA was also searching for the causes of the accident, as well as rebuilding its shuttle and human spaceflight program. In the wake of the disaster, the newly appointed Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) urged NASA to incorporate a greater emphasis on safety when preparing for space missions (28). One of the CAIB’s main tasks was to see where safety had been overlooked, either in the engineering or in the management decision making. A video of Columbia’s launch clearly showed a chuck of the External Tank breaking off and striking the underside of the Orbiter. While the astronauts of STS-107 were living on the International Space Station, NASA officials decided that this was not a concern and proceeded with a normal landing. The question was: why did NASA not consider the falling debris a serious safety risk (29)?

Although there must be some acceptable risk in spaceflight, the CAIB urged NASA not to overlook important safety concerns for reasons like finance, scheduling, or outside pressure. Jerry Ross’ papers also provide more insight as to what problems may have led to this disaster. One report in particular mentions that NASA’s overall budget decreased by about 40 percent over the decade before STS-107 (30). Astronaut Mike Mullane remarked that, “The NASA Administrators were largely budget lobbyists beholden to the White House and Congress” (31). Also, due to obligations to re-supply the International Space Station and other government mandated missions, NASA was under a great deal of scheduling pressure. The accident investigation showed that the culture of decision making in NASA placed too much emphasis on making deadlines or taking shortcuts rather than on the safety of the vehicle and the crew.

Ross even used the CAIB report as his own personal notebook to focus on certain other important findings. These hand-highlighted sections showed that it was common for NASA engineers to feel like they would be singled out and shamed by their peers and managers if they came forward with a safety issue that seemed somewhat trivial. The flow of communication between management and engineers was not conducive to expressing one’s opinions and concerns. Managers tended to accept only the suggestions that closely resembled their own (32). The CAIB also found that engineers who did speak up were often shrugged off or not taken seriously by those in leadership (33). NASA’s risk management and safety culture were broken.

The challenge of engineering, moreover, is in imagining all possible faults or weak spots in a new design. Yet NASA engineers did not address these problems, and after enough time, this led to a catastrophic mission failure. Traditionally, as tests become more and more successful, engineers and managers grow confident and eventually complacent in their ability to manufacture and use their design safely. Jerry Ross believes this happened inside NASA before the Columbia disaster, as problems appeared but did not result in any actual damage: “sometimes you start to believe that the capabilities of your hardware are better than they actually were, and it causes you to be overly confidant and not aggressively trying to pursue problems” (34). One section of the CAIB final report also described a process called “Integrated Hazard Report 37,” by which engineers conducted a “hazard analysis” on hardware only when the system was first designed and when the design was changed or a component replaced (35). The CAIB advised that the process re-evaluate hazards after any anomaly.

The Columbia disaster forced NASA engineers and managers to improve their administrative cultures and focus on overall safety. This was a long and challenging process, but it all began with the timelines and maps, reports and grids, that we have studied here, and with the thousands of dedicated people who immediately went to work on recovering the lost pieces of the Space Shuttle Columbia.


1. Born in Crown Point, Indiana in 1948, Jerry L. Ross received his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University in 1970 and 1972. Ross worked for NASA from 1979 to 2012, during which he held a number of positions. Notable among his achievements, Ross flew as an astronaut on seven space missions, an accomplishment that earned him the (now shared) record for the most number of times launched into space.
2. Mike Mullane, Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut (New York: Scribner, 2006), 228.
3. Michael Hawes to Claire Alexander, electronic mail, 10 November 2015.
4. Harris Interactive/CNN/Time Magazine Poll # 2003-02: Economy/Budget/Iraq/Space Shuttle Columbia/Title Nine [USHARRISINT2003-02], 6 February 2003, available at the iPoll Databank and The Roper Center Public Opinion Archive; Roger D. Launius and John Krige, Space Shuttle Legacy: How We Did It and What We Learned (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, 2013), 49, 69.
5. Henry Petroski, To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985), 40-48.
6. Jerry Ross, interview by Clara Moskowitz, SPACE.com, 1 February 2013, Resource Available Online
7. Columbia Accident Investigation Board, Columbia Accident Investigation Board, Report Volume 1, August 2003, 39-41, Box 39, Folder 10, Jerry L. Ross papers 1940-2013, Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN [hereafter Ross papers].
8. Ibid.
9. Columbia Accident Investigation Board, Columbia Accident Investigation Board, Report Volume 1, August 2003, 42-44, Box 39, Folder 10, Ross papers.
10. Ibid.
11. Philip Chien, Columbia: Final Voyage: The Last Flight of NASA’s First Space Shuttle (New York: Copernicus Books, 2006), 374.
12. Columbia Accident Investigation Board, Columbia Accident Investigation Board, Report Volume 1, August 2003, 42-44, Box 39, Folder 10, Ross papers.
13. Launius and Krige, Space Shuttle Legacy, 218.
14. Jerry Ross, interview by Clara Moskowitz.
15. Chien, Columbia, 374.
16. Paul Keller, “Searching for and Recovering Space Shuttle Columbia: Documenting the USDA Forest Service Role in This Unprecedented ‘All-Risk’ Incident” (2003), 12, Resource Available Online
17. Ibid.
18. Columbia Accident Investigation Board, Columbia Accident Investigation Board, Report Volume 1, August 2003, 235-236, Box 39, Folder 10, Ross papers.
19. Protocol Information, 2003, Box 46, Folder 1, Ross papers.
20. Chris Carroll, “Trail of Tragedy: High Tech Maps Aided Shuttle Columbia Recovery Effort,” (National Geographic, 2004), Resource Available Online
21. Protocol Information, 2003, Box 46, Folder 1, Ross papers.
22. Ibid.
23. List of Recovered Items, “Columbia (STS-107) Recovery Operation Information ‘Team E5’,” 2003, Box 46, Folder 2, Ross papers.
24. Jerry Ross, interview by Clara Moskowitz.
25. Protocol Information, 2003, Box 46, Folder 1, Ross papers.
26. Launius and Krige, Space Shuttle Legacy, 219.
27. E. Howell, “Columbia Disaster: What Happened, What NASA Learned” (February 1, 2013), Resource Available Online
28. Ibid.
29. Chien, Columbia, 163.
30. Columbia Accident Investigation Board, Columbia Accident Investigation Board, Report Volume 1, August 2003, 99-100, Box 39, Folder 10, Ross papers.
31. Mullane, Riding Rockets, 232.
32. Columbia Accident Investigation Board, Columbia Accident Investigation Board, Report Volume 1, August 2003, 126-169, Box 39, Folder 10, Ross papers.
33. Ibid, 99-117.
34. Jerry Ross, interview by Clara Moskowitz.
35. Columbia Accident Investigation Board, Columbia Accident Investigation Board, Report Volume 1, August 2003, 99-117, Box 39, Folder 10, Ross papers.

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