Shuttle Disaster Rattles Texas and Litters State with Debris
By Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer
posted: 03:31 pm ET
01 February 2003

Former California resident Susie Patterson thought she'd been awoken by an earthquake Saturday morning. Her house near Nacogdoches, Texas was shaking, the windows rattling. Then she remembered she was in Texas and thought perhaps there was a tornado coming.

"I jumped out of bed and ran outside," Patterson said. "It was crystal clear."

Her next thought was that one of the nearby gas wells had exploded. Neighbors were calling, wondering if the noise was coming from her house.


Debris presumed to be from the shuttle Columbia landed in the driveway of Susie and Art Patterson's home in Nacogdoches, Texas. It is about a foot long.

Another piece of debris that landed at the Patterson's neighbors. It is about 12 inches long.

View of radar image of fireball track from Shuttle Columbia, southwest of Shreveport, Louisiana. Credit: National Weather Service
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Then she learned that the Space Shuttle Columbia had apparently come apart overhead, 38 miles up. She and her husband, Art, went back out to look for debris and found a bent chunk of roughly ˝-inch diameter pipe about a foot long in their driveway A bit of mesh is affixed to one end. Several smaller bits of stuff, the size of coins, were scattered around the yard.

"We live in a wooded area," she said. "I'm sure there's tons of it all around here."

Heading warnings issued by NASA about possible toxic chemicals associated with any space shuttle debris, Patterson and her husband are keeping their children inside, though the lure to investigate is strong. Meanwhile, they called the local police, who came out, inspected the debris in the driveway, and said they'd return later to fetch it.

"It's still sitting out there," she said early Saturday afternoon.

Nacogdoches is more than 100 miles northeast of Houston.

The sheriff of Nacogdoches county said he'd received hundreds of reports of debris. There has been some property damage, he said, but no confirmed reports of injuries as of about 3 p.m. ET Saturday. Some news outlets reported increased visits to area hospitals.

Elsewhere in Texas, pieces of twisted metal as large as 4 or 5 feet had been found.

The city manager of Nacogdoches said the city was working with NASA and the FBI. The National Guard in Texas and Forest Service personnel, among others, have been called out to look for debris that might offer clues to what went wrong with shuttle mission STS-107.

In a press conference at about 3:30 p.m. ET, NASA shuttle program manager Ron Dittemore expressed gratification to residents who had notified officials of debris. But he made it clear that no analysis of any debris had been made yet.

"At this stage I haven't received any real info on debris or status of crew remains," Dittemore said.

He added that in an effort to learn what happened, NASA will be poring over data and hardware 24 hours a day "for the foreseeable future."

NASA officials ask that anyone who finds possible debris, or who has pictures or video of Columbia's re-entry, call this number: (281)-483-3388.

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