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NASA Management Failures Share Blame for <i>Columbia</i> Accident, say Investigators - 2003-07-12

Investigators studying the loss of the space shuttle Columbia earlier this year say management failures at the U.S. space agency are just as much to blame for the shuttle's fiery breakup as the physical cause of the accident - a hole in Columbia's wing caused by a piece of foam insulation that struck the orbiter during lift-off.

The head of the Columbia Investigation Board says the panel's final report will give equal weight to errors by officials of NASA and the physical cause of the accident on February 1, which claimed the lives of all seven astronauts.

Tests show the detached piece of foam made a hole in Columbia's wing that allowed superheated gases to penetrate the shuttle upon re-entry, causing the shuttle to disintegrate.

The board's final report is expected to be released in late August. It is expected to conclude that NASA managers failed to realize the significance of a known engineering problem.