Workers are retrieving debris from the space shuttle Columbia, which broke up Saturday in the skies over Texas, killing all seven astronauts on board. State authorities are saying human remains have been found among the debris.
Columbia was only minutes from its scheduled landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Traveling at 20,000 kilometers per hour, it was 61,000 meters above northeastern Texas.
From Dallas to the Louisiana border, many heard a loud explosion, and others saw what appeared to be glowing debris break off from the spacecraft. One resident told NBC television that he saw a bright orange glow, then heard a series of noises. "It was probably 45 seconds to a minute, and it was just boom, boom, boom, boom"
Pieces of wreckage are scattered over a huge swath of eastern Texas and across the Louisiana border. The debris is concentrated, however, in the piney forest region near the city of Nacogdoches, 250 kilometers southeast of Dallas. Heat tiles, a steel rod and other debris rained down, some landing in a driveway, some in a parking lot, and in one case, smashing through a rooftop. Local police are saying human remains have been found among the debris.
Authorities have ordered bystanders to stay at least 90 meters away from the debris, as military helicopters began the task of locating all of the wreckage. Authorities are concerned that it could be contaminated with a colorless toxic liquid called hydrazine, which is used in the shuttle propellant. Some have ignored the warnings, and are turning over their finds to the police.
As the recovery work continues, Texas residents like Trilok Subedi, an immigrant from Nepal, reflect on the loss of the astronauts, which was so unexpected. "It gives you a feeling that life is too fragile, and hopefully their families will recover," he said.
Families of the astronauts are being flown to Houston, where the crew members were trained for their 16-day mission.