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Space Shuttle Columbia

Shuttle nose cone found

'In pretty good shape,' searchers say

A large portion of what is believed to be the nose cone of the space shuttle Columbia near Hemphill, Texas
A large portion of what is believed to be the nose cone of the space shuttle Columbia near Hemphill, Texas

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HEMPHILL, Texas (CNN) -- A large piece of the space shuttle Columbia's nose cone was found Monday in a field in Sabine County, Texas, officials said Monday night.

The nose was found off a main road just outside of Hemphill, Sabine County Sheriff Tom Maddox said.

"They said it was in pretty good shape," one federal official said.

The nose cone's discovery was the latest major piece to come to light as searchers continued probing a sprawling area Monday in an effort to reassemble the events leading up to Columbia's destruction Saturday morning.

In Nacogdoches, Texas, where more than 1,200 pieces had been found by Monday, searchers discovered a 6- to 7-foot-long section of the Columbia's cabin, said Nacogdoches County Thomas Kerrs. Local officers also were looking into the possible discovery of more human remains, Kerrs said.

"We have received approximately six more unconfirmed reports of sites that may contain human remains," Kerrs said. "We are in the process of trying to investigate those sites now. They still remain a top priority."

Human remains had previously been found in other locations, said Bob Cabana, director of flight crew operations at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. A former astronaut, Cabana said the discoveries took an emotional toll.

"Yesterday was probably the hardest day of my life," he said.

FBI evidence response teams from Houston, Dallas, Texas, and New Orleans, Louisiana, are handling the recovery of the remains.

Israel is sending a military Rabbinate representative to ensure that if remains are found of the country's first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, they are treated according to Jewish tradition and returned to Israel for burial, the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported.

The Columbia's massive debris field grew even larger Monday as NASA officials confirmed that pieces of the shuttle were being found farther west than expected. (List of debris)

Michael Kostelnik, NASA deputy associate administrator, said a second collection site was being established at Carswell Air Force Base near Fort Worth, Texas, to assist investigators in that area.

The other collection site is at Barksdale AFB in northeast Louisiana near Shreveport, chosen for its proximity to the debris field in east Texas. Human remains are being taken there for identification.

Experts estimated Columbia broke up nearly 40 miles above Earth, meaning the debris might be scattered as far west as Arizona.

"We want to get every last shred of evidence -- whether it be documentation, whether it be witness statements, whether it be physical evidence that may have fallen to the ground -- and put that into the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that we will start to assemble so we can identify the root cause," said Bill Readdy, NASA's associate administrator of space flight.

Hundreds of investigators and volunteers fanned out over Texas and Louisiana searching a debris field of 28,000 square miles. Teams on horseback and in four-wheel drive vehicles searched remote and heavily wooded areas. (Map)

The search region in Texas extends from Graceland County in the north to Jefferson County in the south and from Eastland County in the west to Sabine and Orange counties in the east.

Investigators used global positioning satellites to create maps of the debris field and to mark spots where debris had been located.

At the huge Toledo Bend Reservoir on the Sabine River, which forms part of the Texas-Louisiana border, search teams scoured the water where witnesses reported seeing a piece of debris the size of a compact car go in.

The reservoir is used for drinking water, and after testing the water for contaminants, state officials assured residents it is safe.

Other shuttle parts were reported in western Louisiana near the Texas border.

Several school districts in Texas were closed Monday while investigators searched the campuses for debris.

Investigators are worried some pieces might never be found, a concern because the shuttle fragments might be toxic and because NASA wants as many pieces recovered as possible to help determine what caused the disaster. (Why debris might be toxic)

Despite repeated warnings of the potential toxicity, some townspeople were driving shuttle pieces into town and delivering them to authorities, said Sue Kennedy, Nacogdoches County emergency management chief.

Kerss also repeated warnings that some of the debris may contain explosive materials. Officials have said that areas such as the shuttle's cabin door and parachute deployment areas were rigged to be operated by explosive systems.


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