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Space Shuttle Columbia

Flight-deck video found in Columbia wreckage

NASA: Debris in West Texas part of shuttle's left wing

A thermal tile recovered near Fort Worth, Texas, shows unexplained orange flecks and signs of excessive heat damage.
A thermal tile recovered near Fort Worth, Texas, shows unexplained orange flecks and signs of excessive heat damage.

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SPECIAL REPORT
•  Audio Slide Show: Shuttle lost
•  Timeline: Investigation
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•  Gallery: Columbia crew
•  Report: Findings, counsel

JOHNSON SPACE CENTER, Texas (CNN) -- A digital videotape that recorded about 14 minutes of space shuttle Columbia's return to Earth was found in the wreckage of the orbiter, NASA officials and investigators said Tuesday.

The videotape, which was scorched and partially burned, was shot from the flight deck and shows the back of the crew's helmets and most of the flight deck, as well as the view out the window as plasma built up around the shuttle as it breached the atmosphere.

The video stops about 15 minutes before Columbia broke up as it headed to Kennedy Space Center in Florida, killing the crew of seven. NASA officials and investigators with the Columbia Accident Investigation Board said no problems or anomalies were seen on the videotape.

The tape included nine minutes shot before the "entry interface" and four minutes of re-entry, investigators said.

The video will be released to the public after it is shown to family members of the crew, officials said. It is not believed to be of much value to the investigation, they said.

Unexplained orange flecks

NASA officials also said Tuesday that a piece of shuttle Columbia debris found in far West Texas came from the upper section of the left wing.

Retired Adm. Harold W. Gehman Jr., chairman of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, said the piece was a fragment of a tile from the area near where the wing narrows to meet the fuselage.

Gehman said that though there are no answers yet to what caused the shuttle accident, things are starting to come together.

"We're now beginning to see some interesting trends and evidence in the debris," he said. "Some things are beginning to emerge, [but] no answers."

He refused to elaborate.

The westernmost fragment was found about three miles north of Littlefield, Texas, which is 35 miles northwest of Lubbock and 40 miles from the New Mexico state line.

The location is more than 200 miles west of any other identified piece of debris.

Gehman showed images of another tile, recovered near Forth Worth, Texas, which bore signs of extreme heat damage, much more than would be expected from normal re-entry.

"It should be smooth and slightly gray," Gehman said.

The side that was on the exterior of the wing was dark gray or black, a sign of extreme heat damage, with orange flecks. The interior side, which was attached to the shuttle's wing frame, seems to have a gouge in it.

Whether it became charred and deformed before or after the shuttle disintegrated remains unknown, he said.

Clues in final data

NASA's Scott Hubbard, who is also on the board, said investigators had gleaned information from the final two seconds of garbled data from Columbia, though it is too early to evaluate its significance.

The transmission showed that the shuttle's auxiliary power units were operating but that the hydraulic lines had lost all pressure and fluid.

Based on eyewitness reports and photographs, NASA investigators believe Columbia began shedding material well before it disintegrated in the sky over east-central Texas on February 1, about 12 minutes short of its scheduled landing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

More than 8,000 pieces of debris have been recovered and sent to Kennedy Space Center, where they are being examined by investigators trying to find the cause of the accident.

The rubble accounts for more than 10 percent of the shuttle by weight, but "only a small fraction of the left wing has been recovered," Gehman said.

Investigators think the left wing played a crucial role in the shuttle's demise. Wing sensors indicated numerous engineering problems in the minutes before the orbiter broke apart.

-- CNN Miami bureau chief John Zarrella and CNN.com's Richard Stenger contributed to this report.


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