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Space Shuttle Columbia

Shuttle debris search finishing up


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LUFKIN, Texas (CNN) -- The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it plans to complete its search for debris of the space shuttle Columbia as early as the end of April.

The U.S. Navy is expected to finish dive operations in the search area this weekend, FEMA said in a news release Thursday.

On February 1, Columbia broke apart while returning to earth, killing all seven astronauts aboard. An independent investigative team has been focusing on damage to the tiles -- possibly caused by frozen foam insulation that broke loose from the liquid fuel tank during liftoff and struck the underside of the shuttle -- as the cause of the disaster.

FEMA released the following information on the search for debris as of April 9:

• More than 13,000 members of the ground recovery team have recovered 60,200 shuttle debris pieces over a 10-week period, after searching over 76 percent of the 621,000-acre search area. About 4,900 personnel are searching for more debris.

• Ground and air personnel have searched more than 2.1 million acres, which includes Western states such as New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and California;

• The main debris search corridor is located in Texas and is 10 miles wide by 240 miles long, stretching from Ellis County to the Louisiana border;

• More than 70,700 pounds of shuttle material has been shipped to Kennedy Space Center in Florida, representing 32 percent of the shuttle's total weight;

• More than 90 federal, state and local agencies are participating in the recovery effort;

• Estimated completion time for the search operations is between three to five weeks (April 30-May 14).


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