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  • cleefs50@aol.com
    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Feb. 1) - NASA declared an emergency after losing communication with space shuttle Columbia as the ship soared over Texas several minutes
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 1, 2003
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      CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Feb. 1) - NASA declared an emergency after losing
      communication with space shuttle Columbia as the ship soared over Texas
      several minutes before its expected landing time Saturday morning.

      The shuttle was carrying the first Israeli astronaut and six Americans, and
      authorities had feared it would be a terrorist target.

      Fifteen minutes after the expected landing time, and with no word from the
      shuttle, NASA announced that search and rescue teams were being mobilized in
      Dallas and Fort Worth areas.

      Inside Mission Control, flight controller hovered in front of their
      computers, staring at the screens. The wives, husbands and children of the
      astronauts who had been waiting at the landing strip were gathered together
      by NASA and taken to separate place.

      Columbia was at an altitude of 200,700 feet over north-central Texas at a 9
      a.m., traveling at 12,500 mph when mission control lost contact and tracking
      data.

      NASA, while not saying the shuttle had exploded, broken up or crashed, warned
      that any debris found in the area should be avoided and could be hazardous.

      There were reports of debris seen falling.

      In 42 years of human space flight, NASA has never lost a space crew during
      landing or the ride back to orbit. In 1986, space shuttle Challenger exploded
      shortly after liftoff.

      Security had been tight for the 16-day scientific research mission that
      included the first Israeli astronaut.

      Ilan Ramon, a colonel in Israel's air force and former fighter pilot, became
      the first man from his country to fly in space, and his presence resulted in
      an increase in security, not only for Columbia's Jan. 16 launch, but also for
      its landing. Space agency officials feared his presence might make the
      shuttle more of a terrorist target.

      On launch day, a piece of insulating foam on the external fuel tank came off
      during liftoff and was believed to have struck the left wing of the shuttle.

      Leroy Cain, the lead flight director in Mission Control, had assured
      reporters Friday that engineers had concluded that any damage to the wing was
      considered minor and posed no safety hazard.

      AP-NY-02-01-03 0949EST

      Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news
      report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed
      without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. All active
      hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.

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