This page is being left as it was in April/May of 2003 for historical purposes. Further evaluation of the ballistics of STS-107 debris that was shed over California indicates most or all of them probably had enough velocity to land in Nevada. That didn't stop our interest...On this page...
With the help of computations by Rob Matson, Stratofox is currently focusing on "Debris 6" for which the most information seems to be available. It was shed from the orbiter at the California/Nevada border immediately after an unexplained but obvious flash in Columbia's ionization trail. It was believed to be the first major event in the breakup of the vehicle. Debris 6 is believed to have impacted in the area around the Nevada/Utah border. If it's ever found, it may answer some questions about what the flash was and what was going on up there 5 minutes before the breakup.
The final STS-107 accident reports showed up in late 2003 and indicated how quickly NASA's ground searches in the West were abandoned after discovery of the flight data recorder in Texas. Some people began to wonder why more effort wasn't made on a search for Debris 6. But the rainy season had arrived with Winter well on its way - it was too late to search rough terrain in 2003.
The topic came up again when Stratofox hosted a meeting for STS-107 photographers and eyewitnesses on Feb 1, 2004, the one-year anniversary of the accident. The meeting attendees included all the photographers from whom NASA learned about the debris-shedding events over California, except for one who was ill but would otherwise have been there. We began making plans for the dry season of 2004. Some Stratofox members made an initial expedition to explore the area on April 8-11, 2004.
For anyone interested in this search or performing other shuttle debris searches, we should mention these notes...
- Please remember that shuttle debris is legally considered US government property. And as a practical matter it's possible scientific data that might be useful for improving safety for future astronaut crews. If Stratofox volunteers succeed in finding any debris, we'll notify NASA's Johnson Space Center and the Sheriff in the county in which the find occurs.
- Searching rough terrain is not something to take lightly. Don't travel alone. And don't go anywhere that no one knows to look for you. Bring enough camping supplies with you to wait for a rescue if you get stranded. Don't count on cell phones to work in remote areas. There were already seven lives lost in this accident (the STS-107 crew) - don't risk adding to the count.
Why is Stratofox hosting this web page?
This isn't the kind of tracking and recovery we usually do
at Project Stratofox.
Then again, no one seems to have a precedent for any aspect of
the STS-107 Columbia space shuttle accident.
This is of interest to more than enough of our team members.
Our experience tracking balloon instruments flown to 100,000'
and recovering them wherever they land
some insight about how to narrow down the incredibly huge search area for
what may be just a few pieces of space shuttle debris across the
State of California.
We've posted this web page as information that
should be useful for organizing searches,
informing members of the public
and as a resource for the news media.
Getting started - What we know
On March 4, NASA listed 24 counties in California as areas to watch for shuttle debris: Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, Colusa, Contra Costa, El Dorado, Lake, Madera, Marin, Mariposa, Mendocino, Mono, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tuolumne, Yolo and Yuba.
While that area may be appropriate to notify property owners to be aware to watch for debris, we believe that is too large an area to recommend for a search effort. Efforts should be confined to within a few miles north of the STS-107 re-entry ground track.
Ballistic projections of debris impact areas
We're working on various simulations to narrow down the search area a bit.
Here are some references.
Here are the debris separation points using locations described by NASA's Re-entry Timeline 13.0. Rick Baldridge also posted a ground track based on his video cross-checked with NASA's re-entry timeline. For the initial vector, our simulations use an initial down-angle of 0 degrees 10 minutes at Columbia's rate of descent over California.
(Note that these only cover debris separations which were captured on video from the ground. It is possible that others occurred further west, though we have no data with which to project impact areas.)
|name||separation location||initial vector||rough guess
estimated 80 miles downrange
|Debris #1||38.63113 -122.119||E of Lake Berryessa, NW of Winters, W of I-505||13:53:44-48||230348'||Mach 22.88||TBD||near Volcano, Amador County|
|Debris #2||38.62375 -122.0436||E of Lake Berryessa, NNW of Winters, W of I-505||13:53:45-49||230276'||Mach 22.87||TBD||SR88 at Barton, Amador County|
|Debris #3||38.55415 -121.3669||just E of Watt Ave and Folsom Blvd, Sacramento||13:53:54-58||229621'||Mach 22.79||TBD||near Donnell Lake on the Stanislaus River, Tuolumne County
above snow line as of early March
SR108 closed for Winter in this area
|Debris #4||38.49604 -120.8433||1/2mi north of Plymouth, over SR49||13:54:01-05||229113'||Mach 22.73||TBD||1mi S of US 395, half way between Sonora Jct (SR108) and Bridgeport, Mono County|
|Debris #5||38.46127 -120.5453||1/2mi NW of Barton, 1mi W of SR88||13:54:05-09||228817'||Mach 22.69||TBD||near Aurora Canyon Rd and Bodie Masonic Rd, Mono County|
|Debris #6||38.1536 -118.2653||8mi N of Basalt NV on US6, 10mi SW of Tonopah Jct on US95||13:54:34-36||226748'||Mach 22.41||TBD||TBD|
Note that 80 miles downrange is a rough guess of the minimum flight distance
of these pieces of debris, and may be many miles further downrange,
but probably not less.
Stay tuned while we work on our ballistics sims.
These estimates will get narrowed down.
Search area accessibility and road conditions
Current highway conditions...
So if you find one, here are some do's and don'ts:
It probably isn't nearly the toxic hazard of the debris in Texas. Over there the falling debris may have been exposed to the contents of ruptured propellant tanks during the breakup. But since it's from the exterior of the orbiter, it was exposed to two weeks' worth of thruster exhaust in orbit. It really isn't something you want to come in contact with. If you touch it inadvertently (i.e. "what's this?"), put it back exactly the way you found it and wash your hands ASAP.
Some photos of shuttle debris from Texas are available online. NASA posted debris pictures for your reference. Tiles can vary in size but won't be larger than 6 x 6 inches square and 2 inches thick. Other released images of tiles which seemed relevant are mirrored here:
(140K JPEG image)
(160K JPEG image)
Another example is at the volunteer-operated debrismap.com. NASA has already been bombarded with calls regarding every bit of unrecognized trash in the West. We think we can mainly expect thermal protection tiles here in California. Let's all try to make our reports credible.
You may also directly call NASA Johnson Space Center's Emergency Operations Center at (281) 483-3388 or send an e-mail to email@example.com.
Though NASA and the local law enforcement may not prefer this, you have the option to call the news media too. Just make sure anyone you call does not disturb it.