Investigators say hole in aluminum wrecked the Shuttle. The panel investigating the loss of the space shuttle Columbia said that a hole developed in its aluminum skin, allowing superheated gas to flow into the left wing and causing the ship's destruction.
NASA also released a highly detailed map showing for the first time that the Columbia's sensors began detecting subtle signs of trouble when the craft was still above the Pacific Ocean, 400 miles off the coast of Sonoma County in Northern California.
The new map, combined with the board's finding that a hole was burning through spacecraft's skin, suggested that observations of glowing pieces falling away from the shuttle over California carry significant clues to the ultimate cause of the disaster. It could mean that the catastrophic series of failures began almost the moment the Columbia re-entered the atmosphere, lending credence to theories that its exterior had been damaged earlier — perhaps by a piece of foam insulation that fell off during launching, perhaps by space debris or by some other phenomenon like a storm in space.
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