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Hot air ate left wing of shuttle, data shows

| Tuesday, April 1, 2003

HOUSTON -- New information from a data recorder found in Texas two months after space shuttle Columbia's disintegration paint a vivid picture of super-hot air gnawing its way first through the front of the shuttle's left wing, then through the aluminum girder that formed a final barrier to the spacecraft's fragile interior.

Among the new data released Monday by accident investigators are temperatures from a sensor just inside the front of the left wing. Five minutes after Columbia reached the fringe of the atmosphere Feb. 1, the sensor registered unusually high temperatures.

The sensor reached an unprecedented 450 degrees. That's two to three times the highest temperatures seen in older data, said Hal Gehman, head of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.

The gauge shut down after registering that record high. Forty seconds later, a second sensor began to show heating. This sensor was buried in an aluminum beam just behind the site of the first sensor.

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