NASA searching ranch for debris: One shuttle tile found
by Jennifer Roy

Hood County News – April 23, 2003

Almost three months after the Space Shuttle Columbia fell apart over Texas, recovery crews have begun an exhaustive search of rural northwestern Hood County. Over 400 NASA-led searchers arrived in Granbury Tuesday morning with a parade of trucks and trailers. Most of the searchers were wildland firefighters, including many Native Americans from North Dakota, who volunteered to help with the search. The crews spent much of Tuesday and a rainy Wednesday searching the Texas-size Rocking X Ranch (former Black Ranch) off Tin Top Highway.

Traci Bowen of the Texas Forest Service, who has worked with the recovery since the tragedy, says the group combed over 1,000 acres Tuesday and found one complete shuttle tile off Cartwright Road, near the Hood/Parker County line.

The searchers are hoping to find clues to help researchers learn why the shuttle fell apart on Feb. 1.

Christine Defour, information officer for Columbia Shuttle Recovery based in Corsicana, says recovery crews have shifted their search from East Texas westward looking for some of the first debris that would have fallen from the shuttle.

“We’ve already searched Ellis County (Waxahachie) and now we’ve moved onto Hood County,” Defour said. “Each day we walk between 35 to 5,000 acres.”

The Hood County search will include about 4,500 acres, on the ranch and possibly nearby, Bowen reported.

Defour says the crews usually find about one piece of debris per 100 acres searched.

“Sometimes it’s just a tiny piece of a tile,” Defour explained. “Other times it’s an entire tile and then there are times we find large pieces of the shuttle. Just the other day (near Waxahachie) we found a piece that was about a foot by two to three feet. That was a real find.”

NASA isn’t just searching blind.

“We’re looking at a two- to three-mile-wide path that the shuttle followed upon re-entry,” she said. “We know that if there’s any debris it will be in this path. We’re walking the areas that are undeveloped and most likely haven’t been walked since the tragedy.”

Bowen says the other reason Hood County was targeted for the search was the radar images have detected possible debris on the ground in the northwestern portion of the county.

The crews will remain in Hood County for at least two more days searching the area between Granbury and Lipan, Bowen said.