Texas drought reveals wreckage from space shuttle Columbia

There's a major, ongoing drought in Texas, Oklahoma, and southern Kansas. As of July 26th, Amarillo had clocked in a record-breaking 30 days of 100+-degree temperatures. Wichita Falls, Texas, is on a (so far) 50-day streak with no precipitation. (If the trend continues to August 8th, as is predicted, it'll break into Wichita Falls' list of top 10 runs of precipitation-free days.)

All of that means lower water levels in local lakes. And, in Nacogdoches, the exposed lakebed revealed something very interesting—a part of the space shuttle Columbia, lost when then that shuttle disintegrated upon reentry in 2003. At the Houston Chronicle website, Eric Berger explained that this sphere is actually a tank for holding the cryogenic hydrogen that was critical to generating electricity via chemical reactions in the shuttle's fuel cell power plants.

NASA has reminded Texans that even though eight years have passed this, and any other shuttle parts that might turn up, are government property. It's a crime to tamper with them or squirrel them away.

Via Gizmodo and looprock


  1. If I found that on a lake bed, I’d be wondering nervously where the facehugger went.

  2. “It’s a crime to tamper with them or squirrel them away.”  Not to mention, some of the components might be toxic or dangerous in some other way.

  3. Seems like a self defeating policy coming from the agency that needs the wreckage to find out what happened. Beat over everyone’s head that it’s illegal to explore the stuff you’ve found, and they just won’t report when they’ve found something. 

    A “for your safety please don’t tamper with wreckage, here’s a hotline you can call” stance seems like it’d be a lot more effective.

  4. Just think– if Rick Perry’s prayer for rain had been answered, this never would have been found. 

  5. Even with the wide swath that the accident occurred over I find it curious that there are still major pieces of wreckage out there in the wild. Guess they either weren’t that diligent in the investigation or just didn’t care enough. Either way that’s a little sad or disconcerting.

    It’s also funny that the picture looks like a big metallic acorn just waiting to be ‘squirreled’ away.

    1. It was in a lake. Short of foot by foot searches of every lake in the debris zone it’s not surprising it wasn’t found. And there’s no way they would have had the resources to search hundreds of lakes.

      1. We are talking about NASA here. The people that put a man on the moon can’t find large chunks of wreckage in a bunch of lakes on Earth? That may have been cost prohibitive but it was certainly within the realm of possible. Especially for the larger pieces that seemingly weren’t that deep. I’m not arguing and you do have a decent point, I’m just saying that at some point somebody seems to have said ‘aw, to hell with it already’. Not exactly to sort of can do spirit I’m used to from NASA.

        1. Clean-up and investigation of space shuttle Columbia cost nearly $400 million. NASA did everything they could at the time, given their financial limitations. If that isn’t good enough, I’m sure NASA would be happy to hear any solutions you can provide.

          1. Off the top of my head, SONAR sure seems like a good way to quickly and effectively find the good sized chunks at the bottom of a lake. Getting down to the bits and bobs of small size it is understandable that the line should be drawn somewhere. It would be ridiculous to dredge and sift every body of water for individual nuts, and bolts.

          2. If you were using sonar to check every lake in the crash zone, you’d also be sending divers down to investigate every large rock, sunken dinghy, dumped piece of large rubbish, etc. Hardly efficient when you’re talking about many water beds, over a large area.

        2. Well, it was a disintegration.  There probably wasn’t any way to know which parts remained to be found, and which were completely incinerated.  It’s not like they could say, “Hey, we’ve collected all the crumbs and ashes and chunks of everything except that danged hydrogen tank.  Shall we keep looking until we find it?”

        3. I sometimes wish mankind never walked on the moon. It would have spared us decades of people saying “Well, since NASA put men on the moon, it means X is possible too”.

          1. All other factors aside I for one am glad NASA was able to put men on the moon as it’s a great story and it is a great example of what we humans can do if we put our minds, hearts and sweat into it. How many people since then have been inspired to do great things and how many more people will it continue to inspire? A world filled with possibilities is better than one where nobody tries to do anything at all. Failure is always an option but it would surely be the only option if we didn’t try.

    2. +1 on “sad and disconcerting” but not because they didn’t put an effort into finding the stuff. Even with a sonar and magnetometer sweep of all the lakes (which would not be particularly easy or time/cost efficient) I’m not surprised they didn’t find *everything*, especially if it wasn’t a critical piece (not that I know if this is a critical piece or not).

      It’s sad an disconcerting simply as a reminder of the disaster, the lives lost and a fantastic machine reduced to metal fragments strewn across the landscape, some, yes, unfortunately left to rot.

    3. > Guess they either weren’t that diligent in the investigation or just didn’t care enough.

      Man, did you see the size of the debris field?  Multiple hundreds of miles long, dozens of miles wide, spanning three or four states, across city, hill, field, and stream …  They had every available NASA employee out walking across all that, doing a foot-by-foot search in line abreast for month after month.  I would call that diligent.

  6. How could this be illegal to tamper with?  It’s been 8 years on somebody else’s land.  
    Do they have a special law on the books just for NASA?  It’s salvage, pure and simple – finder’s keepers.  Besides,  it’s not like they have more plans for making shuttles.

    1. Technically, you’re still right.  Because re-entry is AFTER liftoff.  A week or so after, but still after.

  7. My home town.  Before this it was best known, if at all, as the putative source of the name of Freedonia in “Duck Soup” (Fredonia being a failed rebellion prior to the Mexican-American War).  

    I admit when they dropped the shuttle on it I was a bit concerned for those still living there.  I was confident, however, that my high school was uninvolved, given its ability to resist any attempt at allowing any form of science into the classroom.

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