© St. Petersburg Times, published March 20, 2003
HOUSTON -- In what could be one of the most significant debris discoveries yet from the shattered Columbia, searchers found a data recorder that may hold valuable clues as to what destroyed the space shuttle, the accident investigation board said Wednesday.
A spokeswoman for the board, Laura Brown, said the ship's recorder was intact but sustained some heat damage. Officials are hopeful that temperature and aerodynamic pressure data can be retrieved from its magnetic tape, she said.
Brown compared the recorder to an airplane's black box.
"We have no way of knowing whether the data can be recovered," she said. But she added that if it can, "it will give us, hopefully, a lot of information about what was going on with the orbiter."
The recorder was discovered near Hemphill, Texas, and was being sent to Johnson Space Center for analysis. Officials said they believed it was found Wednesday.
Brown said these recorders, called the orbiter experiment support systems, normally are turned on right before a space shuttle begins its descent through the atmosphere and run for one or two hours.
Shuttles have a variety of computers and data recorders, but nothing directly comparable to the black boxes on airplanes that give crash investigators detailed flight information.
Brown said the recovered data recorder is of a type used for the initial shuttle flights back in the early 1980s, to collect information from sensors. It was modified over the years, she said.