SPACE SHUTTLE MISSION 51-L: THE SEARCH FOR A CAUSE
Shuttle Fuselage Section Recovered
Friday, January 31, 1986
Coast Guard search teams yesterday recovered a large chunk of the fuselage of the space shuttle Challenger and several pieces believed to be from the craft's wing, cargo bay door and cockpit.
The Coast Guard also reported spotting thousands of other pieces of the wreckage at sea.
The segment of the fuselage, the central body section of the shuttle, was the most significant discovery in the intensive search operation that was launched immediately after the Challenger exploded 74 seconds into its flight late Tuesday morning.
The fuselage section was hauled aboard the Coast Guard cutter Dallas and was unloaded near Cape Canaveral early today. One ripped section of the ship clearly showed the word "rescue" and an arrow pointing to a section where rescue workers could cut into the spacecraft in an emergency of far less severity.
The Dallas also reported that sonar sweeps have detected a "large object or objects" lying on the ocean floor beneath where the floating fragment of the fuselage was located, according to Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Jim Simpson.
Simpson said the Dallas had requested Navy divers to descend to the site for examination. Meanwhile, other ships that can pull large objects from the sea are being sent to help the Dallas retrieve the floating debris.
The Dallas made the reports by radio from well out in the Atlantic, where the search operation is centered.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials also confirmed that a 6-by-4-inch bone and tissue fragment, with a piece of fabric attached to it, had washed ashore about 30 miles south of the Cape yesterday. But they said there was no way to determine immediately whether it had come from one of the seven Challenger crew members killed in the explosion.
In Houston, NASA officials spent yesterday preparing for today's memorial service. President Reagan and his wife, Nancy, will attend the half-hour ceremony, along with a contingent of at least 24 senators and 55 House members.
Reagan, speaking before the Conservative Political Action Conference last night in Washington, D.C., said of the shuttle crew: "We know now that God holds them close; and we pray He will comfort their grieving loved ones. And we are aware too of our own duty -- to them and to their memory. We must continue."
As the president was speaking, about 125 people gathered on the Capitol steps to pay tribute to Challenger's crew.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent two of its top investigators to Cape Canaveral yesterday to aid NASA in its probe of Tuesday's disaster. All pieces of the Challenger that are recovered are being brought to a central location and impounded for use in the investigation that is under way.