A New Mexico tracking station that recorded the final seconds of the space shuttle Columbia has only 1 second of data that wasn't recorded elsewhere, but it could be a very important second, the station's director said.
NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System, at the edge of the White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico, was collecting information from Columbia as it re-entered Earth's atmosphere last week and disintegrated.
"We were tracking simultaneously from two satellites, one looking at the front (of the shuttle) and the other looking at the back," James Gavura, station director said Friday.
"Both signals were lost at the same time, and then there was 31 seconds (of silence) and then 1 more second of data," he said.
That second could contain information on the position of the shuttle just before it began to tumble and break up, he said.
Although that second hasn't been verified as shuttle data, Gavura said it appears to have the proper signature.
Gavura said the data would be relayed electronically to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where scientists would analyze it. It comes from a 5-minute period during shuttle re-entry when harsh conditions, including intense heat, tend to garble the signals.
The tracking station uses satellites that can follow shuttles from their orbits all the way to the landing strip.
In Albuquerque, the Air Force agency that took telescopic photos of Columbia's final flight path has also sent its images to NASA, said Rich Garcia, spokesman for the Directed Energy Directorate of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base.
At least one telescope captured the shuttle just before it broke up at 200,000 feet. That telescope has the capability to distinguish features as small as 1 foot on a satellite 600 miles from the Earth's surface.
Images of the shuttle also were taken by the directorate's telescope facility in Hawaii, Garcia said.