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astronauts' final minutes

NASA releases video of Columbia
astronauts' final minutes

By Jeet Thayil in New York
March 01, 2003 08:23 IST
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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration on Friday released a videotape showing the final moments of Kalpana Chawla and six other astronauts on the doomed Columbia space shuttle.

The astronauts are seen sipping drinks, joking, smiling and doing routine jobs like putting on their gloves.

The 13-minute tape shows flight engineer Chawla in an orange suit with the helmet visor lifted, smiling for the camera held by colleague Lauren Clark.

Damaged in the crash but still functioning, the videotape, taken by Clark, shows what was going on inside the shuttle just minutes before it broke up above Texas.

Chawla, Clark, Commander Rick Husband and pilot William McCool are seen performing the routine tasks that a shuttle flight requires, NASA officials said.

The tape fragment shows the time to be 8.35am, nine minutes before the shuttle entered the atmosphere.

NASA investigators found evidence that the shuttle's left wing was punctured. The hole allowed super-hot gases to get inside the ship on re-entry. It is likely that the heat caused the Columbia to disintegrate.

This is only the latest of several theories. Previously, investigators said thermal tiles that flew off the underside of the shuttle's left wing, during takeoff, caused the crash.

NASA said the latest video, recovered in Texas last week, is not relevant to the ongoing investigation.

The video was first shown to the astronauts' families and members of Congress..

The Columbia Shuttle Crash: The Complete Coverage

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Jeet Thayil in New York