NASA collects evidence

NASA investigators were concentrating on a heat spike that threw the shuttle off balance.


NASA investigators were concentrating on a heat spike that threw the shuttle off balance.

Its automatic pilot course could have been changed, said investigators, but warned their reports were in a very preliminary stage.

As NASA officials began a probe into the crash of space shuttle Columbia that could take years, families of the astronauts urged federal officials to continue the space program.

Debris was being gathered across Texas and Louisiana.

Shuttle launches have been put on hold until a better idea of the cause of the ship's breakup can be determined. In the wake of the Challenger disaster, there was a two-and-a-half year stoppage of flights.

The shuttle disintegrated over Texas about 16 minutes before it was scheduled to land in Florida.

Columbia was built in 1981 and had received regular upgrades.

The shuttle, which was carrying six Americans, was also carrying its first Israeli astronaut, and security had been tight because of concerns over a terrorist attack. The trip was a 16-day research mission.

Representatives from Church World Service (CWS) and other faith-based groups were contacting local disaster response officials and assessing needs.

Joann Hale, a CWS disaster response and recovery liaison, said long-term spiritual care issues could arise. "For example, the workers in the space center. When will they start feeling guilt? They might need spiritual care. They lost contact with the shuttle. Then also there are people who could look up and see it coming down in pieces."

One Lutheran pastor in Plano, Tex. said that the shuttle disaster would be brought up in prayers during Sunday services, but that most churches and residents in the community had not yet planned any formal response. "Like 9/11, it takes a few days to get on track with a response," he said.

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