Data analysis at heart of shuttle investigation

Lockheed Martin Corp. and the Boeing Co., two of the government's biggest information technology contractors, will be deeply involved in NASA's investigation into why space shuttle Columbia disintegrated in the atmosphere Feb. 1.

The companies formed the United Space Alliance, a joint venture, in 1996 to act as NASA's prime contractor for shuttle operations. The joint venture is responsible for day-to-day operations and management of the shuttle program.

Data analysis is one of the cornerstones of the investigation. NASA and its contractors are piecing together data from a wide variety of sources.

"Some is photographic, and some is data from the mission control center," Bill Readdy, associate administrator for space flight, said at a press briefing in Washington.

NASA locked down its shuttle computers immediately following the disaster to preserve data, Readdy said. All of the information will go in the database that the agency will use to re-enact the events that led to Columbia's disintegration.

"Much of the information comes from telemetry processed at mission control," he said.

The early attention of the investigation has focused on damage to Columbia's left wing from a piece of insulation that flew off an external fuel tank. However, NASA is looking at other factors, such as a malfunction of onboard computers.

NASA engineers will use computer models to reconstruct Columbia's trajectory, Readdy said. The space agency will use geographic information systems tools provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency for analyzing debris on the ground, he said.

"We are relying on the Defense Department to do imaging analysis of the debris," Readdy said. *

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