NASA starts task of reassembling Columbia

Discovery lands
Discovery in space
STS-121 shuttle
Shuttle Discovery missions
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Clues to the Columbia disaster will come together like a jigsaw puzzle - piece by piece - on a hangar floor near the runway where the shuttle's voyage was scheduled to end.

NASA technicians, in white lab coats and blue jeans, received the first two truckloads of wreckage yesterday and immediately began preparations to at least partially reassemble the craft at the Kennedy Space Center.

From the reconstruction, experts hope to find out why the shuttle broke apart during re-entry Feb. 1, killing all seven astronauts.

Soon after the trucks arrived from Louisiana, technicians in goggles and rubber gloves began moving the debris into the 50,000-square-foot hangar. Once the pieces were brought inside, the parts were labeled and information about them was entered into a computer.

Inside the hangar, the debris will be laid out on a grid marked by yellow tape. On the grid are more than a dozen outlines in blue tape, each with an orange traffic cone with a small sign detailing which part of the shuttle will be collected there: "Crew Compartment," "Right Wing Tiles," "Outboard Elevon RH."

NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe has acknowledged that completely reassembling the Columbia would be impossible. The pieces are "absolutely mangled," O'Keefe said Sunday. "It's an awful lot of tangled stuff."