high resolution

The Air Force will be supplying high-resolution imagery of Columbia's reentry to NASA:

According to sources close to the investigation, the images, under analysis at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, show a jagged edge on the left inboard wing structure near where the wing begins to intersect the fuselage. They also show the orbiter's right aft yaw thrusters firing, trying to correct the vehicle's attitude that was being adversely affected by the left wing damage. Columbia's fuselage and right wing appear normal. Unlike the damaged and jagged left wing section, the right wing appears smooth along its entire length. The imagery is consistent with telemetry.

The ragged edge on the left leading edge, indicates that either a small structural breach -- such as a crack -- occurred, allowing the 2,500F reentry heating to erode additional structure there, or that a small portion of the leading edge fell off at that location.

Either way, the damage affected the vehicle's flying qualities as well as allowed hot gases to flow into critical wing structure -- a fatal combination.

I'll have to think about how this could affect my theory about Columbia's loss, though it's worth noting that the left wheel well is close to the fuselage - I still believe that the problem must have started in that area. The article is comprehensive and discusses other hardware failure implications and theories.

I sincerely hope NASA releases these photos! UPDATE: they did! see image above. Clicking the image will take you to the official NASA site which has all the imagery from the Feb. 7th briefing, including highly detailed timeline schematics of sensor failures and readings on the left wing.

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