Some remains from the seven-member crew of the space shuttle Columbia have been recovered in rural east Texas, and forensics experts think the astronauts could be genetically identified despite the orbiter's disintegration 39 miles overhead. Kennedy warned that anyone caught removing debris could face federal prosecution.

This is the only observation of a human in the airstream at hypersonic speeds. That's the same region where the search for shuttle debris is concentrating. Hundreds of people in Texas, using handheld global positioning satellites to pinpoint locations, are searching for debris and marking off sites. Killed in the disaster were commander Rick Husband, pilot William McCool, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramon of Israel. "We've moved on," Chadwick said.

The Columbia disaster may have been set in motion when the shuttle took off on Jan. 16. Columbia disintegrated as it returned to Earth at the end of its space mission. But the space agency gave out few other details. Two years after the disaster, NASA officials said forensic analysis did not specifically reveal conclusive evidence about either the cause or time of the astronauts' death. "[It] almost looks like flames licking the shuttle. NASA is also conducting its own investigation and House and Senate panels plan to examine the disaster that killed all seven crew members — commander Rick Husband, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, William McCool and Ilan Ramon, Israel's first astronaut. The spacecraft was exposed to re-entry temperatures of 3,000 degrees while traveling at 12,500 mph, or 18 times the speed of sound. "As it was crossing, I sort of noticed the big piece falling off," said Gene Blevins, a free-lance photographer for the Los Angeles Daily News, "sort of like some little specks, red flares or something like that — really small ones, though, like when you see a meteor coming in the atmosphere and it starts breaking up.". Sixty seconds after liftoff, a piece of foam insulation came off the orange external fuel tank, and smacked into the orbiter's left wing. The unfolding disaster was visible in the skies over Texas and on images captured by a weather satellite.

"There's a good chance that most of the evidence on the space craft has been destroyed," Slade said.

If the bodies were shielded by portions of the cabin until impact with the ground, he said, identification would be easier. The breach in the wing brought it down upon its return to Earth. "And you're dealing with the high heat of re-entry and things like that, that we haven't dealt with before. Had all those procedures been followed, the astronauts might have lived longer and been able to take more actions, but they still wouldn't have survived, the report says. ©2020 FOX News Network, LLC. WASHINGTON -- Seat restraints, pressure suits and helmets of the doomed crew of the space shuttle Columbia didn't work well, leading to "lethal trauma" as the out-of-control ship lost pressure and broke apart, killing all seven astronauts, a new NASA report says. But a spokesman for Lockheed, the fuel tank manufacturer, said today Columbia actually was using an older version that NASA had begun phasing out in 2000, although he didn't know if there was a difference in the way the insulation was installed.

But ABCNEWS space consultant Jim Slade, appearing on This Week, said it is likely little physical evidence remains because of the extreme heat of re-entry. At least one crewmember was alive and pushing buttons for half a minute after a first loud alarm sounded, as he futilely tried to right Columbia during that disastrous day Feb. 1, 2003. In the years since the 1986 Challenger explosion, Americans have tended to take space travel somewhat for granted. A red streak on the satellite image appeared to be the shuttle coming apart.

"It was just a horrible day," Ride said.

Even if NASA officials succeed in retrieving the information, determining the cause of Saturday's disaster will not be easy.

", When searchers find shuttle debris, Waller said, "We flag it out, we get a GPS location on it, we leave it, and then of course there will be a team to go by and pick it up and package it for evidence.". "I guess the thing I'm surprised about, if anything, is that (the report) actually got out," said Clark, who was a member of the team that wrote it. In Texas, Nacogdoches County officials said civilian reports of debris were coming in at a rate of about 25 per hour, too fast for search teams to keep up.

On Saturday, Columbia's crew had no chance of surviving after the shuttle broke up at 207,135 feet above Earth. As was already known, the astronauts died either from lack of oxygen during depressurization or from hitting something as the spacecraft spun violently out of control. And in the case of the helmets and other gear, three crewmembers weren't wearing gloves, which provide crucial protection from depressurization.

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