As the search of more than 500,000 acres of primary recovery area for Space Shuttle Columbia material reached its halfway mark, NASA Administrator, Sean O’Keefe, visited key sites in east Texas to thank recovery crews for their diligence and hard work.

“The outstanding interagency cooperation, and the hard work of all the individuals working on recovery, has been truly gratifying and inspiring,” Administrator O’Keefe said. “There has been an untiring, fulltime, and dedicated effort to recover Columbia material. The great recovery work directly supports the efforts of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board to determine what caused the Shuttle mishap”, he said. On Monday Administrator O’Keefe and Associate Administer for Space Flight, William F. Readdy visited the Lufkin Command Center, Nacogdoches Base Camp, and Toledo Bend Reservoir Dive Site.

Approximately 4500 ground searchers have covered approximately 56 percent of the planned 555,000-acre search area. The air search has covered approximately 74 percent of 604, four-square nautical mile grids; and, on water, searchers have scanned about 81 percent of a planned 14.7 square nautical mile area. The search should be completed within four to six weeks, weather permitting. Searches farther west, along Columbia’s ground track, likely will take additional time, because of the great area involved.

About 25 percent of the Shuttle Columbia, by weight, has been delivered to the collection hangar at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Fla. More is en route from the searched area in eastern Texas and western Louisiana to KSC.

Last Wednesday’s recovery of the Orbiter Experiment Support System recorder (OEX) is potentially significant, and search coordinators hope to recover additional critical items. “We are extremely excited with the recent discovery of this recorder, and we want to thank the other agencies and communities for their support,” said Allen Flynt, NASA Oversight Manager at the Lufkin Command Center. “But we remain dedicated to our goal of bringing home as much of Columbia as possible. We remain focused on the recovery effort, which continues at full strength, ” he said.

Some of the top priorities of NASA, and its local, state and federal partners, are to recover or clean up potentially hazardous materials and ensure the public’s safety. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has responsibility for the overall disaster response effort. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is tasked with collecting and delivering recovered Shuttle material to NASA and the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB). The U.S. Forest Service and Texas Forest Service are coordinating the land and air search. The U.S. Navy is managing water search activities.

“We still have an obligation to the residents of Texas and Louisiana, as well as any other state that may contain Columbia material, to recover all known material and leave the land as it was prior to Feb. 1. Our obligation also extends to providing all public assistance funds to eligible applicants, and we’ll satisfy all those obligations before closing down,” said FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Scott Wells.

All of these organizations are continuing to encourage local residents to report any possible Shuttle materials to the toll-free hotline at the Lufkin Command Center at: