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Stateside with Rosalea Smoking gun or gaping hole?

Stateside with Rosalea

Smoking gun or gaping hole?

By Rosalea Barker

Yesterday the investigators of the Columbia disaster proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that if you fire a piece of foam at 500 miles per hour from a gas-powered cannon at a model of the leading edge of a space shuttle wing, you can blow a hole in the wing.

The Voice of America put the story this way: A spokesman for the investigators, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Woody Woodyard, said the experiment left a gaping 40-centimeter hole in the model wing's leading edge. "This certainly is strong evidence that can lead one to conclude that this was a direct cause," said Colonel Woodyard.

It's been interesting over the past 48 hours to see the caution in a statement like that morph into headlines stating categorically that the falling foam was the cause of the shuttle's demise. The air force lieutenant quoted by Voice of America is, I believe, based in the public affairs office in the Pentagon - he reportedly felt that building shake and saw a fireball race by his window on September 11, 2001. (See

Far be it from me to pull smoking guns out of my imagination, but couldn't the damage just as easily have been caused by a direct hit from a laser? I mean, the first sighting of anything strange occurring was roughly in the vicinity of Edwards Air Force Base, where the Airborne Laser was at the time. Just the previous Monday, that experimental aircraft had been inspected by the Air Force's head of North European operations.

Maybe the Air Force Research Laboratory was using the shuttle to record the power of the ABL's weapons system, but the Columbia got whipped by a solar wind at just the wrong time.

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