Shuttle Investigation Gets Help, High- And Low-Tech

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NASA needs to collect all the evidence it can to help in its analysis of what went wrong Feb. 1, and last week the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the FAA solicited help from both high- and low-tech sectors of the aviation world to help the Space Shuttle Columbia investigation. Seven powered parachutes have officially joined the search in Texas, the Web site space.com reported on Saturday, and up to 100 volunteer pilots may be called upon to help. Plus, military radar analysis announced this weekend shows something may have departed the shuttle Jan. 17, while it was in orbit. The object appears to have left the orbiter with a relative speed of just 11 mph and fell out of orbit Jan. 19. The object's trajectory as it fell toward earth indicates it was very light. The chutes can fly low over treetops and swamps, locating debris that ground searchers might miss. They also are slow and stable enough to make good video-camera platforms to document the flight path. John Rivers, designer of the Destiny powered parachutes, told space.com that the fliers completed three sorties for NASA last Friday, and sighted a lot of debris. "The aircraft can fly extremely low so it's great for this overhead observing," Rivers said. "Sometimes we'll be flying two to three feet off the deck."