The space shuttle Columbia broke apart on re-entry eight years ago, killing the seven astronauts on board and scattering wreckage across East Texas. Now a piece of it that had been hidden all these years has been revealed—a shattered sphere 40 inches in diameter, uncovered due to drought shrinking a Texas lake.
A police officer who patrols Lake Nacogdoches, which is about 140 miles northeast of Houston, spotted the object because the lake was 9 to 10 feet below normal levels. He reported the discovery to NASA.
"It had been out of the water for some time," said Nacogdoches police sergeant Greg Sowell. "It had been seen by local sportsmen. ... People didn't know what they were looking at."
According to NASA, what was found was an aluminum tank that had been part of the shuttle's electrical power distribution system and once held either liquid hydrogen or liquid oxygen.
NASA spokeswoman Lisa Malone said the agency plans to recover the tank and bring it back to Kennedy Space Center in Florida to join the other debris from Columbia's wreckage. "We are working out the details with local authorities," she said. "It's not toxic or hazardous in any way. We're not in a big rush to get it back over."
Until they do, though, better not mess with it, because according to Sowell, "We're reminding everyone that it's a federal offense to tamper with it."