Columbia reentry observation report

From: Matson, Robert (
Date: Sun Feb 02 2003 - 00:45:34 EST

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    Hi Brian and List,
    I just returned from the Mojave Desert a couple hours ago, and have
    been reading through all the e-mail traffic that I knew would be
    waiting for me.  I left my house very early this morning to do some
    field research up in the Barstow area.  I left earlier than I
    needed to so that I could be further to the northeast during the
    expected time of Columbia's reentry (thus improving on the
    culmination angle, and getting above the L.A. basin muck).
    Attached is my visual report that I sent to NASA in case it would
    be of any help in reconstructing the timeline of events that
    led up to the failure.  The short version is that I saw nothing
    out of nominal from 5:55:00 to 5:55:30 PST, and my predawn skies
    were excellent.
    Still in shock,
    - - - - -
    Greetings and condolences from southern California, 
      Per recommendation of some of my NASA and JPL colleagues, I 
      wanted to forward my visual report of Columbia's reentry 
      as seen from southern California's Mojave Desert.  I was 
      traveling northbound on I-15 south of Hesperia looking for 
      Columbia and its plasma trail low in the north at 5:55am 
      PST.  Right on time, Columbia appeared in the NNW quickly 
      moving left to right into the NNE, culminating roughly 
      8 degrees above the horizon.  Contrary to reports I've 
      read from other observers in more northern California 
      (e.g. Bishop), I saw nothing out of the ordinary in the 
      reentry plasma trail, nor any unusual brightness fluctuations 
      in Columbia itself.  I was able to follow the Orbiter until 
      roughly 5:55:30 PST, and all appeared nominal to me. 
      Admitedly, I did not have the best vantage point being so 
      far south of the reentry groundtrack, but I believe I would 
      have noticed if anything material had detached from the 
      Shuttle during the ~30 seconds I could see it. 
      By deepest sympathies to the families and friends of Columbia's 
      astronauts -- I'm an aerospace engineer for SAIC (and a former 
      Rockwell employee at the time of the Challenger disaster), so 
      these tragedies touch me deeply. 
      Rob Matson 
      Newport Coast, CA 
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