Home Video Suggests Shuttle Problems Over Arizona; Small Object Trails Craft

(PHOENIX, February 5th, 2003, 11:55 a.m.) -- A home video of Columbia appears to show a small, bright object falling off the spacecraft as it passed over Arizona, adding to the evidence that the breakup began before the shuttle reached Texas.

The video shows a bright object against the sky Saturday. After several seconds, a smaller bright object appears behind the larger one. Someone on the ground is heard saying, "Look at the chunk coming off of it. What the heck is that?"

Minutes later, Columbia came apart over Texas, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

Besides the video, suggestions of earlier troubles include two items in California being examined by NASA as possible shuttle debris, according to the California Highway Patrol. Also, Columbia sensors registered a sharp rise in temperature as the craft flew over the California coast.

In addition, a California Institute of Technology astronomer reported seeing a trail of fiery debris behind the shuttle over California.

The video was shot by Scott Valentine and his son Chris as they watched the shuttle with friends at Wapatki National Monument near Flagstaff.

The Valentines gave the tape to KTVK-TV of Phoenix, which handed it over to state police, who in turn passed it on to NASA on Tuesday, said Steve Volden, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

A NASA spokesman said Wednesday he was unsure whether the agency had received it.

A friend of the Valentines, Tom Olson, told KTVK: "In my heart, I think we saw the beginning of the end."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)