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  Was Columbia shuttle hit by space debris?
Updated 06 February 2003, 17.59
The Columbia taking off
Scientists at Nasa have a new idea about what may have caused the shuttle disaster.

Many people think heat tiles which protect the shuttle may have been damaged by some insulation foam which peeled off and hit the wing during the launch.

But some scientists say this wouldn't cause much damage. They think Columbia may have been hit by space debris while it was still in orbit.

Junk in space

People looking for debris in Texas
A search and rescue team look for shuttle debris
Space debris is all the junk left from space missions. Nasa reckons there are more than a million pieces of space-rubbish up there.

But there are problems with the theory.

Firstly, the astronauts on Columbia would have noticed if something hit their shuttle.

And secondly, Nasa and the US air force have such good radars that they know where all the orbiting rubbish is.

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Should we continue to explore space?
opening quoteI think that we should, because we can do so many things there that will help us. And I think the Columbia crew wouldn't want us to give up. closing quote
Alice, 13, Harrow
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