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  Shuttle disaster caused by space debris
Updated 14 February 2003, 15.21
Debris from the space shuttle Columbia
The Columbia space shuttle disaster was almost certainly caused by a hole punctured in its left wing, according to Nasa.

This allowed hot air inside the wing, effectively causing it to melt.

But it's still not clear what caused this puncture.

Scientists originally thought that a heat-resistant tile falling off led to the break up of the shuttle.

Space debris

The crew of Columbia who died in the accident
But now the most popular theory is that the puncture could have been made by a piece of space debris.

This is Nasa's first serious theory for what might have caused the tragedy.

Their investigations are continuing and could take several months.

Seven astronauts died when the shuttle broke up during re-entry on 1 February.

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Part of Columbia's left wing found
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