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NASA e-mails to Columbia astronauts assured them foam was "no concern"
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Washington-AP -- New documents reveal a NASA flight director assured the "Columbia" astronauts that nothing was wrong, while engineers debated on the ground about damage to the shuttle.

Flight director Steve Stich e-mailed the seven astronauts to say there was "absolutely no concern" that foam which broke off during liftoff and struck the shuttle might have caused serious damage.

Stich wrote that the same thing happened on other flights, and there was no reason to be concerned.

The shuttle's commander wrote in reply, "Thanks a (m) million, Steve! And thanks for the great work on your part."

A NASA spokesman says the e-mail assurance was not sent to Columbia's crew as a formal dispatch. He says it was based on ground assessments at the time.

Investigators are increasingly convinced a chunk of foam that smashed against Columbia's left wing during take-off could have led to the disaster last February in which the shuttle disintegrated during re-entry.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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