Two or three days after Columbia's liftoff, a group of NASA engineers asked the shuttle program manager to request the aid of U.S. spy satellites in determining the extent of debris damage to the shuttle's left wing, but the manager declined, a senior NASA official told the New York Times Wednesday.
The official said the satellites absolutely would have helped the engineers measure damage to the wing's heat tiles from debris slamming into them after liftoff.
He said Lambert Austin, an engineer at Johnson Space Center, asked Ron Dittemore, the shuttle program manager, to get satellite images to help gauge the damage. Dittemore rejected the request, even though Austin was speaking for several other engineers, the official said.
Austin and his colleagues were disappointed, the official said, especially because they believed Dittemore did not have the technical knowledge to determine whether the images would have been helpful.
A central question in the investigation of Columbia's breakup is whether NASA and its contractors had all the information they needed to assess the tile damage accurately.
ASTRONAUT BURIED: On Wednesday, Columbia astronaut David Brown became the 19th astronaut laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.
Brown will rest alongside Columbia crew mates Laurel Clark, whose funeral was Monday, and Michael Anderson, buried last Friday. Brown is the last of the Columbia seven to be buried.
Woman videotaped striking girl gets custody
SOUTH BEND, Ind. _ A woman who pleaded guilty last month to battery for repeatedly striking her 5-year-old daughter in an attack that was broadcast on national television has been reunited with the girl.
A judge on Wednesday agreed to allow Martha Toogood to be returned to her mother, Madelyne Toogood.
"The judge recognized Ms. Toogood has done a good job with parenting skills," her attorney, Fred Hains, said. Madelyne Toogood underwent court-ordered parenting and anger management counseling.
Commission approves Air Force Memorial plans
WASHINGTON _ Plans for an Air Force Memorial got off the ground Wednesday.
The National Capital Planning Commission approved a towering design of three curved steel spikes on a triangular base. A memorial chamber of glass panels will be at the base.
Edward Grillo Jr., president of the Air Force Memorial Foundation, told commissioners the design was meant to evoke flight. The sculpture will be reminiscent of the white contrails left by the Air Force Thunderbirds as they perform their signature high climb and peel-away maneuvers.
Planning commissioners expect the memorial to be especially popular at night, because it will have good views of downtown and other monuments.
Plans call for a groundbreaking next year and completion of the $38-million project by 2006.
Two ex-governors among Courage award honorees
BOSTON _ Two Southern governors voted out of office after defying constituents over the Confederate flag were among three politicians named Wednesday to receive the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.
The annual award, given to officials who defend sometimes-unpopular principles, honored former Govs. Roy Barnes of Georgia and David Beasley of South Carolina and Georgia state Rep. Dan Ponder Jr., a conservative Republican who pushed for hate-crime laws in his state.
"They took a strong and unpopular stand, and I think the committee felt that each of them did so knowing that their base of support might be eroded," said John Seigenthaler, chairman of the selection committee and founder of the First Amendment Center in Arlington, Va.
Elsewhere . . .
DUKE SENTENCED: Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke was sentenced Wednesday to more than a year in prison and a $10,000 fine for bilking his supporters and cheating on his taxes. Duke pleaded guilty in December to tax and mail fraud; the sentence was the same one agreed to in his plea bargain.
3 SENTENCED IN MOB BEATING: Three teenagers were sentenced to prison terms ranging from seven to nine years Wednesday in the beating death of a neighborhood man who was set upon by a mob of youngsters and adults.
Levar McNeil, 16, Devin Beamon, 16, and Lavelle Mays, 18, pleaded guilty to reckless homicide in the death of Charlie Young Jr. The beating was triggered by a fight over an egg thrown in a prank.