A Columbia Culprit?

NASA investigators made a major breakthrough last week in their investigation of the Columbia disaster, determining that the shuttle's breakup may have been caused by plasma--superhot gas--leaking into the ship's wheel well. The revelation came as a surprise to many, but not to longtime NASA watchers. They had heard a similar story almost 40 years before.

On Jan. 30, 1964, the cameras in the unmanned Ranger 6 moon probe were blinded during lift-off when plasma seeped into the booster. The failure of the mission caused a sensation at the time, and the space agency took measures to shield its camera systems....

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