NASA Says Amateur Astronomer's Tape Could Help Pinpoint Shuttle Trouble

Reno, Nevada-AP -- NASA engineers are thanking an amateur astronomer who may have videotaped the first visual evidence of trouble on the shuttle "Columbia."

NASA's flight director sent Jay Lawson an e-mail informing him that his videotape could prove critical in isolating the initial cause of the disaster.

Lawson was taping Columbia's descent from his home in Sparks, Nevada, when he caught what appears to be an explosion as Columbia re-entered the Earth's atmosphere.

He says he didn't realize what he had on tape until he went back inside his home and watched it on his big-screen television.

To Lawson, NASA's response is a relief. He tells the Reno Gazette-Journal he's been struggling since Saturday to get the information to the right people.

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.