CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Recovery crews moved in quickly Thursday to recover the casings of the solid-fuel rockets that sent the space shuttle Columbia and its two commercial satellites into orbit.
The spent rockets were jettisoned from the Columbia after they burned out and parachuted into the Atlantic Ocean 140 miles southeast of Cape Canaveral.
'You lost them on the way up, but we found them,' Robert Stewart quipped to the crew of the Columbia from Mission Control.
'Good, glad to hear it,' replied shuttle commander Vance Brand. 'Hope the ship got out of the way.'
Brand referred to a report that a vessel other than the recovery ships Liberty and Freedom had been spotted in the downrange landing area.
Officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said later the vessel moved out of the area prior to launch. A spokeswoman said range safety officials gave no other information on the vessel.
The Liberty and Freedom moved in on the two rocket casings bobbing in six-foot waves. Crews recovered two of the main parachutes and began securing the rockets, which will be returned to Cape Canaveral for refurbishing and use on later missions.
The two recovery ships were expected back at nearby Port Canaveral late Friday.
The quick, smooth recovery was in contrast to the Columbia's last previous flight in June-July, when the boosters banged down hard and sank. Mission specialists made improvements in the parachute system on the tanks, and it apparently worked perfectly this time.