Nacogdoches Police sent NASA pictures of the 40-inch diameter tank late last week. Engineers have confirmed that it did indeed belong to Columbia. NASA's Lisa Malone says it was part of the shuttle's power reactant storage and distribution system.
"It's one of the major systems on board the shuttle. It provides power for the vehicle, and drinking water as a by-product. This tank was one of about 16 like tanks that were on board Columbia."
The tank is sitting in a remote part of the lake where the ongoing drought exposed the lakebed. It has some jagged edges, and appears to be full of mud. NASA's Malone says it does not pose any sort of health risk from contamination. But, she adds removing it will be a challenge.
"The ground over there is very soft and really cannot support a vehicle. But, eventually, we'd like to get the tank back here in Florida. We've got all the Columbia debris stored in a climate-controlled room in the Vehicle Assembly Building, which is the large building here at Kennedy Space Center. And that's, ultimately, where we'd like to put the tank."
Malone says about 40% of the debris from Columbia has been accounted for. The recovery of the tank is not expected to add any new information about what lead up to Columbia breaking apart.