NASA handout photo of Columbia debris in a hanger at Kennedy Space Center
NASA handout photo of Columbia debris in a hanger at Kennedy Space Center Reuters

A piece of the space shuttle Columbia, which broke into pieces over the Texas skies on February 1, 2003, has been found in a Texas lake after a drought caused the waters to recede.

The object was found in a lake in the city of Nacogdoches, which is 160 miles from Houston. The city was one of the largest recipients of the debris of Shuttle Columbia when it disintegrated in the skies on February 1, 2003.

The Nacogdoches officials sent photos to NASA, and the space agency confirmed that debris revealed by prolonged drought in Texas belongs to the Space Shuttle Columbia.

According to NASA, the object, found in a local lake, is a tank that used to provide power and water for shuttle missions. The object, which was about four feet in diameter, held the cryogenic hydrogen and oxygen necessary for the vehicle's fuel cells to produce electricity in space.

"It's been a while since we've had something this large found from Columbia. We're looking into whether we'll send a team out or local authorities can," said Lisa Malone, a NASA spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, Nacogdoches Police Department is warning the public that if the object found is indeed a part of the shuttle, it is government property and tampering with is a criminal offense.

“Lake Nacogdoches is at an approximately nine-foot low. There has been an unusually large area of the lake which is normally underwater which has been exposed,” said Greg Sowell, a police sergeant in Sowell.

The Space Shuttle Columbia accident occurred upon the re-entry of the shuttle to the earth’s atmosphere near the conclusion of its 28th mission, STS-107. The accident was caused by damages sustained by the shuttle’s thermal protection system during takeoff.

The seven crew members, who were killed in the disaster, include commander Rick Husband, 45, pilot Willie McCool, 41, and crewmates David Brown, 46, Kalpana Chawla, 41, Laurel Clark, 41, Michael Anderson, 43, and Ilan Ramon, 48.

After the shuttle's accident, NASA made a concerted effort to collect the more than 2,000 debris of the shuttle. However, in subsequent years, previously undiscovered pieces have surfaced from time to time in.