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By JAKE ELLISON, SEATTLEPI.COM STAFF

No one was saying it was an alien, but this photo has been going around again – it showed up on one of our Facebook feeds -- which is random enough since none of us is a UFO buff. But it caused at least one other publication to wonder – UFO?

We thought we’d have some fun and sent an email to NASA and had a headline in mind. … you know, we’ve all seen things in the sky that make us wonder just what the hell it could have been. And NASA takes awhile to write back sometimes …

Here’s what the story published on Oct. 16 on the “Collective Evolution” site says about the image:

“This photo comes directly from The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth, a government website operated by NASA … Here is the homepage, as you can see it has a .gov URL and is currently not up to date due to the fact that it’s a government website, and the government is currently shutdown (at that time).

It’s very interesting that they would allow a photo like this to be put up on the website. … [In bold] Please keep in mind that a UFO stands for “Unidentified Flying Object.” I am not claiming that this particular UFO is extraterrestrial in origin …”

Here’s the pertinent information from that Gateway page:

Mission: STS61C Roll: 31 Frame: 2 Mission ID on the Film or image: 61-C

Country or Geographic Name: ATLANTIC OCEAN

Features: SPACE DEBRIS

So, space junk?

But then our keen journalistic instincts kicked in and we found an “answer.” Mind you, this is what the GOVERNMENT says their picture shows (though if you go through the gallery of images clipped from the super-hi-res-version of the photo above, you might be inclined to believe them):

“A small piece of thermal insulation tile floats in space near the Shuttle Columbia. The cloudy surface of the earth is used as a background.”

So that’s it. It’s a photo from the Jan. 12, 1986, Columbia space shuttle mission.

But not the end of the story...

"After many delays, Columbia finally landed at Edwards AFB at 5:59 am PST, on 18 January 1986," according to Wikipedia (with confirmation). "The mission lasted a total of 6 days, 2 hours, 3 minutes, and 51 seconds. STS-61-C was the last successful Space Shuttle flight before the Challenger disaster, which occurred on 28 January 1986, only 10 days after Columbia's return."

In 2003, Columbia disintegrated upon re-entry.

Space.com summarizes:

On Feb. 1, 2003, space shuttle Columbia broke up as it returned to Earth, killing the seven astronauts on board. NASA suspended space shuttle flights for more than two years as it investigated the disaster.

An investigation board determined that a large piece of foam fell from the shuttle's external tank and fatally breached the spacecraft wing. This problem with foam had been known for years, and NASA came under intense scrutiny in Congress and in the media for allowing the situation to continue.

What a weird trail the Internet led us down...

 

Source and special thanks: SeattlePI

 

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