As Columbia passed over Albuquerque, New Mexico, during re-entry (around EI+795), scientists at the Air Force Starfire Optical Range at Kirtland Air Force Base acquired images of the Orbiter. This imaging had not been officially assigned, and the photograph was taken using commercial equipment located at the site, not with the advanced Starfire adaptive- optics telescope.


The image shows an unusual condition on the left wing, a leading-edge disturbance that might indicate damage. Several analysts concluded that the distortion evident in the image likely came from the modification and interaction of shock waves due to the damaged leading edge. The overall appearance of the leading-edge damage at this point on the trajectory is consistent with the scenario.