By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - NASA confirmed on Thursday that a large piece of debris from space shuttle Columbia, which was destroyed in 2003, has been found in a drought-stricken Texas lake.
The component of the ill-fated spaceship is one of its 18 gas tanks, the U.S. space agency said.
Columbia disintegrated as it attempted to fly through the atmosphere for a landing in Florida on February 1, 2003. Undetected damage in its heat shield caused it to break apart over East Texas and Louisiana, killing its seven-member crew.
The Nacogdoches Police Department in Texas called NASA late last week to ask for help identifying a 4-foot-diameter (1.2 meter) spherical metal tank found in a newly exposed bed of Lake Nacogdoches.
The lake's water level has dropped by about 11 feet due to a record drought.
Police sent pictures and NASA engineers determined it was part of Columbia, said Kennedy Space Center spokeswoman Lisa Malone.
Plans for retrieval of the fuel tank are underway. When recovered, it will join about 84,000 other pieces of debris -- roughly 40 percent of the shuttle -- recovered after the accident.
The wreckage is stored at Kennedy's Vehicle Assembly Building and made available to researchers.
NASA ended its 30-year space shuttle program last month.
(Editing by Philip Barbara)