Seven years after the Challenger disaster killed seven astronauts, the space agency has been forced to release some of the photographs it took of the shuttle's pulverized crew cabin.
Forty-eight pictures of the wreckage, which was recovered from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Canaveral, Fla., appear to show nothing startling about the fate of the Challenger and its crew.
The photos were released Feb. 3 to Ben Sarao, a New York City artist who had sued the National Aeronautics and Space Administration under the Freedom of Information Act for the pictures.
NASA has shown great reluctance to release information about the dead crew members, their personal effects and the shuttle's cabin, citing the privacy interests of the crew's families.
Mr. Sarao filed his request in 1990. It was denied. After his appeal for a reversal was also denied, he sued NASA last year. The agency then released a limited selection of photos to him.
Jeff Vincent, a spokesman for the space agency, said that it was the first public release of such material and that under the law, the photos could now be released to anyone requesting them.
Engineers believe the cabin remained intact throughout its fall to earth, with some astronauts probably conscious until it crashed into the ocean at high speed.
The photos released to Sarao show a large number of twisted fragments and flakes of metal, crumpled window frames, wiring, broken electronics boxes and a wooden scaffolding holding up a ghostly reconstruction of the rear part of the crew cabin.